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      Our guide to onboarding at a (social) distance

      by Tim Powell-Jones

      Employee engagement

      Despite the dramatically disrupted jobs market, many companies still require new staff and hiring hasn’t completely halted. However, in this COVID-19 era, the handshakes, office tours, and anxiety-inducing task of remembering everyone’s names has gone for now. Many new hires will be joining the organisation without ever meeting these new colleagues in person.

      With virtual onboarding, the first days are even more crucial. What does it portray to a new hire on day one patiently waiting at home for the promised induction call that never comes. A watery excuse like [insert name of Manager/HR professional/Director] was meant to call but had to jump on a Zoom meeting instead (or completely forgot), does much to dampen a new employee’s spirits. Without face to face interaction, an ‘out of sight out of mind’ situation could easily occur.

      The goal of onboarding

      Whereas a positive onboarding experience can increase employee retention, improve productivity, and make employees more likely to recommend their workplace to friends and relatives. First impressions count after all, and in the talent retention game, they can last.

      Gallup found that in the US only 12% of employees thought their organisation did a good job of onboarding. How similar is this picture worldwide? Think of your own first day(s), even before COVID-19, was the experience satisfactory?

      A successful remote employee onboarding process needs to:

      • Create a sense of belonging despite working from home
      • Include socialisation and networking opportunities within the new virtual team
      • Provide learning activities now and for the long term 
      • Have clear, defined goals
      • Communicate the company culture

      There is no better time to start achieving these goals than an employee's first day. A virtual onboarding process should involve members of staff other than just the human resources team. Introducing wider teams even via virtual meetings can help employees feel more included from the beginning. It’s all about making the effort collectively. 

      Virtual coffee break, anyone?

      'Organizations can no longer afford to treat onboarding as a necessary cost of business—something that needs to be done for compliance purposes and worked through as quickly as possible. Instead they should be capitalizing on the opportunity to kickstart their workforce experience, leveraging expertise from across HR domains to create a meaningful impact on new starters.' - Deloitte

      Starting a new job often brings feelings of excitement and an eagerness to learn so the company must capitalise on this and provide the right interventions at the right times. If this doesn’t happen, the momentum can be lost and the anticipation of the first few days is quickly followed by a loss of confidence and potential emotional crisis. 


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      Emotional and rational needs

      It can help to have an onboarding checklist (like this pre-COVID-19 one we created), but the onboarding program shouldn’t be rigid; this is the perfect time to allow employees to connect emotionally with the company. The induction process should be a mixture of the rational (what we have to do and how) and emotional (how we connect and behave).

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      Our rational selves have a pretty well defined set of needs for example things like clear, achievable goals (and the tools for achieving them), relevant content, and efficient communication. Sounds simple...

      However, if there is one thing that behavioural science has taught us, it is that our emotional selves are just as, if not more, important and their needs are more complex:

      • Personality – content needs to be human and authentic
      • Excitement – activities should be fun and collaborative
      • Empathy – companies need to understand that starting something new can be challenging and allow for flexibility
      • Community – onboarding should provide an opportunity to network with peers and the wider community
      • Connect – It is important to engage in informal conversations and build personal connections

      virtual collaboration success

      Creating a virtual induction toolkit

      An effective virtual induction needs to be relevant to new starters’ rational and emotional needs, both in terms of what is presented and how that information is presented.


      Digital content can enable new starters to rationally understand the organisation and their role within it. 

      According to research by Adobe, on average we spend 8.8 hours a day engaging with digital content. Increasing to 11.4 hours for gen Z and 10.9 hours for millennials. So as a result, our expectations for digital content are much higher. The kind of lengthy narrated presentation that seems to be the go to for many organisations is not going to be the right vehicle for taking people on this journey, and nor will be the ‘Doom by Zoom’ of endless video calls.

      Digital learning can play a massive part here, read more about how to re-think onboarding with creative learning techniques.

      A typical toolkit for informational content is as follows:

      • Film– typically used to humanise key staff members and let them explain a bit about who they are and what they do.
      • Interactive learning modules – used to cover informational content. Importantly, these should be easily revisited. Few people remember what they are told in the first week so the ability to quickly go back and check is vital.
      • Virtual sessions – using a tool like Adobe Connect, live virtual sessions can be made into a fun and engaging experience, in which you get to know more about your new colleagues, and ask questions in a low stress, low stakes environment.


      Enhanced experiences and content will support new starters in getting to know the wider teams and an opportunity to network with colleagues, as well as providing clear communications and early engagement around the core content.

      Appealing welcome materials

      Remote doesn’t have to mean digital. New employees could be delivered a branded, beautifully packaged gift box containing everything they need to get off to the right start in their home environment. This can include easy but meaningful gifts like personalised mugs (or even slippers!), biscuits, pens... or why not harness the power of immersive technology to really show where the company is going? This could include a personal video message from the boss (triggered via mobile phones using a QR code) that shares his enthusiasm for them joining the team, or a Google Cardboard and instructions to help you explore your local location (and others) via 360 photography.

      Everyone is used to getting (and ignoring) information by intranet or PDF, so a tangible booklet or magazine now feels more special.

      Content could include:

      • Tips on wellbeing and work-life balance
      • Insider knowledge
      • Advice on where to go for support
      • ‘Get to know me’ content from key team members


      Community building

      One of the toughest parts of starting a new role is that feeling of being an outsider. Colleagues have in-jokes and a history that somehow you have to infiltrate. That sense of alienation can be hugely magnified when there’s no communal lunch area or way to bond over after-work drinks.

      When working remotely, simple, low-cost activations can build a feeling of warmth, belonging and community:

      • Simple tasks via the LMS encourage new starters to introduce themselves, via user-generated content challenges
      • A virtual Zoom lunch table or after-work drinks to help colleagues get to know their new teammates
      • A closed Yammer group for new starter cohorts would provide a forum for open conversation and sharing inspiring content

      Comms tools to make the experience personal

      To create a branded, personalised onboarding journey, make it easy for line managers and the HR department through pre-formatted emails and easy-to-use comms tools for key moments such as:

      • A card line managers can personalise and send ahead of start dates
      • Formatted emails for key moments such as their first day, invitation to onboarding, invitation to the virtual event, etc
      • A congratulations email containing a video message from senior management
      • ‘How to’ briefs for activating key assets

      Sounds like a lot of work?

      You don’t have to do it by yourself, you can team up with external advisers to help create an experience that works for your needs. The benefits of better onboarding are employees who are engaged, more effective, and who are less likely to quit and cost you the price of starting the hiring process all over again.

      Considering the employee’s rational and emotional needs, drawing on elements of internal communications, behavioural science, user experience, and learning design is easier than you think.

      Logicearth works with a huge range of clients to collaboratively design and develop all elements of this crucial step in your employees learning journey.

      Why not get in touch and tell us how we can help.


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