How to Successfully Onboard an Employee

By Chinue Ellis

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

    Table of contents

Exploring what effective and sustainable onboarding looks like in the digital age.

At some point in our lives, we have all been the “new kid,” and no matter how many times we’ve started over somewhere new, we can still feel those familiar feelings: lost, anxious and alone. While these emotions are normal, there are many things we can do in the workplace to make sure that new hires don’t feel this way. In this guide, we will walk you through what a successful onboarding process looks like today to help incoming employees feel prepared, confident and secure in their new role.

What does it mean to onboard an employee?

The onboarding process can look different for every organization, but there are a few consistent elements. Onboarding is defined as the process of introducing a new employee to the company and their role, and providing them with all the resources they need to be successful on a daily basis. It includes clarifying expectations, training, familiarizing new employees with tools and resources and immersing them in the company culture.

Though it sounds straightforward, successful onboarding is not as easy as it seems. According to Sapling, only 12% of employees feel their organization does onboarding well. But when onboarding is done effectively, it can improve employee retention by 82%. So what can we do to make sure our onboarding processes are constructive?

The four phases of onboarding

To successfully onboard new employees, follow these four phases:

Pre-onboarding: Many think employee onboarding begins on the first day of the job but in reality, it should start the second the offer is accepted. Before your new joiner starts, all involved parties should get their ducks in a row to welcome them. This includes:

  • Creating an onboarding plan
  • Assembling new-hire paperwork and forms
  • Solidifying their role and responsibilities

Next, you’ll want to welcome the employee by supplying them with information ahead of time so they can get excited and start on the right foot. Send them a personalized welcome email detailing what they can expect on their first day and attach any necessary paperwork they need to complete, along with access to all company-wide tools and portals.

Orientation: Orientation begins on your new joiner’s first day and should be understood as a proper introduction to the role and the company. During this phase, employees will meet their new coworkers, tour the physical office and digital workspaces and sit down with their direct supervisor and team to discuss the onboarding agenda and what will be expected of them in this role. Additionally, they should meet with the HR team to review company policies, complete any unfinished paperwork and have any lingering questions answered. It is important to let this period provide ample context around company and team customs so new hires can get acclimated to the culture and ease into their role.

Role training: Once the employee has been properly welcomed, it’s time to prepare them for what lies ahead. Reiterate team culture, role expectations, growth and daily workflow so your new employee can feel confident about how to best work with the team and understand where they can make an impact. Next, introduce the employee to tools and any software that they will be using. Training should be gradual and comprehensive because too much information at once can be difficult to retain. When introducing new starters to the tools and daily workflow, try to be as immersive and engaging as possible by doing shadowing sessions with different team members and using effective training tools.

Enablement: After sufficient training has been completed and they have tried their hand at their first assignments, it's time to let your new employee fly on their own. But before you push them out the nest, make sure that they feel supported and that they know what success looks like in this role. Be sure to communicate effectively as they start working on their own and conduct weekly or monthly meetings for feedback and additional help. And remember, feedback goes both ways. Honest criticism will ensure that onboarding at your company continually improves.

For a more in depth guide on how to design an onboarding process, view here.

How long is the onboarding process?

Onboarding is an iterative process and the length differs for every team. According to digital employee handbook software startup AirMason, HR professionals generally agree that an onboarding program should last at least 3 months but in reality, the majority of U.S. companies only spend 1 to 2 weeks onboarding. However, according to SHRM, “nearly 90 percent of employees decide whether to stay or go within [their] first six months,” so it is imperative that onboarding in the form of checking in and providing mentorship lasts at least 6 months to a year.

Tips for remote and hybrid onboarding

Since the pandemic began, there has been a massive increase in hybrid and remote teams and this has altered the way onboarding is done for many companies. While we used to do all training and introductions in person, digital onboarding has become the new norm. Luckily, there are plenty of tools and tips that make virtual onboarding a little easier.

Condense: Create a digital source of truth containing all company information so that new starters aren’t inundated with different paperwork, policies and wikis to keep track of. At The Org, we use Notion — an all in one workspace and a great tool for organizing your team. Take a look at our public Notion page for inspiration.

Communicate: In a remote environment, it is especially important for communication to be clear and frequent, so try using a communication tool like Slack where conversations are systemized, interactive and help foster a sense of togetherness.

Here is an additional guide on communication tips for remote teams.

Value: Make new employees feel appreciated and welcome by sending them some company swag or a small gift in the mail. A short note and a token of your appreciation can go a long way in making the somewhat anticlimactic start of a new job at home feel more inclusive and exciting.

Facetime: While Zoom fatigue is real, virtual social interactions are crucial in helping employees feel a part of a team. Make sure there are ample team meetings, one-on-one meetings and digital get-togethers during the orientation and training phases to ensure new starters are getting the help they need and integrating into the culture. If you’re a part of a hybrid team, organize company socials or team days in the office.

Buddy up: Some things are better done together. Try onboarding multiple new hires at once so new joiners don't feel so alone on their first day. You may also want to implement a buddy system in which a more tenured employee can partner up with the new joiner to ensure they always have someone to turn to when things get confusing.

To learn more about hiring and onboarding for remote teams, give this post a read: How to Hire and Onboard a Remote Team

Using The Org to help with onboarding

Creating a public org chart is beneficial for a number of reasons, and it can be especially useful for new hires, particularly those in remote environments. Here’s how The Org helps make your onboarding process more seamless and effective for new joiners.

See where they sit

During the pre-onboarding phase, invite your new joiner to The Org and encourage them to add themselves to your org chart. This public org chart allows employees to physically see their place on the team and helps individuals gain more insight on how their work will contribute to the whole.

Meet the team

In this hybrid world, it is difficult to know everyone at an organization since we don’t have as many opportunities to naturally mingle in an office in person. Now, employees are introduced to the people they work closest with, but are left in the dark about who their other colleagues are and what they are responsible for.

The Org alleviates that pain point with employee position pages and team pages with more information about team members and different teams’ missions.These features are useful in helping new hires put names to faces, better understand team and role responsibilities, and overall feel less overwhelmed.

__Visibility __

In general, public org charts are a great way to help staff feel seen and recognized, but The Org takes it a step further with an announcement feature, called wires, which allows employees to stay up to date on company news. Personalized wires help new employees feel welcome, celebrated and properly introduced.

To create a successful onboarding program keep the employee experience top of mind. Prepare ahead of time, welcome new joiners warmly, make training engaging and constructive and be a pillar of support from their very first day to the many years to come.

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