How to Improve Your Onboarding Process [Onsite & Virtual]

employee onboarding
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Liz Strikwerda

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

The employee experience during onboarding sets the tone for the first year. Companies that do exceptional employee onboarding have lower employee turnover and higher employee engagement. Both of these impact company culture.

The technology that makes remote working possible doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are critical security issues. New employee IT instruction is just as important as sound policies.

To improve your employee onboarding process, explain benefits and how to enroll before the new hire's start date. Build multiple touchpoints into your onsite and virtual onboarding checklist. Then, ensure the new hire enrolls before the deadline.

Performance reviews should be frequent and bi-directional over the first year. These reviews help the hiring manager, HR and the new hire measure the new hire’s achievements as well as identify areas of improvement.

How to improve your employee onboarding process? First, don’t let it lag behind policy updates. Carefully review your policies, then update your employee onboarding checklists. In addition, keep employee handbooks up-to-date.

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

Remote Work

Remote working impacts the onboarding experience. If you have a hybrid workforce, you will need a virtual employee onboarding checklist. Consider the following as you build it:

Collaboration Rules of Engagement

Few could have predicted how an abrupt shift to remote working would impact collaboration. Now that we’ve been doing this for a while, it’s time to formalize policies. During new hire orientation, set expectations:

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

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Remote Work IT Issues

The technology that makes remote working possible doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are critical security issues. New employee IT instruction is just as important as sound policies. Address the following:

  • What technology will the employer provide?
    • When will the new hire’s laptop/phone arrive? (No equipment on day one makes a bad 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 adjust for 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 how to set idle time log-out
    • Password rules
  • What to do when there are technical issues
    • Do you email the IT team or create a support ticket?
    • If the network is down, are there tasks the employee can do offline?
  • Guidance on successful remote working
    • Productivity tips
    • How to prevent burnout and isolation
    • Home office ergonomics
remote employee onboarding

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Time and Attendance

All new employees expect accurate paychecks. Make sure you add new hires to the payroll system before their first day. In addition, address the following:

  • 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 get consent if necessary

Many HR teams 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.

Benefits

The pandemic has exposed both inadequacies and the importance of benefit programs. Mental health and financial planning benefits have become more popular. If your company adjusted 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 great programs won’t bring ROI.

To improve your employee onboarding process, explain benefits and how to enroll before the new hire’s start date. Build multiple touchpoints into your onsite and virtual onboarding checklist. Then, ensure the new hire enrolls before the deadline.

Hot topics for employee benefits:

  • Childcare and eldercare
  • Wellness programs
  • Tele-health and virtual medicine

Health Insurance COVID Coverage

While all benefits are important, pay special attention to COVID-related coverage. New hires will have many questions. For example: Do your providers cover testing? 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, the HR team should have those answers ready. This is especially important if you offer multiple plans. Thoroughly educate your new hires on the benefit differences before they choose a plan. This will help create an outstanding employee onboarding process which should improve employee retention.

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 planning now.

Consider the following:

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

Compliance

Compliance is key for effective onboarding. As you form policies, make sure you consult your legal counsel.

Let’s dive into compliance issues:

Paid and Unpaid Leave

Employee leave has been a central HR issue during the pandemic. 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 COVID-related reasons.

Minimum Wage

If you are in HR, you are aware that some states have raised the minimum wage in the past couple of years. 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

If you want engaged employees, teach managers how to schedule. Hopefully, your managers create work schedules that keep employees happy without shortchanging productivity. Nevertheless, employers 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.

It’s a good time to review the EEOC’s Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment. In addition, make sure both new hires and current employees understand the law and company policies. Document their agreement to follow both.

Cannabis

Has your state legalized medical or recreational marijuana? That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to loosen company substance use policies. Furthermore, you can most likely continue drug testing as you’ve done in the past. Make sure your policies, employee handbook and employee onboarding processes are in alignment and consult legal counsel if you aren’t sure.

employee onboarding

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The Human Part of Onboarding

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

The hallmark of poor onsite and remote new employee onboarding is lack of preparation. To improve your onboarding process for onsite employees, take away the stress of the first day. This starts with telling them in advance where to park. In addition, ensure their manager or someone on their team greets them at the door. Moreover, ask everyone on their team to introduce themselves. And, lastly, don’t forget to set up their workstation before they show up. A good mindset is ‘Put relationships over paperwork.’

Day One Planning to Ensure a Good Employee Experience

The Human Resource team should work with the hiring manager to outline everything that should happen on day one. When planning how to improve your employee onboarding process, think about it from the perspective of the new hire, hiring manager, and co-workers. This is the beginning of a successful employee onboarding program.

The most critical function of the first day employee experience is equipping the new hire with the tools to do their job. The peak of activity is at the front-end, when the employee registers in the payroll system, elects benefits, sets up their workstation, and reviews policies.

You can foster engagement and improve the employee experience by:

  • 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 social events like lunch-and-learn and birthday celebrations
  • Giving new hires an option to provide some personal tidbits like hobbies and interests
  • Assigning the new hire a clear, short-term project to focus energy and show competence
employee onboarding

Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels

Mentoring and Shadowing Programs

Another way to foster early engagement is through mentoring. Mentoring programs can be great for connecting new hires to their jobs and co-workers. They can also provide a sense of a long-term growth opportunity. Similarly, shadowing programs can be helpful in learning jobs on-the-go. Retail, restaurant, field service, and manufacturing take advantage of shadowing.

Of course, be careful not to go overboard. New hires need autonomy and mentors need to achieve their own goals. If you offer a mentoring program, be sure to set boundaries and monitor outcomes for both parties.

Shadowing is typically short-term. Mentoring, however, can continue over a longer time period. If you choose to keep it going, make sure you establish goals for both mentor and mentored and revisit often.

Performance Reviews

Performance reviews should be frequent and bi-directional over the first year. 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.

Frequency for reviews varies by job and industry but commonly starts daily, then weekly. Followed by monthly and eventually moving to annually. These reviews can build rapport and adjust the onboarding process to suit individual needs.

Onboarding and the Employee Experience

The employee experience during onboarding sets the tone for the first year. Companies that do exceptional employee onboarding have lower employee turnover and higher employee engagement. Both of these impact company culture.

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

Onboarding Key Findings

  1. More than one third of companies do not have a structured onboarding process.
  2. Only 12% of employees say their employer does a great job at onboarding new hires
  3. 53% of employees said they could do their job better with improved training
  4. Only 32% of employers have a formal onboarding program
  5. 17.5% of employees said they didn’t understand what was expected of them until they had worked 90 days or more
  6. Onboarding has the second-highest business impact of all 22 HR practices
  7. Unhappy and disengaged workers cost the U.S. $483-$605 billion each year

In conclusion

Let’s recap best practices for the 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

Remote 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 improve your onboarding process.

Main image photo credit: Fauxels on Pexels

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