Getting onboard with remote onboarding

Post by Richard Harte, Learnovate

If you have ever had a job in your life, whether as a shop assistant, professional sports star, or a brain surgeon, you have been onboarded.

Onboarding might sound like new management jargon but it is a phrase that has been around since the 1970s.

Some companies call it ‘organisational socialisation’ but, simply put, it is the process of introducing a newly-hired employee into an organisation.

At Learnovate, we recently took a deep research dive into the world of onboarding and, in particular, remote or virtual onboarding.
From our research, we have found that organisations tend to onboard in discrete stages, although these stages and their time span can vary significantly. But typically a four-stage approach is followed — 1) Pre-onboarding 2) Introductions 3) Assignments, and 4) Ongoing development — and the process usually takes 3 to 12 months.

Typically, the first focus of onboarding is on the information that the organisation needs to provide to employees to ‘get going’, ensuring that HR boxes are ticked, and initial documentation is signed and returned (yes even Cristiano Ronaldo probably had to do this).

Onboarding then typically extends to getting employees set up and ‘showing them the ropes’ both formally and informally, whether that be in a professional, technical, or social capacity.

Some onboarding processes last a matter of hours while most take weeks, months or even years. Some argue that, from an L&D perspective, onboarding is a continuous process that only truly ends the day you leave a company!

While the formalities of onboarding, such as documentation, induction and training are crucial from a business and legal standpoint, the socialisation aspect of onboarding is one of the most important for the employee and their colleagues.

Ensuring that employees receive support and are provided with opportunities to interact with fellow new employees and colleagues helps to ensure that they feel a part of the new organisation and begin to see their role within it.

Onboarding during Covid-19

It has long been recognised that a successful onboarding process is critical for both the new employee and the organisation. This engagement is directly linked to retention rates, with one report estimating that 17% of new hires leave an organisation during the first three months of employment.

Another reported that “half of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months in a new position and more recent research by Glassdoor found that a strong onboarding process can improve retention rates by 82%.

It’s clear that onboarding is important for everyone involved. But how do you follow that when an employee must onboard in a completely remote environment?

This is something that has become more prevalent in the last 12 months as the Covid-19 pandemic forces new employees to work from home.

It would now be considered quite normal for a new employee to go through an entire hiring and onboarding process without meeting their employer or colleagues in person. Indeed some organisations may never return to the office making remote onboarding a ‘new normal’.

With this, new benefits and challenges are introduced. You no longer have to decide where or with whom you go for lunch on your first day figure out your carefully curated clothing ensemble. But you may now have to worry about not forming any sort of personal connection with your new colleagues or not picking up the informal tips and tricks that you can generally pick up in the physical environment.

Tech can help

Needless to say, tech can help!

Our research found a multitude of tools that can be employed to make the online onboarding process both efficient and engaging. These tools can be used at different stages during the onboarding process and for different activities.

We reviewed nearly 40 tools and split them into nine categories, such as digitised documentation management, workflow management, mentoring systems and social apps.

Some tools do a lot of things while others are more focused on particular activities. We found that technology is really good at facilitating the more onerous onboarding activities such as document handling and basic induction training but may miss out on providing an employee with a good insight into the culture of an organisations and the idiosyncrasies which make working in the organisation a ‘unique’ experience.

We know that technology can and will improve but it is up to organisations to quickly adapt and learn how to use technology effectively. Organisations must understand the challenges that new employees will face during their remote onboarding process and accept that technology won’t be able to emulate everything – technology cannot replace a good organisational culture!

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Onboarding in the online environment

Learnovate has published a report identifying the key elements of an effective and engaging onboarding experience. The research looks at how companies are currently onboarding employees online and what we can learn from these practices. A State of the Market suggests tools and technologies that support companies in facilitating these onboarding experiences via digital means.

This research report is a Learnovate core research project funded by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland and is available to members. Complete the form below to request access.

Report Authors

Janet Benson & Richard Harte, Learnovate

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Funded by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, Learnovate's industry-led collaborative research is undertaken for the collective benefit of the Irish learning technology industry. Complete the form below to request access.