Onboarding in a Hybrid World

May 24, 2021 | Culture/wellbeing

This past year pushed us to move from a cumbersome, paper-heavy onboarding process to a virtual one. While the process might be less weighty now, its challenges — the psychological rather than administrative ones — remain. The essence of the employee-employer relationship is built in those initial months. For the hybrid world of the future — where employees are scattered across remote and in-person roles — it is crucial to strengthen onboarding processes and decrease chances of missteps that could threaten this relationship. Here we bring relevant research to help improve the onboarding process and build lasting emotional connections.

Empower managers to be more involved

To improve virtual onboarding, place managers as the first line of support for the new hires. When researchers looked into the current virtual onboarding processes, they hypothesized that the onboarding experience worsened in comparison to the traditional in-person one. However, this was not always the case. How come? Well, the good ol’ managers pitched in. Now that employees were less able to rely on their peers, they pinned their hopes on the managers. Those employees whose managers stepped up were more likely to say they were satisfied with their onboarding experience and to feel that their contribution to the team is valuable.

Gradually communicate practices, define expectations, and set up goals

Some of the most effective organizations onboard their new employees for the duration longer than the typical one (closer to the full year!). This way, organizations avoid cognitive overload that comes from cramming everything in a single month. Rather, they communicate how things work from enrolling in health benefits to offering glossaries of acronyms that are often used at that organization. They clearly define what is expected from the employee, ensuring that they understand their job description as well as where the autonomy of their role begins and ends. Lastly — to build trust and show just how needed employees are early on — they set up goals, starting with the ones they are confident that the new employees can reach.

Make your employees feel psychologically safe

Psychological safety is essential to the health of a workplace. Being psychologically safe means you believe you will not be humiliated or punished when speaking up. That is, you can pose questions, take risks and give feedback without fearing embarrassment or worrying about your career. As new hires often (and naturally!) feel slightly insecure about their role, it is important to invest in building a safety net for them. One way to do this is to assign onboarding buddies whose role is to help the new employee feel comfortable. Clearly, psychological safety of today’s workplace is a whole new world — sharing a risky and creative solution is different than sharing one’s intimate struggles at home. To build a sense of psychological safety in a hybrid world, organization should be open with how past disclosures have allowed for the solutions that are better for everyone. Also, encouraging managers to share their own hybrid work challenges will help build a culture you are aiming for.

In a nutshell — ensure that managers know the importance of the role they play in the onboarding process; gradually communicate practices, define expectations, and set up goals; and actively build psychological safety within your organization.

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