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Remote Onboarding: Leveraging Event Design to Create Impactful Onboarding Experiences

Remote Onboarding: Leveraging Event Design to Create Impactful Onboarding Experiences

On my first day at twine, I had all of the normal excitement & nerves that come with a new job. 

I got up early, put on a new outfit, made sure my coffee was strong and that my home office was ready to go.  As the day progressed, I quickly realized that a lot of the normal “first day at work” worries (i.e will I be late trying to find parking? will I know how to use my computer? will I know where to heat up my lunch? what should I wear?) don’t really matter in a remote world. 

These worries were now replaced with what seemed like much larger, way harder to answer questions: what is my team like? How do I bond with my boss? Who gets along with who? How do I make friends?

These are the important questions that cannot be discovered in an employee handbook and have become much harder to answer in remote onboarding. Even before the rise of remote work, onboarding a new employee was a tough job. You’re responsible for bringing a new employee into a company of people that already have a shared history, and integrating them as quickly as possible.  How well you do this and how quickly you do this has a huge impact on the employee’s success with an organization.

Onboarding research shows that 28% of new employees would quit a new job in the first 90 days due to poor onboarding. That’s 1 out of every 4 team members potentially leaving your team within the first 3 months. The cost of replacing these employees is estimated to range between 100% and 300% of the employee’s salary. Even if they don’t quit, if you can’t properly integrate them into the team, they end up not contributing to their full potential and becoming a cost centre to the company. 

So what does good onboarding look like? Any onboarding checklist will cover the basics of filling out forms, computer setup, and proper email access. These are all tactical items, to be checked off a to-do list, part of a workflow, but what isn’t usually on the checklist but of much more importance is exposing a new hire to the nuances of your company culture, values, and networks.

A recent research study by Gallup found that 88% of organizations do not feel like they do a good job onboarding new employees. That means only 12% of organizations feel like they’re properly teaching new employees about their processes, tools, systems, but more important culture and norms. And this was before the major shift to remote work.

Onboarding becomes even more complex in a remote world. Without an office, new employees can’t serendipitously make friends in the break room, or walk around to observe cultural norms, or pop by a colleague’s desk for a quick chat. They can’t learn the unwritten things by osmosis as they normally would. WIth all of it’s added complexity, remote onboarding does, however, create an opportunity to turn the entire onboarding process into a more intentional experience, one you can design, one where you can control and orchestrate the inputs, the employee’s journey and the desired outcomes - it becomes about design thinking.

If you think about an employee’s remote onboarding experience as an end-to-end event experience, rather than a to do list, you can start to see how the company’s stories, shared history, vision, and norms can be weaved in. Just like a well designed event can tap into a participant’s emotions, tell a story, take the attendee on a journey, and leave them with new ideas and skills, a thoughtful onboarding experience can do the same for your new hire.

Designing The Remote Onboarding Story

I’m an event planner by trade. I think in empathy maps, experience journeys, desired outcomes, and storytelling.  Applying this lens, one focused on delivering an experience that invokes change, to the remote onboarding experience, here are  some design tips to help transform your remote onboarding program.

Incorporate storytelling

Our brains love stories because when you’re listening to a story, the brain becomes empathetic to the hero, it seeks understanding of the common enemy, it ties together historical information, it works to clear up ambiguities, and tries to predict the outcome. 

I have a 3 year old, so every night before bed we tell stories. To be honest, we tell one story. The story of Mulan, over, and over, and over, and over again. My daughter is invested in Mulan’s journey, she becomes obsessed about learning more about Mulan’s past, and she’s rooting for her triumphant victory.

Stories have long been used to pass norms and shared history to new generations in families because they’re used to create collective understanding. Organizations can use this same power of storytelling to pass along the founding story,  important company history, or how an organization has evolved over the years. Get your new hires invested in your company’s rich history and journey and you create that feeling of belonging - and you’ll sell more Mulan dolls.

Build Up: Connect Before Day 1

Even before day 1, you want to instill pride and loyalty in your new hire. Think about compelling ways where you can lay the groundwork for the onboarding experience by building emotional investment even before they start.

  • Send a personalized greeting video from the CEO or senior leader welcoming the team member and sharing the company story (remember, stories are key!). Or you can use a service like Cameo for Business to design a tailored welcome greeting.  Think about the excitement I would have felt about starting my new job at twine if I had received a personal greeting from Lawrence (or Paula Abdul) a week before I had started
  • Send a custom shareable graphic announcing your new hire’s position and start date that they can proudly share on their social media channels. Making it easy for new employees to shout from the rooftops that they’re part of your team helps solidify their bond to the organization
  • Don’t just send the standard company swag, send out something unique and customized. Instead of the standard company coffee mug, can you send a tree they can plant? or a donation to the charity of their choice? Getting to know what matters to your new team member, and showing them that it matters to you too, helps build that human connection
  • Assign an onboarding buddy who can answer any and all questions for your new hire as soon as they sign the offer letter. Most of our questions about our new jobs start well before we login on Day 1. This buddy doesn’t necessarily have to be on their team. Assign a new buddy based on common interests, demographics, or someone who just went through the onboarding process to create a unique bond. Choose ambassadors that embody your values, norms, and cultures, so new hires can learn these intangible things through their interactions with their buddy

Capitalize on First Day Excitement

In a remote world, your first day at a new job looks and feels very much like your last day at your old job. Same desk, same computer, same dirty coffee mug. There is something kind of anticlimactic about showing up for the first day of a new job at the same desk where you just finished your old one. 

Your remote onboarding experience should take this into consideration and try to change this up as much as possible to make day 1 more memorable for your new hire. Think of this as the moment the doors open to your event.

  • Encourage them to change up their environment from where they’d normally be working to recreate that feeling of going somewhere new (i.e book a co-working space or meeting room for them)
  • Try hosting their first meeting as an audio only meeting so they get out for a walk (check out a service like Spot), or kick off the day with a virtual team work out!
  • Send coffee, morning snacks, lunch or a gift on the first day as a way of surprising and delighting. Around here, we love services like Sugarwish as a great way of sending some sweetness that leaves a tangible memory.
  • Organize a surprise “admin, form filling, IT setup” party where they get to spend time with colleagues while completing the mundane parts of onboarding
  • Plan a virtual team lunch for their first day where everyone jumps on to meet the new team member in a more casual, social setting. Services like Hoppier make it easy to send everyone lunch so you are playing to all the senses.
  • Setup short calls with all their team members where they’re encouraged to share their story & tie to the company; help them connect at a human level to create camaraderie. 
  • Play a game with the team using something like Engamio, where you can pass along key information about culture, values, norms, etc. through gamification?

Connecting with Leaders

Without the happenstance run-ins in the hallway, lunch room, or elevators, organizations need to be intentional about providing new hires access to leadership. This includes cross functional leaders who may not work directly with the new employee, but need to provide context and vision. Employees feel more connected when they have strong relationships with their leaders and understand how they fit into the larger picture, so access to senior leadership is key.

  • Host an “ask me anything” session with a senior leader where interactive discussion is encouraged rather than a one-way distribution of boilerplate, company content
  • Setup speed networking between new employees and leadership where employees get to interact with senior leaders for short conversations to recreate the serendipitous run-ins
  • Turn the entire onboarding experience into a game by giving out points for connecting with senior leaders, completing a quiz on company culture, or scheduling one on ones and give recognition and incentives to encourage engagement

Although a remote world might seemingly make onboarding more complex, the #eventprof in me believes that it allows for greater customization, intentional design, and offers your onboarding team an opportunity to create a more memorable experience. Onboarding no longer has to be about a brain dump of one-way information and you can throw out the checklist. Organizations that can turn onboarding into a production, into a joyful end to end experience will be able to recruit and retain the best talent.

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Anh Nguyen is the Head of Community Engagement at twine.

To learn more about twine, set up your own space for free here or schedule a time to chat with Anh here.

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