Onboarding — or bringing on new colleagues and getting them set up with the tools, knowledge, connections, and context they need to succeed in their new role — is one of the most crucial processes for a growing company. It’s also one that was made immensely more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic; the sudden switch to being primarily remote instead of primarily office-based left many companies unsure how to proceed when they started bringing on new hires again.
Lattice wasn’t immune to this confusion. When we resumed our hiring plans in the fall of 2020, we discovered that replicating the welcome, introductions, and even tech setup of onboarding pre-COVID, when working in a physical office was the norm, had to be recreated from scratch.
But after a year of learning to adapt to the new reality foisted upon us by the pandemic, we think we’ve found the answer. This year, we revamped our onboarding program — and made it entirely virtual and better than ever.
Fully remote, the program is comprehensive, but flexible enough to make sure new hires have all the information they need — and no confusing extra information they don’t. According to Maurice Bell, Lattice’s Head of People Operations, moving our entire onboarding process to a virtual model has let Lattice build a more inclusive, thoughtful, robust, and scalable experience — and critically, one that better serves new hires.
As 2020 progressed and Lattice felt positioned to start bringing on new hires again, we did our best to recreate our former in-house processes. The goal at that point was to try to provide new employees with a basic introduction to their role that would set them up for success within our organization. The onboarding content and procedures were recreated for each new hire and spearheaded by each hire’s direct manager — not easy, but manageable as Lattice brought on small groups of five or fewer new employees every few weeks.
While work for almost all employees had shifted to remote, Bell said, the majority (although not all) of Lattice employees had been based in the company’s San Francisco office. The general consensus was that when the pandemic ended, regular in-person onboarding would resume, too. But knowing that virtual onboarding would be a business feature for at least the foreseeable future, we decided we needed to invest more seriously in our remote program.
“When it became clear that it wasn’t even going to be an option for some people to have that intensive, in-person introduction to the company, [we knew] it was going to create an inequitable experience”
To do this, Lattice HR created new onboarding templates and resources to support managers as they built out their teams, and we expanded our existing new-hire meet-and-greet sessions and buddy programs to recreate some of the missing in-person relationship-building of before the pandemic.
The experience, said Bell, was bolstered by enthusiasm from new employees, who took a flexible, “let’s-make-it-happen” attitude to the work-in-progress transition. “There wasn’t a lot of expectation of experienced execution,” he said. “We had so much grace from new employees.”
Despite the challenges, hiring continued to grow even as the envisioned back-to-office future remained out of reach. In fact, Lattice ended 2020 having hired and onboarded more than 80 employees; we built on that process the following year to bring in more than 270 additional team members. New-hire cohorts increased in size every two weeks, with the largest groups including 20 or more new employees at a time.
But unlike in past years, the recruits in 2021 weren’t primarily based in San Francisco. The opening of new Lattice offices in both New York City and London meant that even office-based employees were spread out across multiple time zones. Additionally, after more than a year of seeing just how possible growth could be with a work-from-home model, Lattice was increasingly hiring candidates who weren’t based near any of our corporate offices, and for whom an office-based onboarding program would never be feasible.
The rapid increase in headcount — and the logistical challenges the time differences created — put increasing strain on the virtual onboarding process. “Hiring snuck up on us a little bit,” Bell recalled. The growing burden on individual managers meant processes were slow and ad hoc, leaving gaps in some new hires’ knowledge. Lattice responded, Bell said, by adding additional trainings and presentations.
“We thought, let’s embrace this and roll with it and own it,”
But as hiring intensified, the strain on the system started to show, he explained. Workflows and systems that relied on manual processes or one or two employees to run couldn’t absorb the skyrocketing demand, and with a greater variety of roles being added, tracking the onboarding needs of each individual person became increasingly complicated.
“With the diversity of roles coming in — this person needed this system, and that person needed these systems — and the sheer number [of new hires], it was getting complex,” Bell said. “There was a moment when things were clearly starting to break.”
Just as concerning, he continued, was the effect this was having on the new-hire experience. “We recognized that the experience was disjointed — any given cohort might have a totally different onboarding, depending on who was available for a session and what time zone they were in,” he noted. For example, new hires in the UK might have to start at 4pm on their first day, or watch a recording of a key presentation instead of being able to attend in real time.
And there was one more added pressure: Lattice’s growth plans called for hiring another 500 people in 2022. It was increasingly evident that we needed to reimagine our onboarding plans, said Bell — and more so, that committing to a virtual onboarding model was the right path forward.
“When it became clear that it wasn’t even going to be an option for some people to have that intensive, in-person introduction to the company, [we knew] it was going to create an inequitable experience” to try to maintain an office-based protocol as the gold standard, Bell said. Moving forward with a virtual onboarding process as the standard was an easy choice. “We thought, let’s embrace this and roll with it and own it,” he recalled.
The New Plan
Embracing the possibilities of virtual onboarding meant completely reimagining the process from the ground up, with a focus on making onboarding not only more equitable for all kinds of workers in all time zones, but creating a better, more comprehensive and thorough introduction to Lattice, said Bell. And given Lattice’s aggressive hiring goals, the process needed to be scalable and as efficient as possible, he said.
This effort kicked off in the fourth quarter of 2021, when Lattice’s People Operations team, along with representatives from Recruiting, IT, Marketing, Product, Design, Sales, and CX, met to reimagine onboarding. The objective was to make improvements across four areas: the process, the systems used, the content, and the way it was communicated.
The cross-disciplinary team made a number of key changes, including:
- Automating even more of the new-hire process so systems were communicating with each other; less manual entry meant increased efficiency and lower user error.
- UK- and US-specific onboarding task profiles for payroll, pension, and benefits were created to keep information for new hires relevant and up-to-date.
- A self-guided IT setup program was created and IT adjusted their support hours to accommodate employees based in all time zones, including the UK, helping to ensure that new hires are able to get up and running smoothly and have timely access to any technical assistance they may require.
Perhaps most importantly, the team dove into what information each new hire would really need to know and when. That began with an overhaul on what communications new hires received before starting and when they received them.
Instead of one lengthy, overwhelming, catch-all email sent at some point prior to a employee’s start date, the new protocol features an automated drip email campaign that begins two weeks before the start date with a welcome email, and follows up every few days with critical information, including an email dedicated to IT and home office matters, one with details about payroll and benefits, and others that explain more about Lattice and provide additional onboarding details. Finally, three days before a new employee’s start date, these communications culminate in a “hype” email that includes not just important contact information the new hire will need, but also a video clip of a spoken-word performance by corporate and leadership training consultant, TEDx speaker, and poet Azure Antoinette. This snippet from Lattice’s most recent Resources for Humans Virtual conference is intended to inspire new employees and introduce them to Lattice's workplace culture.
"This onboarding [program] being made a consistent, thoughtfully designed experience has kept us close, kept the culture close, and kept the community close."
This overhaul also extended to the way information is delivered once new hires have started. The new onboarding protocol calls for a paced two-week curriculum that includes a mix of live sessions and self-guided activities, all designed to introduce the new hire to their specific role, team, and, critically, the company as a whole. The cohort’s Day 1 experience, in particular, was a major focus.
“We really revisited the idea of what the pre-COVID first-day experience of joining a company was — where you met colleagues and had your first [introduction to] the company,” said Bell. He noted that amid the upheaval of adjusting to remote work, for some people, their first Lattice experience could be an IT setup instead of a welcome to the company.
“We spent a lot of time on Day 1 — for us, it was really important to mark the moment,” said Bell.
In our revamped virtual onboarding program, Day 1 has been redesigned and adapted so all employees will have a similar agenda, no matter which time zone they work in. And all Day 1 agendas contain a formal Lattice kickoff, including a welcome presentation covering the company’s core values called “Making Work Meaningful” led by senior leadership.
Following the structured first day, new employees work through a series of presentations designed to get them acclimated to their role and the organization. The first week’s sessions are dedicated to understanding the company, product, and culture, the second to understanding our business strategy. Both are designed to occupy about 10 to 15 hours in each of the employees’ first two weeks, allowing them to get familiar with critical company context and mission as they’re getting settled into their new roles and on their individual teams. Panel discussions that include recent hires, as well as presentations by senior leadership, are both designed to give new hires connections to more established colleagues, while a dedicated Slack channel for each new-hire cohort keeps them in touch with other employees going through the same experiences.
The Early Results
Lattice’s new system got its first tryout early in 2022, when we onboarded our first cohort of 42 new hires, a process Bell said really validated all the team’s efforts.
“These folks are coming in and having a similar experience, they speak the same language — it’s helping us ramp up quickly and get people integrated,” he said.
But Lattice isn’t just relying on our own assessment to judge success. New hires are able to respond to real-time surveys following each live session or training, and we also launched our Onboarding Survey tool. Administered the Monday after each new hire’s second week, this survey tool lets new hires assess their onboarding experience as a whole, and share how prepared they feel following the process to tackle and succeed in their new positions.
It’s a necessary first step, Bell said, to evaluate whether the process “did what it [was] intended to do.” Though it’s still early in the process, initial results are positive: “I think it has,” he said. (The numbers suggest he’s right — survey results from the initial cohort show that with 69% of new hires responding, the process has an overall score that is 95% positive.)
“Everyone here knows what it means to work at Lattice, and that’s powerful.”
Feedback from the survey will be critical for long-term evaluation, allowing Lattice to identify any new hires who assess their onboarding as particularly poor, and letting their manager and People partner follow up. It will also let us compare onboarding results with our existing 90-Day employee survey to discern any trends relating the onboarding experience to performance.
While our revamped onboarding process will continue to be refined as Lattice grows and evolves, Bell said the new virtual onboarding protocol has done exactly what the team had hoped: It’s made new Latticians feel like they are truly part of the team.
“Even though we’ve gone through such rapid growth, we haven’t yet had that thing where everyone asks, ‘Who are all these new people?’ That disjointedness — that’s not happening.” Bell said. “Through all that rapid growth, this onboarding [program] being made a consistent, thoughtfully designed experience has kept us close, kept the culture close, and kept the community close,” he noted. “Everyone here knows what it means to work at Lattice, and that’s powerful.”
Lattice is hiring! Interesting in joining us on our mission to make work meaningful? Check out careers at Lattice.