Rachele Collins

Improving your onboarding process can significantly enhance a new employee’s initial impression, solidifying their decision to join and offering an outstanding experience from the start..

The onboarding process is a critical lever in early engagement and retention of new hires at any organization. ADP Research Institute has found that survey respondents at companies with a formal new hire onboarding program are about two times more likely to be promoters of their company’s talent brand than those with an informal program. Done well, a structured onboarding process can:

  • Increase new hire retention
  • reduce turnover
  • accelerate speed to competency
  • increase new hire productivity, satisfaction and engagement
  • foster knowledge/trust/connection
  • reduce the cost to hire.

The goals of onboarding are to build a sense of connection between employee and employer, provide physical/social/psychological comfort to new hires and engrain the new hire into your organization’s culture early on. How can your team deliver a differentiated process—one that goes beyond just checking the administrative boxes—in order to foster these human factors of connection, comfort and culture? Review our suggestions below to “kick it up a notch” at your company for the onboarding of both in-person and remote or hybrid new employees.

Kicking it up a notch

Leverage an automated process.

The foundation of a strong onboarding journey is a modern, easy-to-use digital process with embedded workflows, electronic tools and documentation, and mobile access. Leveraging automated onboarding, new personnel and managers can use your company’s employee portal to review what needs to be done and by when, electronically complete required paperwork, view company culture videos and messages from leadership, access welcome and instructional materials, and be prompted for various outstanding tasks and documents. And the good news is that much of this can be done before the new employee’s first day at work, helping ensure that they are able to hit the ground running when they start work their first day.

Create a customized onboarding plan.

A comprehensive and structured onboarding project and learning plan helps the new hire understand their early career path and powerfully demonstrates their importance to your organization. Companies seeking to elevate their onboarding program should create a tailored agenda and learning program for the first week and beyond. This plan should start with specific goals and objectives for the new employees’ role and incorporate clear performance expectations at key milestones. Consider building into the plan:

  • Incorporation of an assessment such as StandOut in the early days so that the team can quickly get to know the new hire and his/her strengths (and vice versa, sharing the team’s strengths with the new employee)
  • Assignment of a peer as a “buddy” for a period of time (suggest one-month minimum) to answer questions and help show new employees the ropes
  • Designation of an executive mentor to help shepherd the new associate at the strategic level
  • Creation of “meet and greets” with teammates and other important stakeholders
  • Provision of mentoring and shadowing opportunities
  • Offering of experiential, hands-on learning opportunities where new associates have the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way early on
  • Inclusion of regular training sessions on important tools and technologies
  • Incorporation of a recommended e-learning curriculum
  • Inclusion of recurring check-ins on progress and opportunities for the new employee to ask questions

Make new hires feel special even before day one.

The time between when a new associate signs an offer letter and actually starts at the organization has been referred to as “the dead zone.” Communication can ease anxiety during this time. The hiring manager or their direct manager should conduct early and proactive outreach with the new employee prior to their start date (and beyond) to welcome them, answer their questions and ensure they know where to go and when.

An added touch to the process includes mailing the new hire a care package of branded company “swag.” In this package companies can include a letter from the new manager and/or other organizational leader(s) to provide a welcome outreach. The care package doesn’t have to be expensive and can go a long way to making the new hire feel special.

Make a positive first impression from the start date (and beyond).

The early days of a new hire’s experience offer a critical opportunity for organizational bonding. It’s important not to waste or disregard all the effort and cost that went into bringing the recruit to this point by not paying proper attention to this phase.

Certainly, HR and direct managers need to ensure the broader teammates are familiar with the background and arrival of the new employee and that key stakeholders such as the receptionist, IT and security are aware and prepared to welcome them. The new hire’s workplace should be set up with all the equipment, tools and resources that they’ll need to do their job from the get-go. And of course, someone should be designated to show the new employee the basics of where things are located (restrooms, coffee bar, cafeteria, mail room and printers). If the new team member will be a remote employee, another virtual employee should be tasked with the appropriate tour of online company resources.

Consider extra touches to create these positive initial impressions, such as:

  • A photo of the new hire on a digital welcome sign or intranet page
  • An email welcoming and virtually introducing them to the team
  • Inclusion of new employees on all relevant email distribution lists and team meeting notices
  • A branded coffee mug or pens and paper at their desks
  • Asking colleagues to come by and personally welcome the new hire (may arrange for a paid virtual lunch for remote employees)
  • A designated colleague(s) to take them to lunch
  • Letting new hires know what is of note in the surrounding areas (childcare, eateries, dry cleaning)
  • Early team-building activities
  • Introductory meetings between the new employee, their direct teammates and any other important stakeholders

Map it out for them.

It is important for HR and the manager to think through the new hire’s early experience with the knowledge, tools and resources that they will need to get started. Providing such information can greatly accelerate the time to competency for new hires.

To accomplish this, organizations can refer new hires to online tutorials and resources to learn about the organization, such as:

  • An enterprise architecture diagram or relationship map that explains all the different tools and technologies (intranet, rewards and recognition, CRM, ERP, payroll, benefits, social), what each does and what it is used for, and how they interconnect.
  • A relationship map for different departments and roles, as an overlay to standard organization charts, demonstrates how different areas in the organization work together and where and when they connect.
  • A “value stream map” for the department or business to instruct how the organization provides goods/services and makes revenue, including a detailed description of the types of products and services that the organization provides.
  • An FAQ is accessible on the portal including links to resources and answers to questions that new hires typically have as part of the initial knowledge transfer plan.

Make it fun.

While initial organizational training about safety, policies, and procedures is certainly necessary, the volume of information can be overwhelming. Some ideas to add an element of fun to new hire onboarding include:

  • “Gamification” incorporated into learning opportunities.• A scavenger hunt where the new hire searches electronically for key organizational artifacts and earns points they can redeem at the company store.
  • Visits to different organizational worksites, including visits with teams upstream and downstream, so that they can understand the scope of their work, the inputs and outputs to their jobs and make key connections.
  • A special project that the new associate can shadow for a period of time to learn in a low-risk way from others about their role or related roles.

Implement bi-directional communication and follow up on it.

Regular check-ins (consider at minimum weekly or bi-weekly in the first 60 days to 6 months) between the new employee and his/her manager should be a standard part of the onboarding process to ensure he/she has the opportunity to ask questions and understand their performance expectations. Be sure to gather feedback from new employees via an onboarding survey(s) and ask Human Resources and the manager’s manager to check in periodically during onboarding to see how he/she is doing. You can then analyze and act on feedback gathered as part of your HR team’s continuous improvement process.

Special considerations for onboarding remote employees

While the balance of power has lately swung back toward the employer in terms of in-office versus remote work with many employers emphasizing return to work at least for part of the workweek, remote work is much more prevalent today than it was pre-Covid. Many workers believe this trend will continue: According to the ADP Research Institute, 28 percent of workers believe that within 5 years it will be the norm in their industry to have the ability to work from anywhere, and another 28 percent anticipate the move to a four-day workweek.

In a remote work environment, certain aspects of new hire onboarding become even more important, such as working access to the tools and resources remote hires need to do their jobs (and plenty of IT support initially to get them set up), the criticality of frequent check-ins and communication and leveraging a digital portal for access to onboarding information and tasks.

Consider incorporating the following elements into your onboarding program to elevate the experience for remote hires:

  • If possible, have the manager actually meet in person with the new employee at their local office or rented conference space when they first start work at the organization.
  • Scheduling a team Webex meeting on the first day of work so that the new associate can meet the team through video and continuing with daily video check-ins with the remote employee and his or her manager for the first week of hire.
  • Leveraging video functionality for any Web meetings so that communication through facial expressions and body language is not lost.
  • Building in a cadence of virtual team-building exercises and periodic in-person meetings for the team so that they get to know the new hire and build trust.


Elevating your onboarding experience can go a long way to create a lasting, positive impression, one that reaffirms a new employee’s decision to join the organization and provides them with a phenomenal experience even before their first day on the job. In addition to a modern, digital experience, focus on building a sense of connection, comfort and enculturation by incorporating the activities above into your new hire onboarding process in order to build a strong foundation upon which your new employees will thrive at your company.

This article originally appeared on SPARK powered by ADP.

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