5 tips to improve your employee onboarding process
The employee onboarding process is your opportunity to not only prepare new employees for their first day but also show that you support their personal success.
By Darcy Hogendorn in
Hiring and HR managers face a never-ending challenge: recruiting, hiring, and retaining the right talent.
In today’s job market, getting high-caliber employees in the door is tough, but getting them to stay is often even harder.
A strong new employee onboarding process — one that truly meets the needs of employees and sets the right tone for their new role — can be a massive difference-maker.
But what does a top-tier onboarding process look like?
In this blog post, you’ll discover:
- Why onboarding is worth investing in
- How onboarding affects employee retention
- 5 steps or tactics to improve your onboarding processes (from recruitment and pre-onboarding through the first 90 days and beyond)
Let’s get started by evaluating your current onboarding process.
Is your employee onboarding process meeting the mark?
Any company looking to improve its retention rate, employee satisfaction level, or even time to productivity should start by reviewing its employee onboarding process.
Not sure where to start? We recommend starting with your foremost experts on employee onboarding: the people who just went through it.
Call together a handful of people hired within the last six to 18 months and get their honest feedback with questions like:
- What worked well?
- What should’ve been covered in onboarding that they only discovered later?
- Are managers generally consistent, or does the onboarding quality vary depending on the boss?
Once you have a clearer sense of the state of your onboarding efforts, you’re ready to start working toward improvement.
Why the onboarding process is so important
The onboarding process — which starts long before the employee’s first day (more on that later) — matters far more than many hiring managers assume. One reason: It can be a make or break moment that determines whether your new hires will be successful working at your company.
The onboarding process telegraphs your company culture, suggesting all sorts of things to your new hires, including their work environment and company values.
The importance of having an effective onboarding process is more than just theoretical. A strong onboarding program helps you drive forward in several important areas:
- Increase employee retention: New employees that are frustrated and confused are often the first to head for the exits. If you’re among the 74% of U.S. companies struggling to fill open positions, you certainly want to keep the great employees you do manage to find.
- Improve brand reputation: Employees who get better pre-onboarding and onboarding are 83% to 93% more likely to recommend you as a good place to work.
- Drive employee satisfaction: Gallup finds that 70% of those who went through strong onboarding are highly satisfied, agreeing they have “the best possible job” and are 2.6 times more likely to say they’re “extremely satisfied.”
- Boost employee productivity: The same Gallup study finds that only 29% of new employees who go through onboarding feel fully supported and ready to be productive. While you usually can’t expect a new hire to be 100% productive at the close of onboarding, better training generally leads to better productivity.
Upgrade your onboarding process in 5 simple steps
Onboarding processes are complex and can vary from one company or role to the next. But no matter what kinds of employees you’re responsible for onboarding, chances are there’s room for improvement.
Below is our five-step plan for improving the onboarding process at just about any business.
Quick note: We’re considering the full onboarding process to run from recruitment, hiring, and preboarding through the first 90 days of a new hire’s tenure. You may divide tasks up another way (for example, viewing recruitment and hiring as someone else’s responsibility), and that’s okay. But we prefer to think of it from the new hire’s point of view: Every interaction, from the first point of contact through the first week and well into active work, contributes to the employee’s first impression and the overall employee experience.
Step 1: Stay top of mind from recruitment to the first interview
First, examine the first few segments of your onboarding process and ask yourself: Do you intentionally keep your company top of mind for serious candidates?
Suppose you were a hiring manager during the last economic downturn, where good professional jobs were relatively scarce. In that case, it’s easy to assume that every applicant is waiting desperately for you to email them back. That probably isn’t the case today, with record numbers of open positions amid low unemployment.
If you’re hiring for competitive roles, your candidates have other companies on their list. So you have to keep yourself in front of them. From the first point of contact during recruitment (either you reach out to a candidate and ask them to apply, or you reach out post-application) through that first interview, keep gaps as short as possible. If you can’t make a decision right away, explain why and assure the candidate they’re still high in the running.
Here are a few best practices during this step:
- Make sure your career-related content (job descriptions, “about us” pages, and so forth) is clear and enticing.
- Be as transparent as you can about pay, benefits, remote status, and so forth. Today's job seekers are quick to skip past vague job posts.
- Close any unnecessary gaps in the process and between communications with the prospect.
Pro tip: Where possible, you want this process to feel seamless. When there are lengthy gaps between points of contact, top talent may get gobbled up elsewhere. These gaps also silently communicate that you’re not particularly interested in the candidate or not motivated to fill the role. (These things may not be true, but they are the likely assumptions your applicant will make.)
Step 2: Send a personal video that expresses your excitement to team up
When you identify the candidate you want to hire, it's time to send an offer. Often this happens in conjunction with your HR professionals, so adjust the following advice to fit your context.
Your HR team probably already has an offer letter or template ready to go with the new hire paperwork. However, chances are high that that templated offer letter is not that interesting or personal and sticks to a “just the facts” approach.
Consider adding your own spin by sending a personal video as part of the offer package. Personalized videos are a great way to welcome a new team member and show your excitement about them joining the team. Even more than a personalized offer letter, a video showcases your personality: your facial expressions, body language, and tone. This can help the new employee feel more connected to you, as it lets them see you as a real person right away — versus a name on a screen.
If successful onboarding is about bringing in new team members so they quickly become part of the team or even hit the ground running, then they need to know you — you, personally, their boss — care that they’re coming.
Here are a few best practices during this step:
- Be friendly and convey excitement.
- Use clear, simple language and avoid legalese. (Human resources will provide plenty of the latter.)
- Add as much personality as you can, but don’t promise anything you aren’t authorized to do or offer.
Pro tip: Your personalized video can be more than just a friendly point of contact. If the scope of the job is different than the job description suggests (or if you’re sure you’ll adjust the person’s assignment from the basic or generic job they applied for), mention these elements as job responsibilities and expectations in the letter. Hopefully, these things are already clear, but you want to head off a potential mismatch here (if not earlier).
Step 3: Make early onboarding feel like an event
Early onboarding, or pre-onboarding, is the window of time that starts when your job candidate signs their offer letter and ends when they walk in (or boot up their computer, in the case of remote employees) for day one of employment.
This stage of your onboarding plan is absolutely vital for setting the tone for the first month and even the entire first year. Based on whatever does and doesn’t happen here, your new hire will start their first day already knowing your company values and management approach.
In other words, employee engagement doesn’t start at zero — it starts at a figure that’s either positive or negative, largely depending on this pre-onboarding window.
Continue communicating with the prospective new hire throughout this window, answering any questions they may have about their new role. Give them a sense of what to expect at least on day one (if not week one): When should they arrive or log in? What should they do at that point? What is their login information or access credentials?
Send a personalized welcome video that walks the new hire through all these early-day nuances, so the person can refer back to it as needed. You can even take things a step further with introductory videos for your whole team. Each person can film a short, minute-long video introducing themselves, and you can store those videos in your enterprise video hosting solution, like Rewatch.
When you use video content created and shared in Rewatch, you don’t have to recreate the wheel each time a new employee joins the team. And as an added bonus, video conveys a much more dynamic first impression than a photo and text.
Here are a few best practices for this step.
- Hold check-ins at least weekly. Does the new hire have any new questions about office life, logistics, benefits, expectations, etc.? Invite them to ask you.
- Provide additional clarifying documents if possible (such as the employee handbook and dress code information). Make sure the candidate knows they are not obligated to read ahead of time for compliance reasons.
- Give your new hire their access credentials before day one.
- For remote employees, provide a clear sequence of events (e.g., "Log onto PC using provided username and temporary password, open Teams [or whatever communication app your organization uses], add me, and let me know you’re online.").
Pro tip: If you’re advertising a great company culture, you’d better deliver! Nothing is quite as depressing as showing up to a cold, empty desk with nothing but a laptop. Welcome your new hire with basic office supplies and a few high-quality items to improve their day-to-day work. Bonus points if those items are branded with your company name and logo.
This tip works just as well with remote employees, though, of course, the logistics will change a bit since you'll need to mail these items ahead of time.
Step 4: Set the stage for employee success on day one
Let’s be honest: At most jobs, day one kind of sucks.
Think back to your last first day. You arrive, potentially unsure where to park. You try to enter the building, but your badge doesn’t unlock the door (if you have a badge at all). You make your way to the place you interviewed, taking two wrong turns along the way. You find your boss’s desk. It’s empty. You poke around and eventually find a desk with your nametag on it— if you’re lucky. And we could go on (but we’ll stop there).
Or, maybe your first day was an endless series of meetings and conversations about both menial information (like where’s the restroom) and detailed job-specific information you’re not ready to absorb or won’t actually use for weeks.
Our advice? Don’t do that.
Instead, be ready for that new employee. Be armed with checklists and a specific sequence of tasks. And really treat this early-stage (boring) stuff like real tasks — assign a certain number for day one, day two, etc. Your new hire will feel a sense of accomplishment, like they’re generating value from day one, rather than just feeling lost.
Here are some best practices for this step:
- Keep your schedule as clear as possible for each new hire’s first day.
- If that’s not possible, appoint a “work buddy” — an experienced peer who can step in when you’re unavailable.
- No new employee should eat alone on day one. Assign a few work buddies, and cover the cost of lunch that first day. Or hold a virtual lunch as a get-to-know-you time for the new employee’s team if your team works remotely.
- Turn as much “day one” stuff as possible into documents or videos that employees can access later on. An enterprise video communications platform like Rewatch lets you create and share training and onboarding videos into a branded, employee-only channel. This is a great way to reduce overwhelm for new hires, who will have so much thrown at them in the early days.
Pro tip: Remember, everything about a new hire's first day communicates your company culture and how serious you are about success. Don’t leave that up to chance. Document what needs to happen and help the new hire work through those tasks.
Step 5: Plot out your onboarding process for the next three months
Solving day one is half the battle. But your new hire will need ongoing support to continue gaining productivity and confidence, especially over the first three months.
Our advice is the same here as on day one: Don’t wing it or leave it to chance. Build out 90-day checklists for new hires: What should happen during the first week? The first month? The second month? What goals or targets should a new hire reach by those points, and what metrics do you use to find out?
The first 90 days are crucial because much of an employee’s sense of you as an employer will be set by then. If your company or department was caring, clear, and competent over that period, you’ve established an image that helps retain new employees.
Here are some best practices for this step:
- Map out what needs to happen during various windows of time (first week, first month, second month, third month).
- Check-in regularly about progress through that map and invite questions about anything and everything.
- Plug the new hire into a team as soon as possible, even if in a partial or supportive capacity.
Pro tip: For ongoing training resources the new hire will use in the first 90 days, leverage a video communications platform like Rewatch. Video is especially useful in that it’s accessible and can be revisited at any point, and it shines for anything with a visual component that words alone can’t show (like all those slides at your company all-hands meetings).
Onboarding, ongoing: Going beyond the first 90 days
True onboarding goes on a lot longer than 90 days — it’s a continuous process.
Consider onboarding for new projects. This is a great way of gathering all the necessary people and resources needed to complete a new project, which can prevent a lot of project-related hiccups: miscommunication, exceeding budgets, poor prioritization, and dissatisfied customers.
Instead, you can focus on building a project onboarding workflow: meeting with the client, determining feasibility, gathering resources, and project planning. This type of continuous onboarding can improve project outcomes and make your team more efficient and profitable as a result.
Onboarding also extends to ongoing learning and development opportunities. Giving team members the opportunity to learn new skills (through training courses, certification programs, webinars, etc.) can help them move into other roles within the company, whether it’s laterally or through a promotion. Remember, great individual contributors don’t automatically become great managers: They need guidance to get there.
In many instances, managers handle continuous onboarding opportunities on an ad hoc basis: as a new project comes up, as development opportunities are presented, etc. But what happens when the manager or experienced team member leaves?
A video content management system like Rewatch is an ideal solution. With a library of training materials available, an organization can onboard employees who are being promoted even after the person who would’ve trained them leaves the company.
Level up your onboarding process with Rewatch
Onboarding is not a simple process or a one-time event: instead, it requires intentionality, careful organization, and ongoing input and effort from hiring managers like you.
Video can make many aspects of the onboarding process much simpler and less time-intensive. Instead of walking through repetitive training with every single new hire, your organization can create video versions of certain training and onboarding elements just once, and every new employee can benefit from them.
With Rewatch, organizations can maintain video content of all types, including onboarding and training content. By pushing the repetitive stuff over to video, you’ll free up time in your own schedule to focus on the more complex or contextual onboarding needs.
Ready to simplify your onboarding workflows with video? Check out Rewatch today!
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