When it comes to onboarding new starters, we’re talking about a lot more than just pointing out the fire exits and showing someone where the toilets are. It’s about setting expectations around behaviour and culture, ensuring the newcomer is aware of all the support available to them – and how to access it – and, just as importantly, that each person is made to feel welcome and equipped to be successful.

Go back a couple of years and the routine would have been pretty familiar to many of you: an onboarding workshop or induction event, an office tour, a team lunch, working through the first-week checklist, leafing through a copy of the employee handbook and maybe a drink or two after work.

Now, with hybrid working more prevalent, businesses are facing a dilemma: does the way we’re onboarding new starters work remotely? It’s left businesses wrestling with whether to try adapting the old way to work virtually, sticking to the old way and insisting new starters have to be primarily office-based during their first few weeks or months in the role, or trying something new all together.

And it’s clear that getting it wrong can have major consequences. A YouGov study found that 53% of UK workers who started a new role since March 2020 onboarded remotely, and that as a consequence, a similar proportion (48%) found it harder to feel part of the company culture.

Back to the basics of integrating new starters

Here’s something to consider though: hybrid working affects HOW you deliver your onboarding programme, and that’s much less important than WHAT you deliver.

Let’s start with an alarming stat: a Gallup poll (held pre-pandemic) found that only 12% of employees believed their employers were doing a great job onboarding. So while hybrid working adds a new complexity to the process, most people weren’t getting it right in the first place.

But that’s a good thing, because it means we can approach onboarding new starters with a blank slate. It also takes translating the old way of doing things virtually off the table.

So why do we need to get it right? Well, employees who go through a positive onboarding process are more engaged, more likely to stay, talk more positively about the business and perform better in their roles.

It’s also worth considering what the desired outcome is when a new starter goes through the onboarding process. You might have heard of the 4Cs of onboarding by Dr Talya Bauer of SHRM Foundation, which is a useful shorthand device when you’re devising your plan. It also provides a good checklist for outcomes (with one additional C that we’ve added in for good measure: canvass). So when we think about what a good onboarding process should do, we believe that you should have a new starter who is:

  • Compliant – and understands how to work within your business and knows how to do the right thing at the right time. They should know how to work safely and legally at all times.
  • Clear – and knows their role, how it fits within the wider business, and who does what within their team and business area. They should know the business’s strategy and its ambitions, and understand how their role is contributing towards that.
  • Cultured – and understands who you are as a business, what sets you apart and how they can contribute to the company culture. They should not only know your values, but what behaviours contribute towards that.
  • Connected – and feels welcome, and also knows multiple places to turn to with any questions or concerns. They should feel like they have a voice and can contribute immediately.
  • And finally, canvassed – and has had their opinion taken on how successful the programme has been.

What works for you?

The first thing to check before you get into the details is do you know what your culture is and does it reflect the business you are now? Are your values still fit for purpose in a hybrid working world, or is now an opportune moment to refresh them?

Then think about the materials and people you’re using when you’re onboarding new starters: does that reflect the business you are now? Hybrid working is a challenge, but it’s not an excuse to be getting the fundamentals wrong. Focus on the what rather than the how. The perfect mix of in-person and virtual events will count for little if the content is confusing, out of date and unengaging.

If you want any help with the how, I’d suggest you start by reading my colleague Jonny’s guide to hybrid working tech, which is a great jumping off point into the tools that you need in your comms channel armoury.

For the what, it’s about delivering the most engaging (and succinct) programme you can. Here’s a few quick tips you might want to consider:

  1. Include as many people and voices as possible. Show off the range and breadth of what you do by including colleague voices (and faces) at every opportunity. Let your people tell the story of your business, whether that’s in person, on a Teams call or via a pre-recorded video. It also means they might recognise more people on Day 1.
  2. Interactivity is key. It can be frighteningly easy to create a full day’s worth of material that’s delivered at attendees, with no opportunity for them to do anything but listen and watch. Creative breakout opportunities, quizzes, games, and Q&A sessions put some control in the hands of the new starters. Sapling HR found that 58% of onboarding programmes focused on processes and paperwork across an average of 54 activities. Think back to the 5Cs and keep your programme lean. Little and often with regular check-ins is likely to be more engaging than a brain dump of information and paperwork on their first day.
  3. Integrating new starters doesn’t end with the official onboarding process and will continue for months to follow. We’d recommend you follow up your programme with a survey to benchmark how new starters are feeling, and then speak to them again a few months later to understand whether your unofficial channels are helping or hindering. That’s the fifth C, remember. It might be that a more formal re-catch-up procedure is needed: a re-onboarding, if you will.

Looking to learn more?

If you’d like to chat any of this through or need some outside help to deliver more engaging onboarding materials, reach out to us today.