Starting a new job is a stressful, no matter the person's level of experience. The brain craves predictability. In every moment, it wants to anticipate what’s going to happen next. The problem is, new jobs are full of unpredictable moments. You still don’t know how your new boss will react to different situations. New companies all have their own jargon for words you need to quickly pick up on. You can't remember everyone's name on your team yet.
And that’s not to mention sitting through new hire trainings, forms to fill out and software to navigate. Add to it that many of us are distributed and 100% remote? Your onboarding experience needs a reboot. What once worked designed for in-person onboarding won't translate the same and therefore needs to be re-evaluated and optimized for the remote employee experience.
A smooth onboarding process can make or break an employee’s experience at a company. CareerBuilder found in a 2017 survey that 36% of the employers surveyed 'do not have a structured onboarding process and a significant number are reporting costly consequences.' Of the companies surveyed, 16% said they believed 'the lack of a structured onboarding process had harmed their company in various ways, including lower productivity (16 percent), greater inefficiencies (14 percent), and higher employee turnover (12 percent).'
Plus think about it—you don’t want your new people bonding over a bad onboarding experience. That’s a tough employee disengagement hole to dig your company out of.
If your HR team takes a more strategic, four-pillar approach to remote onboarding, you can reduce the chances of a poor onboarding experience. You'll also be potentially saving your company time and money by driving engagement early and reducing the big costs associated with turnover.
Pre-boarding sets the stage for onboarding. Remember how before you set foot on campus as a freshman in college, you probably got information from the administration on what you needed to do to prepare, among other things, like some free college swag? That’s akin to preboarding. A good pre-boarding experience comes down to four main things.
Your employees need tools to work, and it’s vital that they have those tools before they start. You don’t want your new hire unable to get started on the first day because they haven't received their laptop.
After a new hires signs an offer letter, ship the equipment immediately. On day one, they've had plenty of time in the days leading up to set u a space and get ready to work. If your company can afford to offer home office stipends, don’t wait until a new hire’s first day to make that known. Remind them right after after they sign their offer letter, so they can buy other items they might need for successful remote work, like a standing desk, lamp, and headphones, before they're expected to perform.
After the offer letter has been signed and returned, keep the momentum by sending a fun email including a link to your org chart. Any new experience feels intimidating, but by giving your new hires a way to explore and see who’s who, how teams at your company are structured, and fun facts about their new teammates, you’re setting the stage for easier interactions during onboarding.
Technology is important, but so is the human element of work. When you ease new hire anxiety and help them learn who they’ll be working with before their first day, you can help them feel more familiar and comfortable.
Nobody likes the feeling that they don't know what to do, or what's going on. A new hire won’t know which 1:1 introductions to book their first weeks and often laugh off a meeting they had to book themself with something like, "Thanks for meeting, I'm new! Hey, so I heard you're the go-to Salesforce person?" Don't allow them to feel around in the dark for answers.
Before the new hire starts, coordinate with their manager to pre-block some time on their calendar where they can meet one-on-one with various team members, and why. Add some brief notes for both people to understand how they'll be working together nad on what kinds of projects. After you send each calendar invite, make sure the new hire’s colleague accepts it, so the new hire doesn’t enter an empty Zoom call.
Creating structure ahead of time is important because it’ll help your new hires feel productive during their first week. There’s less of a chance they’ll be anxiously sitting around, worried about what’s going on or what they should be doing. In addition to scheduling meetings with coworkers, speak with each new hire’s manager to find some onboarding tasks they can work on, such as reviewing the company handbook and getting their email set up, and pre-block some time for those tasks.
Be sure to schedule some breaks for new hires, too. They're eager to please! Have some fun with booking time for them to eat, take a walk, or just look away from their screens for a bit. And speaking of breaks, see if you can organize a virtual first-day lunch between the new hire and their welcome buddy or their immediate team. You can create a calendar invite, and on the new hire’s first day, send a GrubHub, DoorDash, or UberEats gift card to all parties.
As you send these various calendar invites, try to stick to a color-coded system that helps new hires instantly visualize what’s on their plate. For instance, breaks can be color-coded in red, time spent on onboarding projects in green, and meetings in purple.
During their first weeks, new hires are still forming their first impressions of the company. If they feel like they have a handle on what’s going on and what they need to do, they’re more likely to think positively of the company.
One of the best ways you can help employees get in the swing of things is to give them one easy, manageable project they can complete, like making a fictional sales deck or fictional webinar slides. This project will help them increase their confidence by giving them something to do; a way to contribute. Here are some other activities that can help your new hires get up to speed during their first few weeks.
Even though new hires will have met various team members during their first week, it’s beneficial for them to keep having those types of interactions during the following weeks, so they can understand that they have a support system.
Here are some of the key ways you can nurture team connections during the first weeks:
With every new job comes a lot of information to learn. And while new hires should absolutely feel welcome to ask a coworker about various company details, sometimes, it’s more time-effective (and satisfying) for them to be able to find those answers on their own.
That’s where a resource library comes in. A resource library should include:
Short videos and screenshots that explain the various tasks new hires need to complete, such as “How to get the most use out of Pingboard” or “How our Google Drive file organization system works.” You can add your own voiceovers, written explanations, GIFs, and/or numbered steps to make the instructions more clear. (Tip: Snagit is a great tool for this, with a $50 one-time fee)
Recorded sales calls of a sale that went well to give any new hire, no matter if they're on the engineering or sales team, understands the problem your company solves. People in every department should understand why people buy your company’s products or services, who your target users are, and any competitive intelligence.
An FAQ document that answers some of the most common questions new hires have about 401Ks, paystubs, how to take time off, etc.
An acronym cheat sheet that breaks down what common terms at your company mean, like “SQL,” “MoM,” and “BDR.” Want help knocking this out? Ask the whole company to contribute to a Google Doc— when everyone has added every term they use in a given day, you can sort the list alphabetically and find some terms you probably didn’t even know!
It’s good to have these resources in a central hub so that new hires can easily access them instead of sifting through dozens of email attachments or files on the cloud. Trello is one tool that’s a great solution here. You can use Trello’s boards, lists, and cards by naming them and attaching relevant files. For example, a card called “FAQs” can include a link to the FAQ document.
Outside of a resource library, there are other ways you can give employees insights into the company—as well as into themselves.
One of the foundational steps you can take in this area is to have your new hires go through an educational session about your company’s products or services. For instance, if you’re at a SaaS company, new hires should get a live product demo so they can see exactly how the product works, which is useful information regardless of their unique roles. And your company’s products and services aside, make sure your new hires understand the services available to them, courtesy of the company… aka their benefits! Sit down with them, or send them a survey, to make sure they're aware of and understand what their various benefits are, like 401k accounts, book stipends, certification budgets and gym stipends.
Consider giving new hires an avenue for introspection, too. Personality tests aren’t the be-all, end-all of who people are, but they can help people better understand themselves and in turn, adjust various aspects of their lives as needed, such as their communication with others The 16Personalities assessment is one option; it’s a free test based on the Myers Briggs (MBTI) methodology that your new hires can spend about 10 minutes taking. And afterward, new hires can add their Myers-Briggs types to their Pingboard profiles.
As the weeks roll by, remember to check in with your new hires. They're being brave and smiling through their calls, but they need someone to really ask truly how they're doing with everything. Weekly or biweekly check-ins with HR (survey or 1:1 meeting) will give new hires a safe space where they can voice any questions, thoughts, or concerns. This small but crucial effort can have a huge impact on shaping how much the employee perceives the company truly cares about the employee experience.
During these check-ins, prioritize asking open-ended questions like, “What has gone well?” or "What hasn't gone well?". Open-ended questions will give you added color into what's actually happening so you can improve for the next class of new hires.
There’s no universal best practice for when the onboarding process is officially over. But after the first few weeks (maybe four or five), it’s safe to say that pillar two moves into pillar three: keeping the momentum. Your new hire has gotten used to the people, software and projects by now, and the actual onboarding phase of the employee journey is coming to a close. They need to see that the company cares for and supports them even when they’re no longer “new.”
Research shows that peer recognition at work builds trust, productivity, employee engagement, and morale. According to Forbes:
In the most productive workplaces, appreciation is expressed by a manager to an employee or an employee to an employee at least once every seven days.
That’s a lot of impact for something so easy!
Give peer recognition to new employees for completing their onboarding and for any example during onboarding that proved why the new hire was the perfect pick for the job. Remind managers to give a job well done as part of their their daily / weekly routine. Pingboard's peer recognition feature called Applause makes giving recognition from Slack and the tools you already use, a breeze.
By publicly congratulating your employees for finishing onboarding, you’ll help set the stage for them that they’re about dive into their “real work.”
A small gift is an excellent way for you to show your employees that you appreciate all their hard work and effort during their first few weeks on the job.
One gift idea is to send them a plant via companies like Lively Root and The Sill. Plants have many psychological benefits, such as lowering stress and depression symptoms. Other gifts you can send include a high-quality water bottle, a sturdy laptop bag, and blue-light-blocking glasses. Think about items that your employees can benefit from in one way or another.
Surveying your employees post-onboarding will give you a better understanding of what worked and what didn’t, so you can optimize the new hire experience for future newbies.
Get their immediate take on things, then survey again in a month, and again in 3 months. Some questions to ask include, “What did you like/dislike about your onboarding experience?” and “What do you wish you would have spent more time on during onboarding?”
The second survey is also a great time to ask if they’d like to be a Welcome Buddy for future new hires. They're likely functioning in their new role, but still newer to the company and totally remember what it feels like. You want the right people filling these shoes so make it clear that if that doesn't sound like something they would enjoy, it's ok to say "no thanks".
As you move through the first three pillars above, document a real process along with what's working and what isn't. Create workflows, a checklist, or whatever it takes to make sure you give a similar new hire experience to every person.
That checklist should note specific pre-boarding and onboarding tasks, such as “Assign a welcome buddy to new hire” and “Send new hire a plant at the conclusion of onboarding” with the relevant delegations. By creating a checklist and adding some due dates and stakeholders, you’ll be making your remote onboarding process better and repeatable—so that each new hire has an even smoother experience than the previous one.