With the shift to hybrid work, gone are the days of 100% employer observation. For many organizations, managing a dispersed workforce can pose as a challenge — especially when onboarding new employees.

Onboarding new hires in person allows employers to have a more hands-on approach with learning and development (L&D) opportunities and gauge new team members’ skills levels. However, with a hybrid work environment, it can be difficult for learning leaders to target specific skills gaps in new hires and track performance goals.

Hybrid onboarding may rely on modalities like video chat, PowerPoint or email to deliver training and orientation. Though convenient, these modalities fail to instill a team connectedness and the confidence new hires need to successfully perform their job. Without social support, new team members will lack the confidence and support to do their job, thus reducing productivity — and possibly even retention.

To effectively train new hires in a dispersed environment and foster a culture of connectivity, learning leaders should turn to these practices.

Develop a New Approach to Hybrid Learning

Learning in a hybrid work environment is different than learning in person, so training should not be identical. Learning leaders should identify unique strategies, tailored to job roles and functions, to onboard hybrid employees, instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach.

“The big mistake employers make is trying to take what they did in person and do the exact same thing online or hybrid,” says Dr. Katie Brown, the founder and chief executive officer of EnGen, a language upskilling platform that helps organizations train limited English-speaking workers. “They think we have to put everything online [and] do exactly what we did face to face only [with] Zoom.”

When designing hybrid onboarding, many employers rely on slides, synchronous video and prerecorded lectures to deliver training. While these are great modes of learning, they are not sufficient to creating an effective onboarding experience. “Forward-thinking employers are thinking about the tools we use for remote work and remote collaboration and leveraging those tools,” Dr. Brown explains.

Bharani Rajakumar, the chief executive officer of TRANSFR Inc., a virtual training company that provides immersive learning experiences, says, “Training is a critical part of the onboarding process. When you bring on a new team member, if you invest heavily in that training that team member will feel welcomed, like they belong and like they know what they’re supposed to do and their purpose … that’s where technology can help.”

At TRANSFR, learning leaders work with subject matter experts (SMEs) to create videos that utilize virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to provide a much more interactive and memorable experience. For instance, the training uses a digital coach who talks the learner through the simulation and works to improve their performance. “I think there’s just so much opportunity to use technology to scale up the ability to have everyone learn from your SMEs,” Rajakumar shares.

TRANSFR also implemented a buddy system to give new employees a seasoned team member to help them adjust to their new role and use as a source for questions, and even to attend meetings with them.

When it comes to designing an onboarding process fit for today’s world of work, learning leaders should leverage knowledge from SMEs, as well as practice forward-thinking to develop innovative methodologies.

Replace Employer Observation with Goal-based Tracking

Many employers still feel uncomfortable managing a dispersed work environment — especially when it comes to onboarding. Working in person allows the employer to visually observe what skills the new hire has and what skills they may need. However, when the team is dispersed, it can be challenging to track performance level.

That is why a lot of learning leaders are using a goal-based approach to track employee performance and productivity. Dr. Brown says, “I think it’s much better to manage people to goals than it is to manage them to arbitrary constructs, like the amount of time they sit in an office. A leader of a team that’s working in a distributed [workplace] … should manage them [based on] outcomes.”

Leaders can feel more comfortable managing and onboarding a dispersed workforce by remolding their approach to measuring performance through goals. At the start of onboarding, learning leaders can give new hires a 30/60/90-day roadmap with set performance goals. Managers can track how well their employees are settling into their role and skills level through their goal achievement.

Rajakumar says that TRANSFR focuses on outcomes and holds its people accountable to the goals they set. For example, each quarter they have company-wide meetings where they ask their people to share their individual goals and compare them to their current performance. “So, it’s more about people [choosing] how they want to contribute,” he said. When their people report back on goals achieved, it becomes clear who is meeting performance goals, and who may need either a new way to contribute or a learning opportunity.

By using goals, rather than visual observation, leaders can better manage and track their hybrid team’s productivity.

Foster Team Connectivity with Social Support

Hybrid work models can mean different work hours and schedules for employees, creating a social barrier. Team connectivity is vital for collaboration and the organization’s growth. This is why fostering connectedness during onboarding is such a critical part in not only an employee’s career cycle, but the organization’s life cycle.

“When you’re trying to build a work culture and you’re completely at a distance, a sense of community is the most important part for success, so what I’ve seen successful employers do is find ways to build a community at a distance,” Dr. Brown says. EnGen’s workforce is completely distributed, and the company hired and onboarded each employee remotely during the pandemic. However, Dr. Brown says that the company has a close-knit culture because leaders go out of their way to instill support.

For example, every Thursday afternoon EnGen has a meeting where everyone shares what they did that week, any highlights and anything they struggled with. They use that meeting to build a culture that promotes cohesiveness and open communication. They also have monthly team building activities where they’ll play games, like virtual escape rooms or trivia to strengthen team connections.

The company also uses a collaboration tool to keep the team connected and informed on birthday announcements, work anniversaries, new hires and so on. Dr. Brown explains that having a communication channel ensures that everyone feels comfortable communicating, despite not being together in person.

When it comes to how social support can help with onboarding, Rajakumar says, “An effective onboarding process helps by removing a ton of anxiety.” With TRANSFR’s buddy system, it allows their employees to have someone to go to and can give them a source for questions that pop up during the workday.

Once a week, the team at TRANSFR schedules a company campfire where they celebrate birthdays, welcome new people to the company and give shout outs to other team members. “It helps with building that team-oriented culture of collaboration,” Rajakumar says.

Every month, the company also sends pulse surveys to their people requesting feedback on what is going well and what can be improved. Rajakumar says that this helps new employees feel valued at the company and like a contributing member.

When designing hybrid onboarding, it is important to take a new approach, rather than rely on traditional methodologies. By using forward-thinking and new insights, learning leaders can give new hires an effective and engaging experience and get them excited about contributing to the company’s future success.