How to Improve Your Onboarding Process (COVID & Remote Work Issues for 2021)

how to improve your onboarding

Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, CloserIQ, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

How to improve your employee onboarding process? First, don’t let it lag behind policy updates.

2021 workplace changes affect onboarding. Therefore, companies need to carefully review policies. Then update their employee onboarding checklists and employee handbooks accordingly. Start the new year by aligning onboarding with carefully-considered policies.

Let’s discuss the issues that affect new hire onboarding.

We will discuss the following broad Human Resources categories. Note, however, that there is some overlap.

  • Remote Work
  • Time and Attendance
  • Health and Safety
  • Benefits
  • Compliance
  • The Human Part of Onboarding

Remote Work

Remote working has a host of onboarding implications. If you have a hybrid workforce, you will need an onboarding checklist specifically for new employees in remote positions. Consider the following as you build it:

Collaboration rules of engagement

Millions of employees were abruptly sent home in 2020. And many are still working from home ten months later. (In fact, it’s likely that most of you are reading this article in your home office.)

Few could have predicted how an abrupt change would affect collaboration. Now that we’ve been doing this for a while, it’s time to formalize policies. This is essential during new hire orientation. Establish clear expectations for interacting with coworkers.

  • Clarify which types of issues require a group videoconference
  • Outline an appropriate response time for an email or Slack message
  • Teach employees how to set their availability status (working, in a meeting, at lunch, on vacation) and sync it with your company’s scheduling calendar if possible
  • Encourage blackout times when employees can completely disconnect–an ‘always on’ work culture is a fast track to employee burnout

Remote Work IT Issues

The technology that makes remote working possible doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are critical security logistics. New hire IT instruction is just as important as sound policies. Thus, consider the following:

  • What technology will the employer provide?
    • When will the new hire’s laptop/phone arrive? (No equipment on day one makes a terrible first impression)
    • Can the employee use personal equipment?
  • Internet quality
    • For new hires with slow internet, set up a time for an IT rep to help them speed it up if possible (you may have to stagger schedules to accommodate differences in internet quality)
  • Security protocols
    • How to log in to the company VPN
    • What apps can employees use on company hardware and networks?
    • Teach employees how to set idle time log-out
    • Password guidelines
  • What to do when there are technical difficulties
    • Do you ’email the IT team’ or create a support ticket?
    • If the network is down, are there job tasks the employee can do offline?
  • Guidance on successful remote working
    • Productivity tips
    • How to prevent burnout and feelings of isolation
    • Home office ergonomics

Time and Attendance

All employees expect accurate paychecks. Make sure you add new hires to the payroll system before their first day. At the same time, make sure they understand how to track hours.

  • Teach employees how to use your time and attendance system
    • How to punch in and out
    • Timecard procedures
    • Tracking project, job or client codes
  • Work schedule
    • When and where is it published?
    • How to request a shift trade
    • Is there flexibility–can employees submit schedule preferences?
  • Mobile tracking
    • If you use geofencing to verify punch-in location for mobile or remote workers, explain the policies and obtain consent if necessary

Many employers only track time for hourly employees. If this is true at your company, consider tracking time for salaried workers as well. Learn more here: 8 Reasons To Make Attendance Tracking A Priority—Even For Salaried Employees.


2020 exposed inadequacies and underlined the importance of benefit programs. Mental health and financial planning benefits have become especially important. If your company upgraded or modified benefits packages to better serve employees’ needs–kudos to you! However, simply offering the benefits is only the first step. If employees don’t understand them, even expensive, carefully-designed programs won’t have a positive impact.

Ensure that your onboarding process successfully explains available benefits and how to enroll. Begin before the new hire’s start date. Build multiple benefits touchpoints into your onboarding checklist to ensure a thorough understanding. Then, ensure the new hire enrolls before the deadline.

  • Do you offer childcare or eldercare benefits?
  • What wellness programs do you offer?
  • Does the health insurance provider offer tele-health?

Health insurance COVID coverage details

While all benefits offerings are important, pay special attention to COVID-related coverage. New hires will have many questions. Do your providers cover testing? When vaccinations become widely available, will they be covered? If a covered employee is hospitalized for COVID, are they responsible for the entire bill?

Answer new hires’ questions…before they ask them

Instead of requiring new hires to search the benefits documents, have those answers ready. This is especially important if you offer multiple plans and the COVID benefits vary among them. Thoroughly educate your new hires on the COVID benefit differences before they choose a plan. This will help create an outstanding onboarding experience.

Health and Safety

Now that we’ve discussed medical benefits, let’s move on to a related topic: workplace health and safety. This section applies mainly to onsite workers. However, if your company is currently remote but planning to shift back to the office, it’s a good idea to start developing your plan now.

Consider the following:

  • Symptom check-ins at employee clock-in
  • Mask/PPE policies
  • Occupancy limits in shared spaces
  • Workplace sanitation
  • Disclosure requirements for COVID exposure/positive diagnosis
    • Contact tracing policies
  • State and local regulations


Compliance is an ever-present component of successful onboarding. As you form policies, make sure you consult your legal counsel.

Let’s dive into the compliance issues for 2021:

Paid and Unpaid Leave

Employee leave was a central HR issue during 2020. Though the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) employer requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expired December 31, 2020, you may still want to provide paid leave for pandemic-related reasons. The US Department of Labor answers common questions about the FFCRA here: Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Questions and Answers.

Minimum Wage

For hourly workers on the lower end of the pay scale, this is a biggie. If you are in HR, you are aware that some states raised the minimum wage in 2021. Though you probably finalized the wage rate when you offered the job, assure your new hire that you pay the legal minimum wage.

Predictive Scheduling/Fair Workweek

Effective scheduling drives employee job satisfaction. Hopefully, your managers create work schedules that keep employees happy without shortchanging productivity. Nevertheless, hiring managers must keep tabs on local employee scheduling laws.

State laws that govern employee scheduling vary. Most, however, address the following:

  • Good faith estimate of employee schedules
  • Post schedules at least 2 weeks in advance
  • Employees should be able to submit schedule preferences
  • Restrictions on filling vacant shifts
  • Advance notice of schedule changes
  • Predictability pay
  • Adequate rest periods between shifts and restrictions on ‘clopening’
  • Time and attendance recordkeeping

Preventing Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Maintaining a harassment- and discrimination-free workplace is paramount. Yet most employers’ policies are incomplete, especially with regard to LGBTQ protections. In the ‘Me Too’ era, both awareness and reports of violations have increased. Unfortunately, harassment occurs even among virtual teams.

The first of the year is a good time to review the EEOC’s Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment to make sure you’re compliant. Ensure that new hires understand the law and company policies. New hire paperwork should document their agreement to follow both.


Has your state legalized medical or recreational marijuana recently? That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to loosen company substance use policies. And you can continue drug testing as you’ve done in the past. Make sure your policies, employee handbook and onboarding are in alignment on this one.

ICE announces extension to I-9 compliance flexibility

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced an extension of the flexibilities in rules related to Form I-9 compliance that was granted early in 2020. Due to the continued precautions related to COVID-19, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will extend the policy until January 31, 2021.

The Human Part of Onboarding

Now that we’ve talked about what to do, let’s talk about how to do it.

For onsite employees, take away the stress of the first day by telling them in advance where to park. Ensure their manager or someone on their team greets them at the door. Ask everyone on their team to introduce themselves the first day. Set up their workstation before they show up.

Don’t cram everything into the first day or week. Prioritize establishing a relationship over completing processes.

Day One Planning to Ensure a Good Experience for All

Make a list of everything that should happen on day one. When planning how to improve your onboarding process, think about it from the perspective of the new hire, hiring manager, and co-workers. This is the beginning of a successful onboarding program.

The most critical function of onboarding is equipping the new hire with the tools necessary to be a successful contributor to the organization. The peak of activity is at the front-end, when the employee is added to systems like payroll, offered benefits, allocated space, and informed of rules and operating practices.

Beyond the initial flurry of activity lie two related success factors—engagement and fit. New hires need to integrate into the organization—to become part of the whole and contribute their unique value without subordinating their individuality.

You can foster initial engagement by activities such as:

  • Introducing the new hire to immediate co-workers
  • Notifying all employees and welcoming the new hire via email or portal
  • Inviting the new hire to company social events like lunch-and-learn and birthday celebrations
  • Give new hires an option to provide some personal tidbits like hobbies, associations, and favorite cartoon character to stimulate conversation
  • Assign the new hire a clear, short-term project to focus energy and demonstrate competence

Mentoring and Shadowing Programs

Another way to foster early engagement is through mentoring for new hires. Mentoring programs can be highly effective in connecting new hires to their jobs and co-workers. They can also provide a sense of long-term opportunity for growth. Similarly, shadowing programs can be helpful in learning jobs on-the-go, which can be very effective in retail, restaurant, repair, manufacturing and other environments.

Just be careful not to go overboard on mentoring. New hires need a sense of autonomy and contribution, and current employees need to feel that they are on track to achieve their own objectives. If you offer a mentoring program, be sure to establish boundaries, set goals, and evaluate effectiveness for both mentor and mentored.

Shadowing is a short-term program. Mentoring, however, can be continued over much longer time periods. If you choose to keep it going, make sure you establish goals for both mentor and mentored and revisit on a regular basis.

Performance Reviews

Performance reviews should be regular and two-directional across the course of the first year of employment. These reviews help the hiring manager, HR and the new hire measure the new hire’s achievements as well as identify areas of improvement. They can be as simple as a checklist for discussion or more formal.

Frequency for performance reviews varies by job and industry but commonly starts daily, then weekly. Followed by monthly and eventually moving to annually. These reviews are an opportunity to build rapport and adjust the onboarding process to suit individual needs. Set an expectation that new hires are encouraged and even expected to gallop out of the gate.

Onboarding Is Still Critical in 2021

What new employees experience during onboarding sets a trajectory for months to come. Companies that create an exceptional onboarding experience are rewarded with lower turnover and employee satisfaction. In fact, it’s central to a company’s culture. Recruiting isn’t complete until the new hire is successfully onboarded. However, research indicates that many employers don’t get it right.

Let’s look at feedback about employee experiences during onboarding.

11 Onboarding Key Findings

  1. When employees go through structured onboarding, they are 58% more likely to remain with the organization after three years
  2. Only 12% of employees say their employer does a great job at onboarding new hires
  3. 31% of workers have quit a job after less than 6 months
  4. 53% of employees said they could do their job better with improved training
  5. Only 32% of employers have a formal onboarding program
  6. 56% of self-labeled ‘disengaged’ employees said they got poor training or no training at all
  7. 17.5% of employees said they didn’t understand what was expected of them until they had worked 90 days or more
  8. The cost of losing an employee can be twice the employee’s salary or more
  9. Onboarding has the second-highest business impact of all 22 HR practices
  10. Unhappy and disengaged workers cost the U.S. $483-$605 billion each year
  11. 1 in 5 new hires is unlikely to recommend the employer to a friend or family member after the onboarding process.

In conclusion

How to improve your onboarding process?

  • Take a holistic approach: align onboarding practices with company policies
  • Make sure onboarding addresses the logistics of remote work
  • Don’t let the personal component get lost in the transactional tasks

Swipeclock wishes you a prosperous 2021! Thanks for visiting our blog.

The transition to remote HR work presents its challenges—don’t let onboarding be one of them. Get our new eBook: How to Quickly and Remotely Onboard Employees Post-Pandemic for insights from HR pros on how to create a paperless, digital and employee-centric process.

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