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Onboarding

Onboarding Experience: 8 best practices to set up new employees for success

A successful onboarding experience will set new hires up for success. But more often than not, new employees feel left on their own to figure out how to do their job well. Rather than help new employees learn through a “trial by fire,” here’s how to design an onboarding experience that excites employees about this new opportunity.

Ryan Carruthers

February 9, 2022

With the right onboarding experience, your new hire will gain the skills and knowledge to become a productive member of your team.  

But there’s a big risk in getting it wrong. 40% of employees quit their jobs within the first six months. And if recruiting costs can be anywhere between six and nine months of that employee’s salary, it’s quite expensive to lose new employees so quickly.

For that reason, all companies need an onboarding program that gets the new employee:

  1. Excited about the new opportunity;
  2. Connected with their team and leaders;
  3. Equipped with relevant resources; and,
  4. Enrolled in the right training.

These are the basics of a great onboarding experience. This article will outline what’s involved in an onboarding program, dig further into its importance, highlight best practices, caution mistakes, and talk about remote work’s impact on the onboarding process. 

Let’s start with a clarification of what an onboarding experience is.

What is an onboarding experience?

An onboarding experience is a period when a new employee joins your team. It starts when they sign the offer letter and continues until they’re up to speed in their role. The onboarding process usually takes place during their first 90 days. 

During the first 90 days, employees will get a taste of the organization. They would have had an idea of the culture while interviewing, but this is where it becomes real to them. They’ll learn who the natural leaders are, the coworkers they’ll be working most closely with, and what’s expected of them—both explicitly and implicitly. 

When done right, an effective onboarding experience will leave new employees feeling a part of the team. They’ll have all the context and training they need to do their job well. The new hires will also have confidence that they have a support network they can rely on. This includes mentors in an onboarding program, peers who help them feel welcomed, and a community they can rely on


Why is a new hire's onboarding experience Important?

The onboarding is where your new hire starts to develop a relationship with your company. One that will hopefully make them want to stay for the long-term. 

Employees are more likely to stay longer with effective onboarding

Just as turnover was mentioned in the introduction as a risk of poor onboarding, effective onboarding positively impacts retention rates. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employees who have a great onboarding experience are 69% more likely to remain at the company for over three years

Engagement increases when new hires are connected with their teams

There are numerous studies by Gallup, a consulting firm specializing in employee engagement, showing that relationships between employees are crucial. One report showed that employees with close relationships at work are 50% happier than those who don’t. And if employees don’t feel connected to their peers at work, they’re more likely to be disengaged. 

A successful onboarding experience will connect employees with their new coworkers. It will break the ice so they can begin building those critical relationships. Amber Hyatt, the director of product marketing at SilkRoad, shared accurately that, “A well-designed, fun and engaging onboarding process has a significantly greater effect on employee engagement and retention when compared to the old-school mentality of one-day orientation.”

First impressions matter

Another SHRM study showed that 62% of HR professionals consider the onboarding experience’s goal to be integrating employees with the workplace culture. But in fact, culture integration only makes up 30% of the onboarding process. The remainder is simply paperwork. 

Therefore, the majority of onboarding experiences are inspiring. Companies that put in the effort to design engaging onboarding programs will stand out as better employers. This will not only benefit the new hires but will also assist recruiting efforts to attract top talent

Remote work’s impact on the onboarding experience

Numerous studies show that remote and hybrid workpaces will become the norm rather than the exception in the future. A study by Upwork found that 62% of companies were planning their futures around having remote workforces (in full or in part) because of the pandemic. The same study predicted an increase of 87% in the number of Americans working remotely compared to pre-pandemic levels.

So remote work is here to stay. Our onboarding needs to adapt. Remote or virtual onboarding has three distinct challenges:

  1. Connecting with coworkers
  2. Understanding workplace culture and norms
  3. Getting context on their new responsibilities

Examples of employees struggling with remote onboarding

If you want to get brutally honest reviews of remote onboarding experiences, look no further than Reddit. It’s not hard to find lengthy posts detailing cold and disorienting onboarding processes that left new hires feeling deflated. One thread in particular highlights several things their onboarding experience didn’t have that had them questioning why they took the job:

  • They didn’t have the opportunity to connect with a mentor during onboarding.
  • When they asked for a mentor, they were assigned one that felt random and inauthentic. 
  • Their manager was absent and unhelpful. 
  • No one introduced them to their colleagues which made them feel like they were on their own. 
  • There was no one to help show them the ropes.
  • They felt isolated and confused, not able to do their job to the best of their abilities.

From this thread and others, real employees shared experiences of being forgotten, confused, and unsupported

It doesn’t take much to set your onboarding experience apart in a remote environment

Because so many remote onboarding processes are objectively bad, a few small changes can go a long way. 

For starters, ease new hires confusion by having all your onboarding docs in place. At Together, we’re a dispersed company across Canada and the U.S. We use Humi’s onboarding solution to make sure every new hire has all the proper documentation and onboarding materials, all in one place. 

Additionally, applying the best practices for onboarding will have your new hires feeling energized, not deflated. What are those best practices? Let’s look at several in the next section.

Best practices for a successful onboarding experience

A great onboarding experience can take some time and effort, but it is well worth it. Here are some of the best onboarding practices you’ll want to leverage in your onboarding program.

Start early

Your onboarding practice should begin before your new employee’s first day of work. 

One of the best things you can do to make sure everything gets covered is to create a to do list. Humi's ultimate employee onboarding checklist is a great place to get inspiration. Another way to start your onboarding process early is to send your new hire all the paperwork they need to fill out after they accept the position. This can help save time on their first day in the office. It also allows them to go over the materials at their own leisure. 

Additionally, sending them a note a few days before they start to let them know you are looking forward to their arrival is a great way to ease them into your company culture. Moreover, it gives you a chance to let them know where they can park their vehicle, what type of clothing they should wear and who they should ask for when they arrive. These things may be small for you but can go a long way in easing a new hire’s nerves on their first day.

Announce it

After your new hire accepts the position and you have a day set for them to start, you should let your other employees know. Sending out an email announcement can make your employees feel like they are in the loop. 

It will also help your new hire feel more comfortable because your other employees will be expecting them. In your announcement, you should be clear about the role your new hire will be filling, their responsibilities, and how they fit into the team. Consider adding a brief bio of your new hire so that everyone can know a little more about them.

Set up their office space (virtual or in person)

Make an effort to create an office space for your new hire. This includes setting up their computer and any accounts they need to have to do their job. Add the essentials to their area, including a chair, desk, paper, pens, telephone and any other technology or tools they need. If the new hire is working remotely, make time in both of your calendars to check in regularly. 

Introduce the new hire formally

Whether your workplace is remote or in-person, a manager or leader should introduce the new hire to the team. Recognition goes a long way with all employees in making them feel a part of the team. 

During a stand up or all hands, team meeting, make sure to share a bit about them, but then give them the floor to introduce themselves. This is a great opportunity for them to break the ice with other employees. 

Match them with a mentor

One of the best ways to make your new hire feel welcome is to match them up with a mentor inside your organization. Workplace mentoring programs are an ideal way to help guide the development of your new employee. Mentorships allow for individuals to set and reach their professional goals. It connects them with an advisor, teacher, instructor and coach all in one. 

The benefits of workplace mentorship for your organization include reducing turnover, increasing employee engagement, improve productivity and a positive atmosphere. 

Matching your new hire with a mentor during their first few weeks on the job can help them adjust, learn the ropes and develop their skills and talents.

Give new hires an onboarding buddy

Onboarding buddies are essential. A mentor is important as a new employee ramps up in their role, but many employees want to be a part of a buddy system that connects them with peers early on. 

Our team surveyed employees from 50+ leading North American companies and found that 70% of employees in their first six months wanted a mentor or peer that was closer to their tenure. Survey respondents shared that “a junior mentor is super useful at the beginning to ask all the stupid questions.”

Onboarding buddies do several things to get new hires situated:

  • Meeting the new hires on their first day.
  • Bridging social connections by introducing them to the other employees.
  • Answering questions about the role and company.
  • Giving the workplace tour to the new hires (virtually or in person).
  • Checking in with them throughout their first month.

These small acts go a long way in giving new employees the support they need.

Check-in often

Onboarding shouldn’t end after the first day or the first week or even the first month. To create the best onboarding experience, check in with your employee regularly. The more often a new employee feels their colleagues care about how they’re doing, the more confident they’ll be. 

Ask new hires for feedback on the onboarding program

Onboarding programs should always be a work in progress. During your check-ins, get feedback from employeesSee if they have any questions or issues that need to be solved. This ongoing demonstration of your interest in them shows them that your company truly cares about its employees. That will inspire your employees to be more productive and committed to your organization.

Example of an effective onboarding experience

To make the best practices more concrete let’s look at an example. Cooley LLP is an American international law firm, headquartered in Palo Alto, California, with offices worldwide. They have 1,500 lawyers across 17 offices. Their onboarding process is crucial because the nature of their work requires new employees to ramp up quickly.

To get new hires up to speed quickly, they started an onboarding mentorship program called Cooley Academy Mentoring Program (CAMP). They leveraged Together’s mentorship software to quickly pair up new employees with more senior associates for mentorship. The mentor matching algorithm made it easy to find every new employee a mentor that was relevant to them. 

During the program, mentors and mentees would meet each month. They’d discuss goal setting, delegation, career development, and more. For mentees, they could:

  • Get outside support from senior staff and ask questions from someone other than their work friends and manager.
  • Expand their professional network and meet others from diverse groups.
  • Learn by example from the real stories of leaders who have built their careers and achieved ambitious goals.
  • Find others from like-minded groups and foster relationships at your organization.

This article has stressed the importance of connecting new employees early. At Cooley, they launch a mentoring competition. During their ‘mentoring madness’ challenge, attorneys had three weeks to ‘compete’ to be the best mentoring duo in the office by completing weekly challenges. The challenges included various discussion topics and activities that would engaged mentors and mentees.

When reviewing the on boarding program, mentors and mentees had an average rating of 3.9 out of 4. It’s no surprise that 95% of Cooley employees say it is a great place to work compared to 59% of employees at a typical U.S.-based company. 

Create Your Onboarding Experience

Creating a structured onboarding experience for your new hires results in higher employee engagement and commitment to your organization. Research by SHRM shows that new hires who went through a structured onboarding program were 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years.

The most important part of the onboarding experience is that employees form meaningful connection with their colleagues. If you can do this, the rest comes easy. One way to make sure very new employee gets connected is through structured mentoring programs. 

Together’s mentoring platform makes it easy to match all new hires with relevant mentors or peers across your organization. It’s easy to ​​run a high-impact mentoring program without the administrative burden of pairing employees manually. Instead, focus on what’s important to your onboarding experience: helping employees form connections. 

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