When you bring a new employee onto your team, you want to make sure you’re setting them up for success — and onboarding plays a huge role in that process.
Your employee onboarding process is “an employee’s true first impression of your culture, and the foundation that everything else will stem from,” said Jane Garza, Managing Director of NOBL Collective, an organizational design firm that helps create and refine corporate cultures. “It's the best time to set expectations around what you need from them, and without it, you miss out an opportunity to tighten the inevitable learning curve of joining a new company.”
But if you want to get your new hires not only prepared for their role, but also engaged with your organization and excited about the road ahead, your onboarding process needs to be more than just a stack of HR paperwork and a litany of trainings — you need to think outside the box. And while creative employee onboarding is always important, it’s even more important now, when a large percentage of workers are likely to be starting new jobs remotely from home.
“In a largely remote world, creative onboarding is necessary if you want to attract and retain talent,” said Betty Rodriguez, People and Culture Ops Specialist at Fit Small Business, a digital resource for small business owners. “We know that remote employees tend to be less engaged and connected to their peers. HR and hiring managers need to reinvent how they bring groups together to foster relationships without the convenience of an office space.”
Here are three creative employee onboarding ideas you can use to start off your new hires on the right foot, keep them engaged, and get them excited about their role within your organization.
Creative Onboarding Ideas to Try
1. Create an onboarding podcast.
Over the past several years, podcasts have steadily been gaining in popularity. According to The Infinite Dial 2020 Report from Edison Research and Triton Digital, more than one-third of Americans listen to podcasts monthly, with as many as one-fourth listening weekly. This listenership likely includes many of your new hires. Take advantage of this fast-growing media trend and use it for your employee onboarding process.
Putting your employee onboarding content into a podcast is an excellent way to distill onboarding information into a fun, easy-to-digest format for your new hires. Unless you have an experienced podcaster on your team, there will be a learning curve for recording and editing your podcasts. (Buzzsprout has a great step-by-step guide to help you get started.) But once you get the hang of it, you can create podcast episodes to cover general onboarding information — like background history about your company, interviews with leadership, and FAQs about HR processes — as well as department and/or role-specific episodes.
And once you create the content, you can continue to share the podcast with future new hires. “An internal onboarding podcast [is] personal, but scalable,” Garza said.
Just keep in mind that an onboarding podcast is only going to be effective if “you don’t let it get outdated, and employees are given [a] flexible [timetable] so they can choose whether they listen during the workday or not,” advised Garza.
2. Host round-robin-style sessions with leadership.
If you want your new employees to truly get acclimated with their role and the organization, they also need to be familiarized with your leadership — which is why you should create the opportunity for them to do this as part of your employee onboarding process.
Incorporating round-robin sessions into your onboarding process will ensure your new hires get the face time they need with your leadership team and vice versa from the very beginning, even if they won’t have the opportunity to interact with them regularly. “This is a key opportunity to establish connections, because most new hires will not be interacting with all of the leaders day-to-day,” Garza said.
“This can be broken up into one or two meetings per week where new hires meet with a senior leader for an hour to learn more about their interests and background, as well as their role within the organization,” Rodriguez suggested. “New hires will benefit from the one-on-one or small group sessions to speak with leaders and learn about each area of the company.”
3. Gamify the onboarding process.
There’s a lot of ground to cover during employee onboarding. Depending on how you deliver that information, it can make the process feel overwhelming — and, in all honesty, a bit boring. But an easy and effective way to keep your employee onboarding from veering into dull territory is to turn the process into a game.
There are a number of ways to transform your employee onboarding process into a game. For example, you could try “a scavenger hunt, virtual or live, that spans the course of the first week where [the new hire] must find answers to various questions, go to different locations, or meet different people,” said Tona Brewer, HR executive and founder of The Tona Brewer Group, a consulting firm that partners with executive teams to build talent strategies for growing their businesses. You might host a Jeopardy-style trivia contest to quiz your new hires on the information they learned in their training. You could even turn onboarding into a team competition, where new hires work with their team or department to complete a number of onboarding challenges, with the winning team getting a prize.
Turning your employee onboarding into a game is a creative way to make the experience more fun and engaging. And when your new hires are engaged and having fun, they’re more likely to retain the information they learn during the onboarding process, which will make them more engaged and effective in their role in the long run.
Tips for Rolling Out Your Onboarding Program
Whatever ideas you use for your employee onboarding, you’ll want to make sure the process is a success. Here are three tips to help you successfully develop and roll out your employee onboarding program.
1. Use your most recent hires to help develop the process.
Because your newest hires have most recently gone through the onboarding process, they’re the best resources when it comes time to onboard a new cohort of team members. “Involve your most recent hires in designing it. Getting direct employee feedback is the best way to evolve your onboarding for your context,” Garza said.
2. Make sure your onboarding experience is on-brand.
Your employee onboarding process should give your new team members insights into who you are as an organization, and what they can expect from your brand moving forward. “The really creative ideas are the ones most closely tied to a company’s context,” Garza said. “Treat your new employee like your most important client. How does your organization delight customers? How can you make your employees feel that same delight right off the bat?”
For example, if you’ve built your brand around creating an unparalleled customer service experience for your client, you need to put that same kind of care and thought into creating an unparalleled onboarding experience for your new hires. If your brand is known for creating the best digital education products in your industry, your onboarding experience should revolve around that same digital education experience.
In order for new employees to most effectively be able to advance your company, they need to fully understand who you are as a brand. Ideally that understanding should start at the outset of their employment, during the onboarding process.
3. Create opportunities for connection.
If you’re onboarding your employees remotely, they’re not going to have the opportunity to connect with their team members or managers in person. So, if you want them to feel connected to their role, their team, and your organization, you need to create those opportunities to connect.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is connection,” stressed Garza. “Empower new employees to find moments for impromptu connection across the company.”
Things like virtual coffee breaks and a buddy system that pairs new hires with more experienced team members for regular video calls can go a long way in ensuring your new employees feel connected to their team during — and beyond — the onboarding process.
Employee onboarding plays a crucial role in getting your new hires acclimated to their position, your team, and the organization. Especially now, when so many companies have pivoted to working remotely, extra thought and planning need to go into this process. There’s also a good chance that the system you have in place wasn’t designed with remote workers in mind, so it’s important to review and update it, taking the current circumstances into account.
With these creative onboarding ideas, you can take a process that could just be a dull series of obligations to check off a list, and turn it into something truly fun, memorable, and engaging for all those involved — your new hires as well as the team tasked with creating and implementing it.