Human Resources

How To Do (Remote) Employee Onboarding

9 August 2021

10 min

The importance of employee onboarding cannot be overstated. It’s a crucial step in the employee lifecycle and one that can either make or break a new hire’s long-term success at your company.

If you’re looking to learn how to level up your onboarding, you’ve come to the right place!

This article is part of a series developed from season two of our podcast – The Ins and Outs of Work. If you prefer not to read, listen to the episodes on this topic, split into parts 1 and 2, or watch the video below.

Table of Contents:

What is onboarding?

Why does employee onboarding matter?

Three common employee onboarding myths debunked

How to do onboarding: A step-by-step plan

Storytime: onboarding at Buffer

What is onboarding?

Instead of providing a dry definition, let’s paint a picture to describe what onboarding is – it’s the workplace honeymoon period.

Think of it as the extended period of time when the organization and the employee start their loving and lasting relationship together.

As such, it’s the time when the foundation of the employee-employer relationship is being built, based on those feelings and impressions gained during the earlier employing branding and candidate experience stages.

The purpose of onboarding is two-fold: on the one hand, it is designed to ensure new hires become operational as soon as possible. On the other hand, and a more recent focus for the onboarding process, it aims to shape the critical first impressions of the new hire as they get their first true experience of day-to-day life at your company.

Why does employee onboarding matter?

Here are two quick statistics to give you a clear idea of why employee onboarding is so important:

  • Newly hired employees are 58% more likely to still be at the company three years later if they had completed a structured onboarding process.
  • Organizations with a great employee onboarding program experience up to 54% greater new hire productivity.

A structured onboarding process is linked with a reduction in employee turnover, an increase in engagement rate, and higher productivity, as seen above.

Three common employee onboarding myths debunked

Like every topic in the world of HR, there are certain ideas floating around about employee onboarding that simply aren’t true. Let’s take two of these and debunk them here!

Myth #1. A proper onboarding process is a ‘nice to have’ and not a necessity.

Sometimes a proper onboarding can be seen as a nice to have. Some organizations tend to see it as something they’ll guide new employees through if they have time, but it can often be the first thing to fall by the wayside if the team gets busy.

There’s no doubt a proper onboarding process demands time and energy from a number of people in the team, but that doesn’t make it an optional extra. It’s a must!

Not only will the time and energy invested in a thorough and structured onboarding process pay off in the new hire getting up to speed faster, but it’ll also mean better cultural integration and a lower risk of early turnover.

Those are all super important to building a high functioning team and organization, so business leaders should ensure onboarding is not taken lightly!

Myth #2. Onboarding is just HR’s job.

Another misconception that often comes up is that onboarding is solely the responsibility of HR and the hiring manager.

While these two parties are critical to successful onboarding, there are other people throughout the company who need to play a role. After all, employee onboarding is more than just compliance, paperwork, and orientation.

Onboarding done right is a concerted, company-wide effort to welcome new employees and provide them with the tools, information, and network they need to be successful. As such, a proper onboarding process will require input and time from people in different departments that influence and contribute to the new hire’s role.

Embedding onboarding into the culture of the organization is a key to making this sustainable.

Myth #3. Onboarding begins on the first day of work.

It’s easy to think that onboarding can wait until the first proper day on the job. However, many experts now agree that onboarding should start as soon as the job offer is accepted.

This period between accepting the role and starting on their first day is actually known by the name ‘preboarding’.

But how can you onboard a new team member who hasn’t even started?

Some ideas include a team leader sending the new team hire a welcome email. Or an HR representative could send the dress code and insurance plans ahead of time so that the employee has time to review them at their leisure.

This preboarding phase is even more important in 2021, given the largely remote or hybrid working models that have become the norm. These new ways of working mean you can’t rely so much on in-person interactions and having events altogether in an office setting.

Seeing your onboarding process as a step-by-step communication plan, even from the moment the new hire accepts the job, is a great way forward.

How to do onboarding: A step-by-step plan

Let’s take a moment to focus on the steps you can take to make this a reality in your company. Since onboarding isn’t a one-day, or even a one-week process, here are five stages and actions you could take to level up your whole onboarding process.

1. Preboarding

We’ve already discussed the benefits of preboarding in a previous section. As a reminder, it starts once the person has accepted the role, and goes through all the way until their first day.

Let’s look at some practical things you could do in this stage of the onboarding process:

  • Send practical information relating to the role and the company, their contract, and any other legal documents or insurances.
  • Send the new person a welcome video. This can be a nice interactive way for them to get more information and see the team’s faces even if they haven’t met them yet.
  • Invite the new person to team or company social events (if possible). This can be a great way of helping the new person build relationships with their new colleagues even before their first day! Depending on how remote your onboarding process is, this could also be done virtually.
  • Don’t forget the practical details during this stage, like planning with IT for the computer hardware that the new hire will need, preparing a welcome kit, and making a plan for their desk area (if they will be working from the office at all).
  • Draft a 90-day plan during this preboarding phase. This is a document HR can create together with the hiring manager to outline the new person’s responsibilities, priorities for the first 90 days and expectations in terms of performance. Share this with the new hire prior to their first day, or once they start, depending on your preference.

2. On the first day (orientation)

The role of preboarding means that, by the time the first day rolls around, the new hire should be pretty knowledgeable about your company, expectations, and the priorities for their first few weeks. But that’s not to say that the first day is not also important! Here’s what you can do to make it a success:

  • Celebrate! Order a cake, some donuts, or another kind of treat you can use to celebrate the occasion with the whole team. Make the new person feel welcome with some company swag and take a moment to recognize that the day has arrived where they are starting on this new journey with your company.
    Even if your new hire is a remote worker, you can still make sure this is a focus. Deliver some goodies directly to their door and organize a video call to get the team together.
  • Discuss the agenda for the day. Make it clear to the new person what the first day will entail.
  • Introduce them to the team and their new colleagues. Take time to set up 1-on-1s so each person can get to know the new hire and talk them through their role.
  • Again, don’t forget the practicalities. Ensure they have the WiFi password, make sure they get all set up with their computer and have all the necessary logins, take a profile picture and submit the necessary information for payroll.

3. The first week

Make sure the first week is a meaningful and purposeful experience for the new hire. Some additional things you could plan for the rest of the first week include:

  • Organizing a team lunch. This can be a good follow-up to the first-day meet-and-greet celebration and provides more of a relaxed setting for team building and conversation. Again, if you can’t get together in person, see how you can adapt it virtually.
  • Continue with the individual sit-downs with direct colleagues, which you planned for the new person on their first day.
  • Make sure there’s at least one initial 1-on-1 between the direct manager and their new team member. As an HR person, you can help facilitate this and ensure the manager has any assistance they need with information for this first 1-on-1.
  • There are also more practicalities that you shouldn’t miss here, like introducing the new employee on LinkedIn and adding them to your company page.

4. The first 90 days

The three-month mark is a great time to pause again and sit down with the new team member. This is not only because it often roughly correlates with the end of the probationary period, but also because the person should now be well acquainted with their new role.

At this point, ensure the manager has a meeting to run through the 90-day plan that was earlier set up.

Did the new hire go in accordance with the plan? What needs to change?

Use this plan as the springboard for a discussion on shifting priorities, what needs improving and where to go from here.

As an HR professional, you could also schedule a meeting with the new team member at this point, to see how they are feeling, whether they have any feedback on the role or the company and whether there’s anything you can do to help.

5. At the end of the first year

Although not everyone may think employee onboarding needs to last a full year, we think it’s a good moment to officially wrap up your onboarding process. Have a final ‘onboarding’ sit down with your employee – in combination with their first annual performance review if you like – in which you cover:

  • the job-related side of things: how has your new employee been performing?
  • their future at the company: you can start talking about your company’s L&D program, ask them about their preferences and ambitions in this regard, etc.
  • ask them again what they thought of their onboarding and ask them what they thought was missing, or if they have any suggestions to make your employee onboarding even better.

Storytime: onboarding at Buffer

For our example of a company doing onboarding in an innovative way, we could look no further than Buffer. Buffer is a SaaS solution for social media management and analytics and, as a fully remote company, they have recently reinvented how they onboard new employees.

Prior to changing the way they do onboarding, Buffer faced two major challenges.

Firstly, the ‘45-day boot camp’ system they had in place to onboard new employees was creating extra stress for new hires and not allowing them to do their best work. The way onboarding was set up meant that there was a feeling growing that you needed to really ‘prove yourself’ in your first 45 days and this was having an impact on culture.

Secondly, onboarding wasn’t a very centralized process. Depending on the team you were in, or the manager you had, as a new joiner you would receive a different onboarding experience.

The solution

To solve these issues, they scrapped the 45-day boot camp system and brought the whole onboarding process under the control of the centralized HR team.

They then ran through a list of areas they knew they needed answers for when it came to onboarding: where would new hires find the information they need, especially since they are all remote? How should we communicate expectations to the new hire? And where should shared cultural norms be documented?

The HR team at Buffer, in coordination with the leadership team, came up with answers to these key questions, which were then fed to all managers so that everyone was on the same page.

From there, Buffer added some innovative elements to the onboarding process.

The innovative elements

The first of those was a buddy system for all new joiners to the team. Buffer clearly communicated to each new person that they had three main points of contact: their hiring manager, a role buddy (there to help them get up to speed on their specific role), and a culture buddy (there to accompany them on the journey of adopting Buffer’s culture).

Secondly, Buffer ensured there was a new focus in their onboarding process around feedback. Importantly, this is not only about providing feedback to the employee as they progress but also about ensuring there are regular checkpoints where Buffer can receive feedback from the new hire.

They set up a series of meetings at 30, 60, and 90 days and use these to take time to learn from the new employee about what could be improved in the onboarding process.

Buffer places a lot of value on ‘the beginners mind’ and uses these scheduled checkpoints to leverage the unique, outside perspectives and ways of thinking that a new hire can bring.

Here at Talentsoft, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Millar, Senior People Operations Manager at Buffer, in season 1 of The Ins & Outs of Work podcast. If you’d like to learn more about Buffer’s approach to HR, and specifically why they decided to shift to a 4-day workweek in 2020, listen in to the episode here.

You can also read a lot more insights from Buffer on their approach to HR in their Open Culture Blog.

Interested in going further? Watch the replay of our remote onboarding and reboarding webinar.

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