Effective onboarding is crucial to the success of any new hire. In fact, companies with a successful onboarding process can improve employee retention by 82% and productivity by more than 70%. It’s often confused with orientation, but the two are not the same. Onboarding includes orientation, a human resources (HR) function, but it also includes technology setup, training and meeting team members.

Of course, many organizations are onboarding employees remotely now. The remote onboarding process requires a special mix of technology, human interaction, team interaction, mentoring and a safe work environment and includes three stages:

Stage 1

The first stage of onboarding is the most critical, and it happens prior to the employee’s start date. The HR department coordinates with the information technology (IT) department to handle the logistics of providing the correct equipment to the employee prior to the start date to ensure a successful start and a good first impression from the company. HR also provides shipping and setup instructions to the new hire’s personal email. Then, the new hire’s manager reaches out with an agenda for the employee’s first day on the job, including clear expectations and whom to contact with questions.

Stage 2

Every new hire meets his or her first day at a new organization with some trepidation; however, a well-planned first day can leave the new employee excited to be there. The first day will differ from company to company and depending on whether the onboarding is for a single person or an entire group. In all situations, however, the structure should remain the same:

    1. A brief but informative welcome by the manager or management team via phone call or video chat meeting.
    2. A virtual meeting with the IT team to ensure that the new employee’s password, remote access, email and equipment are set up properly and to troubleshoot any issues before the employee receives any assignments or projects.
    3. An HR presentation of benefits and company policies; the completion of the I-9 form; and an overview of training requirements, timecard guidelines and (if the employee will be in the office at all) procedures for a safe work environment in accordance with COVID-19 recommendations.
    4. A 30-minute virtual lunch with the new employee’s team members and/or manager (some companies use a food delivery service to provide a welcome lunch on day 1).
    5. Company training, such as intranet or virtual desktop orientation, compliance training, cybersecurity training, workplace safety training, an introduction to the company’s principals, and soft skills
    6. A list of whom to contact when, a phone directory and other company-related information relevant to the job.

Stage 3

The third stage is the most important stage of the onboarding process and, simply put, it is consistent open communication between the employee and manager, with the goal of ensuring a smooth and successful transition into the organization. Establishing open communication and cross-organizational efforts via online platforms provides the highest positive impact on the team as well as the organization and sets up the new employee for success. This stage is where the employee-company trust begins.

After day 1, the manager should clearly communicate the responsibilities and desired outcomes for the new hire while setting up clear and concise goals. Managers and team members will need to learn to communicate effectively in the new workplace of hybrid on-site and remote workers. The days of having impromptu meetings are over, at least for now; team meetings need to be scheduled and have a clearly defined agenda with outcomes. While regularly scheduled communication might feel a bit formal or awkward at first, when it is done effectively, it feels just as natural as in-person meetings.

Improving the Process

Beyond understanding the three stages of onboarding, companies should focus on streamlining their onboarding processes. According to Sapling, new hires complete an average of 54 activities during their onboarding experience, including signing, uploading or acknowledging; participating in training; and setting learning goals and objectives, for example. It can be overwhelming, but it’s critical to set the tone from the first interaction.

The cost to companies for a bad hire, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, can equal 30% of his or her annual earnings. As a result, it is imperative that each new hire is set up for success. Communication needs to be frequent, collaborative and transparent, and it needs to be more about mentoring and coaching than delegating. The key to success is communication before day 1 and reconvening weekly at least for the first six months.

Onboarding never really ends; rather, it morphs into employee engagement and retention. Weekly or daily agile team meetings to establish and pivot priorities to meet business needs ensures that everyone is working toward a meaningful common goal. Regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings between employee and manager build rapport and facilitate frequent feedback conversations for continuous improvement. Finally, pairing new hires with a mentor and encouraging participation in employee resource groups (ERGs) and community activities instills a sense of belonging in the organization.

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