Onboarding can set the tone for a new employee’s entire work experience. But with new hires not always getting the injection of office culture straight off the bat like they used to, the stakes for nailing onboarding are higher.
Some companies are experimenting with new approaches. For example, one worker who requested anonymity given they had just started a new job, shared that even before they officially started, they received a video montage including a clip of every single person from their new team personally greeting them and telling them how they will be working together.
Meanwhile other companies – like GitLab – have gone for the opposite end of the spectrum: self-guided onboarding. However, experts advise against this latter approach, saying it can risk a person feeling disengaged and lost while they start a new job.
Instead, they advise onboarding techniques that help new hires build connections straight out of the gate, and sets them up for success. That often means communicating with them before their start date. “A successful onboarding process should start before the employee even steps foot in the door,” said Nick Riesel, managing director of office rental company FreeOfficeFinder.
Customer.io, an automated messaging platform for marketers, has a pre-onboarding email campaign that it sends out to new hires. “They [new hires] receive four emails over the course of their time waiting to get started in their roles that outline exactly what they can expect from us, what we are excited about with them coming on board, and outlines what their first day, week and month will look like,” said Elizabeth Tancreti, people and culture specialist at Customer.io.
“We get a lot of feedback on how this eases the transition process and makes folks feel excited and eager to jump in since there isn’t any guesswork about what they’ll be doing on day one,” she added.
Little things like that can help someone get a taste of the company culture that they are about to enter.
We spoke to a number of workers to learn what made their onboarding experience stand out and why it set them up for success. Whether it’s a remote, hybrid or in-person setting, the core of a successful onboarding is an intentional process that cultivates networking opportunities, which will ultimately leave the new hire feeling engaged and like they are the right fit.
“Especially in larger companies, creating strong internal networks is a vital part of getting up to speed and cementing oneself in the company culture,” said Sorby Grant, president at Climb Hire, which prepares adults for entry-level jobs in tech. “It also ensures multiple sources of guidance as an employee moves through the beginning stages of a new job.”
Grant recommends expanding connections past direct reports by identifying a few key figures who can serve as immediate resources.
That’s what Tasia Johnson experienced at workspace management software company Appspace. “An enterprise account manager became that person for me,” said Johnson. “I felt like she had all of this knowledge that I could really learn from, but she also just took me under her wing. She made sure I had the context and the content to be successful with these accounts. She supported me but didn’t overstep in terms of taking over and gave me the opportunity to build the rapport which I really appreciated. She just gave me the lay of the land in a way that wasn’t overpowering, but empowered me.”
Alongside this connection, Appspace has a “peer partner program,” which connects new hires with an internal source that you can ask any questions at any time. Johnson met with hers weekly.
Visual collaboration company Lucid Software also has a pathfinder program where new hires are paired with someone in the company familiar with their role to help them navigate the company.
“It is an opportunity to show new employees they feel welcomed and equipped with the tools and resources to hit the ground running,” said Kat Judd, svp of people and culture at Lucid Software.
Customer.io has people partners and buddies, which Savannah White, pr specialist, said was “a nice personal touch” to the onboarding process.
“I met with my ‘buddy’ right off the bat, which helped me integrate,” said White. “It provided me with the tools and knowledge to be empowered to do my job well and provided the perfect springboard to set me up for success in my new role.”
Christian Pierre, chief intelligence officer and partner at ad agency GUT Miami, is on the same page. “Part of our onboarding process has been to have our talent shadow more experienced people in this field, and then allow them to take over those responsibilities as soon as they have the knowledge to do so,” he said.
Grant also suggests finding time outside of the office to connect with coworkers. That’s exactly what set Matt Schulman’s onboarding experience apart. In his first week, the founder, his direct report, and the vp of marketing all got together in New York, which was a special trip for the founder and direct report since they are from out of town.
“It was super helpful,” said Schulman, who joined technology marketing company SalientMG as director of communications and executive visibility in March. “We got drinks, met with a couple of clients, shared Ubers together. It was a great way to then move forward on Zoom and have an established dynamic. It accelerated the process where you’re still feeling things out and would’ve taken a lot longer if you were relying on just Zoom.”
In addition to being able to make connections quickly, Schulman also appreciated how he was trusted right away with responsibilities at his new job.
“There was no hesitation in me being involved,” said Schulman. “They completely trusted ‘he knows what he’s doing, that’s why we hired him, let’s let him do his thing.’ I really appreciated just being able to get started.”
It’s a sentiment that Johnson echoed as well, stating that her colleagues told her “you can take the lead,” which she also really appreciated as Schulman did too.
More and more companies are hoping to replicate that. Project management software company ClickUp revamped its onboarding process in 2022 to enable new hires to get into their role faster by reducing the number of hours in training from 32 live hours to a total of 12. It resulted in a 62% reduction in training-program hours. It’s something they received feedback about early on, with employees saying the amount of training material was manageable.
“As a result of revamped new hire orientation, 100% of new hires said they can articulate ClickUp’s mission and vision after their first week,” said Mandy Mekhail, director of talent development.