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How employee onboarding will change in a post-pandemic hybrid workplace

Future of Work|Talent|Bienestar integral
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Jason Stewart , John Jones and Sara Vallas | March 26, 2021

Most organizations struggle with bringing new hires into the work environment. The pandemic has made it even more challenging.

The world of work changed at a breakneck pace over the past year, propelled by remote work policies and monumental socio-political events driven by the pandemic. Employees are looking to their companies for leadership and support for their wellbeing as they navigate the resulting challenges, and the best employers are responding in kind. Many organizations are taking a second look at how they onboard new employees to create a meaningful, welcoming and inclusive moment that prepares them for their future in the organization.

Onboarding practices are designed primarily to socialize new employees to their new roles and new work environment. The experience typically establishes a sense of clarity for new employees — what is expected from them and, more importantly, what they can expect from the organization. Understanding what’s expected is critical to moving new employees to full productivity quickly. But there’s more employers can do to improve confidence, bolster wellbeing and affirm their decision to stay with the organization.

But with the “new normal” impacting organizational wellbeing (see infographic below), it has become critical to reassess the facets of employee experience and to adopt new strategies and tactics to address new workforce challenges. Consider that in the next three years, many organizations plan to transform into hybrid workplaces as flexible work arrangements become even more common, according to 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) and Flexible Work and Rewards Survey: 2021 Design and Budget Priorities. Such changes make reimagining the onboarding strategy and effectively engaging new employees from day one critical.

60% of employers will formalize alternative work arrangements within 12 months.
Alternative work arrangements could become a normal way of working

Source: Flexible Work and Rewards Survey: 2021 Design and Budget Priorities

58% will make alternative work arrangements permanent.

Set the stage for a future-focused onboarding experience

In bringing new talent — especially fresh graduates — to this new paradigm, employers need to rethink their approaches to employee engagement across an increasingly diverse and distributed workforce.

Employees with lower emotional wellbeing and social connections are almost half as likely to feel disconnected from their team or organization.
Some effects of remote working on emotional wellbeing

Source: 2020 Global Benefits Attitude Survey

What should organizations work on now to ensure new hires can quickly acclimate to their new positions and feel supported in a new and changing workplace? How can employers engage a new generation of talent for the long haul?

Low emotional and social wellbeing levels lead to increased turnover and presenteeism.
Some of the challenges caused by lower emotional or social wellbeing

Source: 2020 Global Benefits Attitude Survey

Gen Y and Gen Z, disabled and LGBT+ employees are most challenged.

Creating a positive onboarding experience starts with:

Management

  • Train managers and leaders to successfully engage teams in a hybrid/flexible working environment. Managers need to be intentional and consistent in helping new hires adapt to existing dynamics within the organization. Double down on strengthening management’s capabilities for empathy, listening, responsiveness, creative solutioning, transparency and flexibility.
  • Rewrite the guidebook for performance management. Take a step back and rethink the expected behaviors from employees in a virtual/hybrid setup. In addition to meeting business targets, employees will need to develop skills for thriving in the new normal. According to the World Economic Forum, self-management and interpersonal communication are among the “hot” skills in the post-pandemic workplace.
  • Revisit your career framework and align it to shifting trends in talent and skills demand in the market. Currently, only one in every five organizations believe their existing job architecture and job leveling process support the need to develop a workforce for the future, according to our Flexible Work and Rewards Survey. A clear path for career development encourages new talent to stay and grow with an organization.

Mentoring

  • Enable managers to prioritize time for mentoring. Regular, scheduled one-on-one check-ins are crucial for assuring new hires that they are on track and for managers and employees to get to know each other better.
  • Introduce a “buddy system” for onboarding and peer-to-peer mentoring. This immediately brings the new employees’ colleagues into the circle and establishes early social connections within the first few weeks.
  • Create networks of mentors or learning communities. Two-thirds of organizations have created or plan to establish virtual means for their distributed workforce to connect and collaborate more effectively, according to our Flexible Work and Rewards Survey.

Wellbeing

  • Know the unique personal challenges of new employees. All new hires, but particularly young professionals, are looking for support with stress, anxiety and mental health issues, while older workers want to be assured about their health and retirement benefits, according to GBAS. Ensure that new employees are fully informed of how the organization can support their unique needs and also enable easy access to these services.
  • Get a fresh inclusion and diversity (I&D) perspective. Organizations looking to hire for diversity must first evaluate and address possible gaps in existing knowledge, experience and process; for example unconscious bias and pay equity issues. Sincere efforts speak volumes and make a lasting impact for new employees — especially in this era where missteps can have huge impact on employee engagement and employer reputation. Employee resource groups (ERGs) may need new charters, expansions of purpose or greater focus on real needs.
  • Support personal interests and side projects. With agile working, employees have more time for other activities that run the gamut from hobbies to side gigs for extra income. The pandemic created unprecedented burden on employees, impacting them in every aspect of wellbeing, so some may even use the extra time for therapy. Encouraging employees to freely share and support each other in their personal interests signals trust from leadership and fosters a true sense of community.

Culture

  • Put value on onboarding. Culture fit is a two-way street. New hires’ experience of their first few days and weeks in the organization can make a lasting impression that will inspire or discourage them to stay.
  • Introduce the organization through storytelling. What better way to energize new hires for the road ahead than through stories? Storytelling invites the listener into moments in time that illustrate what kind of organization they’ve joined and how they might fit into that world.
  • Get feedback from new employees on their experience. Continually fine-tune the onboarding process by asking new employees about their experience: what worked, what didn’t work, what could be better?

Technology

  • Let technology take care of the administrative heavy lifting. Imagine being a new hire on day one and immediately accessing a digital experience that guides you through your first few steps in the organization. This can be especially helpful in large organizations with troves of documentation, knowledge and processes that new hires cannot be expected to navigate on their own. Take a fresh look at how your virtual resources are set up. Do they enable a newcomer to be efficient immediately?
  • Simplify the learning journey; get new employees fully onboarded faster. Invest in a holistic learning and development strategy for the continuous improvement of employees and maximize online training to drive upskilling/reskilling initiatives.
  • Maximize employee listening tools for real-time insights. 52% of organizations will adapt current tools and 16% will add new tools to support employee listening efforts, according to our Reopening the Workplace: Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey and Assessment. Beyond convenience, advanced survey platforms readily equip employers with actionable insights and best practices for designing highly effective employee experiences.

Start fresh, start now

Simply retrofitting your current onboarding program to the new work challenges is a short-term strategy that will not support long-term goals post pandemic. Employee engagement and retention require a thoughtful, intentional effort that begins on day one. Take the time now to develop a great onboarding experience for new hires that reflects and builds on the new environment and ultimately boosts the organizational culture.

Authors

Senior Director, Work and Rewards

North American Talent Leader, Willis Towers Watson

John specializes in improving employee engagement and aligning HR with strategic business objectives, bringing more than 30 years of HR, change leadership, communication, compensation and talent identification experience to his clients.


Director, Talent & Rewards, Communication & Change Management

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