How can you execute an effective hybrid onboarding program?

Research consistently shows the relationship between a great onboarding experience and improved performance, increased engagement and reduced turnover. As companies struggle to attract new workers and retain their existing talent pool, effective onboarding has become more critical now than ever before.

Especially with the growing trend of remote and hybrid work, it’s no wonder why there’s so much added focus to onboarding: Organizations must evaluate their onboarding programs to make sure they are fostering equitable experiences.

This doesn’t mean to design different programs for each audience. Instead, human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) professionals should identify training tactics that add value to onboarding regardless of the new employee’s location.

When you Google “hybrid onboarding” you will find many of the same practices recommended repeatedly, like assigning an onboarding buddy, providing a common frequently asked question (FAQ) document or getting managers involved. Frankly, these concepts are table stakes. Employees should expect this kind of experience in today’s workplace, regardless of company or role. These recommended practices fail to address many of the most common points of friction for new workers, especially in large, distributed work environments.

Here are five simple yet powerful hybrid onboarding practices to incorporate with your organization’s onboarding process.

1.) Create a Company Dictionary

Every organization has its own business jargon, like quarterly business report (QBR) or annual recurring revenue (ARR). People tend to use shorthand when addressing company specific topics during meetings and video chats. For a new team member, this can be frustrating and can make them feel left out and possibly fall behind as they struggle with translation. New team members can turn to their buddy or manager for clarity on unfamiliar terms after a meeting, but this still prevents them from being able to participate in live discussions.

One way to solve this problem is by creating a company dictionary. Crowdsource workplace lingo across the entire organization, including recent new hires. Make the dictionary available on demand so people can self-service their way to understanding the company’s lingo, regardless of team, role or tenure. You can use simple tools, like a digital spreadsheet, or leverage a mobile-friendly communication platform that employees can access anytime, anywhere, on any device.

2.) Provide a Subject Matter Expert Directory

Managers are expected to carve out a chunk of their time to assist new employees. However, there are times when a manager may be unavailable to answer time-sensitive questions. Also, new hires shouldn’t heavily rely on a single point of contact, because this can limit the information they receive. No one — not even a manager — knows everything about the business or industry.

To help new employees find helpful points of contact, compile a list of go-to subject matter experts (SMEs) that can speak on the company and industry. Don’t only rely on titles to determine expertise. Identify people in your organization with proven knowledge and that have demonstrated a willingness to help others succeed.

This overall helps new employees avoid time-sucking email chains, using the same person as a source for help or the temptation to make ill-informed guesses by providing an up-to-date list of the people who are expected to know the answers.

Of course, a SME directory should be paired with a knowledge base that includes quality documentation of the company’s products, services and processes.

3.) Create a Channel for Tips and Feedback

When people work in an office, they learn how to do their jobs effectively in that office environment. When people work in retail, the physical store is a big part of training. But what if people on the same teams work in dispersed environments?

Each person’s work environment impacts their ability to do their best work. However, it can be a challenge to help their people manage their work when L&D leaders are not aware of their people’s workspace.

Provide a virtual place where people can share hybrid work tips and solutions. This could be an online community in a learning management system (LMS) or a dedicated channel in a collaboration tool. Keep the conversation going with trending content and learning resources. Host regular discussions that allow people from any team to share their best practices for hybrid work.

4.) Implement Regular Silos Breakers

According to Meta’s 2021 Deskless Not Voiceless report, only 14% of front-line workers feel connected to their company’s headquarters (HQ). People with the same logo on their work IDs often feel like they work for completely different companies.

For a worker, their team represents the entire organization because that’s the side they see and work with every day. Connecting with people in the org chart can be difficult in a hybrid work environment, especially for new hires.

Offer regular silo breaker activities to help people expand their internal networks while connecting with the larger organization. For example, Axonify, an online training company, produces a weekly talk show called “Just Before Lunch” where employees are invited to stop working for 30 minutes on Thursdays to join the fun. There’s no business talk or company updates, but instead, the “tonight show” format helps people from distributed teams in the U.S., U.K. and Canada learn about their coworkers by playing games and sharing stories.

Over the past two years, the program has evolved from a pandemic-driven activity to an embedded part of the company’s culture, due to its ability to break down silos and foster human connections.

5.) Leave Time to Self-reflect

A new employee’s schedule is packed with onboarding activities: job training, compliance requirements, meet and greets, long shifts and setting up equipment. Managers typically push to get people on the job as soon as possible. After all, they were hired to fill the gaps in the organization’s operation. However, this doesn’t change the fact that starting a new job is stressful, and if pushed too hard, new employees can burn out.

Leave time for personal reflection during the onboarding process. Lead new hires to take 15 minutes every few days to consider how comfortable they feel in their new roles. Begin these sessions with reflection questions delivered through an LMS, email or chat.

Instead of only discussing job readiness, urge managers to ask follow-up questions about new employee’s mindset and confidence level toward their role. This will help surface concerns or doubts early on so managers can take appropriate actions, like providing extra training or suggesting alternative roles, rather than risk losing employees in a war for talent.

It shouldn’t matter if an employee is based in an office, works from home or does their job on the front-line. Everyone deserves an opportunity to do their best work in an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Gone are the days of sticking new hires in conference rooms for one-and-done orientation and training. Today, companies must design onboarding to fit the realities of hybrid work, with simple yet powerful strategies that allow new hires to forge relationships and develop core skills to become essential players within your organization.

This is how you make hybrid work successful from day one.