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Onboarding Virtual Employees: Expectations vs. Reality

Be honest: when you accepted your current role, what were your expectations for your onboarding experience? Undoubtedly both you and your organization alike had the goal of an engaging and efficient onboarding process that quickly acclimated you to your role and to the organization as a whole, and prepared you to be successful on the job. However, within many organizations, the reality is a bit bleaker. Unfortunately, all too often onboarding experiences are unorganized, ad hoc (done on the fly), overwhelming (too much information to retain), or simply non-existent.

On the contrary, a successful onboarding experience sets a positive tone and leads to higher employee engagement, higher performance, and even higher retention. Wondering how to accomplish this magical feat?

Here are five ways to exceed employees’ expectations and successfully onboard new hires:

  1. Plan a structured first day and first week in role
Give your new employees a warm welcome! The specific details will vary from company to company, but this can include having their name displayed on their desk or office, planning a team lunch, and providing them with company swag such as water bottles and branded office supplies. Make it evident that you have anticipated their arrival, and prepare a comfortable and inviting workspace for them. Don’t forget to give them a tour of the physical office if they work onsite, as well as a virtual tour of your organization’s computer systems, intranet, and communication channels. After establishing a great first impression, provide structure to their first day and even their first week on the job. Schedule meetings for them with their peers, any assigned mentors or buddies, and any organizational leaders relevant to their work. Explain what their onboarding process will entail, and provide them with time to complete their onboarding tasks. As their leader, meet with them to discuss what they’re learning, and to give them the opportunity to ask any questions and provide feedback.
  1. Create opportunities for team building and relationship building with peers and their leaders
Assign a seasoned employee to mentor or be a “buddy” to your new hire. This relationship can be casual (meeting on their desired cadence to discuss topics they selected), or can be quite formal (meeting on a regular cadence to discuss pre-selected topics), based on the needs of your organization. Either way, your new hire will appreciate having a designated person to go to with questions and to help them get oriented in their new workplace. Being a mentor or coach can also provide excellent developmental opportunities to your more experienced employees, particularly if they have leadership aspirations or even coaching credentials. Furthermore, seek out opportunities to foster conversational “water cooler chat,” particularly among teams who work remotely. Whether this takes place during happy hours, social communication channels, or office parties, providing downtime for people to simply be people helps teammates form meaningful personal relationships with one another.
  1. Provide engaging and relevant training materials
Simply put, bad onboarding sets a bad tone for the new hire’s experience. Boring, dated training materials that don’t require any activity beyond clicking “Next” or passively scrolling through text kill employee engagement. Whether you purchase pre-designed training off the shelf, or design your own training materials, make a conscious effort to ensure your training content is interactive, interesting, and teaches the new hires relevant content they will actually use on the job. One highly engaging training method is to create microlearning content, which consists of “bite sized” learning experiences that can be completed in short amounts of time. For example, job aids, FAQ documents, and “how to” videos are all examples of microlearning. These resources can not only quickly and easily help new hires get oriented, but can also be useful outside of onboarding to veteran employees as well!
  1. Achieve proficiency in role in a short amount of time
The number one goal of any onboarding program should be for the new hire to become proficient in their role, as quickly as possible. In order to accomplish this goal, you must have clearly defined success metrics. Begin with identifying the overall learning objectives for your program (the measurable, observable outcomes you can teach your learners to perform). Next, break large objectives into subordinate, enabling objectives (for example, consider the metaphor of learning to crawl then walk before you can run). Create content that teaches your learning objectives, and assessments that measure learners’ performance against these objectives. Communicate performance goals and expectations to learners at every point in the process, so that they understand what is expected of them. With success metrics clearly defined and communicated, and with relevant training materials that teach these objectives, the path to achieving proficiency in a short amount of time is clearly laid.
  1. Gather feedback from your new hires
Empower your employees to share their thoughts on their onboarding experience, so that you can continue to improve it over time. Whether you do this through anonymous polls and surveys, or through new hires’ dialogue with peers and leaders throughout the onboarding program, take the time to collect data on your trainees’ thoughts and perspectives. This data will enable you to make corrections where needed, and to keep effective learning experiences in tact with the confidence that you truly are meeting your learners’ needs. A successful onboarding program is one critical step towards achieving both your organizational goals and your learners’ goals. The stakes are high; disengaged new hires run the risk of leaving for what they consider to be a better opportunity elsewhere if they haven’t found value in their time spent in their current role. Alternatively, they could remain on the job, but without the necessary skills to perform at the optimal level. By following the steps outlined here, you’ll create a personalized and engaging learning experience that is sure to exceed your employees’ expectations.

A successful onboarding program is one critical step towards achieving both your organizational goals and your learners’ goals. The stakes are high; disengaged new hires run the risk of leaving for what they consider to be a better opportunity elsewhere if they haven’t found value in their time spent in their current role. Alternatively, they could remain on the job, but without the necessary skills to perform at the optimal level. By following the steps outlined here, you’ll create a personalized and engaging learning experience that is sure to exceed your employees’ expectations.