Digital onboarding – what is it?

Digital onboarding – what is it?

The term digital onboarding is originally coined for the process of getting users of software to engage with your product and for converting those users into happy, paying customers. More and more frequently though, the onboarding terminology is associated with the HR-discipline of integrating new employees into your organization. And, as this discipline is moving increasingly online, we are talking about digital onboarding to the workplace. This paper is dedicated to defining what digital onboarding is, and why this is where the HR community is turning its focus today.

Why digital onboarding?

Before diving into the details of what it is, let us take a short look at why the time for digital onboarding is now. Employers and HR professionals have long since learned that there is a need for solid, engaging and supportive onboarding processes to bring new people on board in your organizational culture and to help them thrive, perform and stay with you. Why turn it digital?

  1. A growing percentage of the workforce is working remotely, not living near the company location where the onboarding typically takes place. Equally, the covid-19 pandemic has made a case for an increase in home workplaces. To embrace these remote connections, digital onboarding has become a critical consideration for many employers.
  2. The discipline of pre-boarding is also on the rise. Pre-boarding not only makes it possible for new employees to prepare themselves better for the job, but also makes them perform faster as they can start their first working day already beyond a lot of the practicalities and basic information. Digital onboarding opens up almost endless opportunities in the pre-boarding landscape.
  3. Third thing on the rise, which is building a case for digital onboarding, is complexity. Workplaces, rules, processes and structures are getting more complex. Digital onboarding is one way of managing complexity, as materials presented to each new employee are consistent because they are kept centrally located. It can help the employer stay in compliance with legally required forms and ensure that new hires get the most current and centrally updated versions.
  4. What is not on the rise, is more time. Especially more time spent on training, away from the workplace. Here, however, digital onboarding can also be part of the answer as it requires less in-person training time and less time and less physical materials spent getting information out to new employees.

Digital onboarding is design

As the designer of your organization’s onboarding process, you are given the responsibility for choosing the right framework, the right activities and the right standardized practice.

Onboarding research has revealed that standardizing your onboarding approach across the organization is the key to harvesting the benefits of higher engagement, shorter time-to-performance and better retention. Standardization sounds easy, but it is not. Ask any onboarding designer about the differentiated and special needs you are met with across organizational boundaries. ‘In this part of the organization, we are quite different, special, unique, etc. …’ The good news is, however, that onboarding research also points towards that differentiated onboarding works best on a solid base of standardized processes. Digital onboarding can provide the all-company-standardized approach – without taking away the possibilities of differentiating as you can manage multiple programs digitally.

Onboarding is not a two-week one-way information process. We have learned that over the last decade’s professionalization of the onboarding discipline. Onboarding takes time. For surprisingly many organizations the time to come onboard is longer than 6 months. When implementing digital onboarding, employers often find that they can spread out the onboarding over a longer period of time. Designing digital makes it possible to plan onboarding activities in more critical periods than merely the first weeks. It also reduces overwhelm and provides longer training support for the new employees.

It is digital execution

One of the onboarding balances you have to find, is between a total sink-or-swim strategy – or an information overload approach. None of the two are recommended. With digital onboarding more and more onboarding designers are striking this balance right. By designing online, it is easier to connect with the new hires and to keep them in the loop by making content available to anyone, anywhere, and anytime. You can digitally blend your learning approach, increase engagement through gamification and quizzes and design step-by-step user experiences.

Digital onboarding matches the on-demand trend of so many other processes and practices. It provides easy access to the information the new hires need and they can almost complete the entire onboarding process at a pace that is preferable to them, even before they set foot on-site.

In the digital back-office the online automation of the workflows makes it possible to scale the onboarding efforts and often to become more ambitious about the impact of the process. Done right, digital onboarding becomes a platform for communicating with, training and leading your new workforce.

It is tracking and monitoring

Digital onboarding comes with a whole world of tracking and monitoring opportunities and considerations.

Using digital activities and learning provides real-time data about the interaction and makes it possible to track which items a new employee has and has not completed.

Digital checklists and confirmations can be built into the process and you can facilitate feedback with check-ins and appraisals, align goals and KPIs and gain real-time insights into employee performance and behavior. Pulse surveys and transparency becomes a new norm. As does of course a lot of ethical and aesthetical balance acting.

It is becoming data driven

Understanding deeply what works and what does not in your onboarding process grows directly out of digitally collecting vast amounts of data about the experiences of your new hires. Integrating this knowledge into new designs and new forms of execution, is the next step – and the next challenge for the onboarding designer, who has to balance the weight of the insights with all the other stakeholder agendas.

Data integration with the organization’s other HR systems will, however, make it easier to suggest return on investments, as it will start to reveal how the onboarding process affects the engagement levels, the long-term retention, off-boarding and the employer brand.

Digital applications that can support the onboarding responsible with intelligent utilization of data are not far down the line. However, artificially intelligent systems that can learn, adjust and maintain optimal, standardized yet differentiated digital onboarding programs are not that far away either.

It requires digital empathy

The aim of this article has been to make a case for why digital onboarding of the workforce is here, and what digital onboarding is and implies. How to do digital onboarding well, and how your organization fosters the right digital empathy - has not been the focus. To learn more about that part, check out our solutions See you on board!

Remote Onboarding

Are you Hiring New Employees these weeks? – Here is Inspiration on how to Onboard New Employees in COVID times

By Julie Salskov Cand. Psych & Frederik Holtum Stud. Psych


Denmark and the rest of the world are in an extraordinary situation, affecting everyone from the individual to companies to states and countries. COVID-19 has brought many consequences. Many are forced to shut down their offices and workplaces, and those who can work from home stuck in quarantine. This has created a lot of turbulence in the daily lives of many people, and maybe you were in the middle of onboarding new employees into your organisation.

You might find yourself in a situation, where you have employees who have just had their first working day and must now work from home - or maybe your new employees’ first day of work is right in the middle of the pandemic. Several employees might also be in a situation where they will be onboarded into new or temporary positions - given the changing requirements for the positioning and survival of companies. Meanwhile, the main question is how we receive and integrate new employees during a societal crisis, a time where we must stand together by distancing ourselves.

In the shadows of emotions

Onboarding is a process that ensures retention, productivity, and commitment. More importantly, it is a personal experience that helps create direction and storytelling. The new employee has a lot of emotions in play during the early phase of hiring, and there are many questions that need to be answered and a lot of expectations that are to be met. These onboarding emotions can be challenging since the close relationship between the workplace and employee has not yet been built. In addition, for the employer, it can seem challenging to talk about and handle the many needs in a good and constructive way.

Onboarding is a process where it is essential to focus as much on the personal experience of the new employee - as on the company's need to inform and instruct. Under normal conditions onboarding rhymes with emotions such as anxiety, excitement and doubt, motivation and with considerations such as; "Is this the right job?", "I wonder if they like me, or if I like them?", "Can I perform my tasks?". But what does it mean for a new employee that shortly after starting her new job – this period which may already be a sensitive one – she will be sent home with no defined end date on returning to the office? In times of a crisis, as with COVID-19, it is to be expected that these considerations are supplemented with thoughts like; "What if the crisis hits my family?", "Will anything drastic happens to my work?" and "Would I be able to keep my new job at all?" etc.

We know that, under normal circumstances, up to 25% of all new employees leave their job within 12 months. During a societal crisis such as COVID-19, it is assumed that this number is at risk of increasing. Motivation, commitment, and attachment of the new employee are motivators that are in danger of being decreased if the onboarding process stagnates. Therefore, it will be crucial to guide the employee in a practical and professional way while considering the emotions that arise during the onboarding period of which are further influenced by the current societal crisis.

Forming, Connecting and Unfolding

From a theoretical perspective, onboarding psychology entail three tracks that the new employee must go through. These tracks evolve around how the new employee is being formed, connected and unfolded.

Forming means becoming part of the company and finding deeper meaning and a sense of belonging to the workplace. Creating this meaningfulness is always a challenge and an important task for the employer. Nevertheless, in a time of crisis, this process will be a lot more challenging. For some new employees, the crisis might be perceived as meaningful. E.g. a nurse working in the ER at a hospital experience working in the heart of the crisis. On the other hand, there may be other positions that may seem pointless in a time when a lot of people need help. For many, it may also be a matter of having to look after their own family. Thus, as part of the forming track, there may be uncertainty about whether the new job is meaningful or important.

Connection deals with creating relationships and being able to navigate inside the organisation. Establishing relationships and networking can be a sensitive process. If you work remotely as most employees currently do, it’s even more challenging to reach out to your colleagues. Perhaps as a new employee, you may not have had the chance to meet all your colleagues at all. Feelings of insecurity and loneliness easily arise, and it can seem difficult and nerve-wracking to contact colleagues of whom you haven’t yet met physically.

Unfolding is about gaining a sense of mastery and development in the new job - all of which can be difficult to grasp working remotely. As a new employee, it can be difficult to know which tasks should be prioritized, how they are to be completed and how often one should report back on them, etc. Feelings of being ‘on hold’, worthlessness, as well as role uncertainty, can easily arise.

With the COVID-19 crisis in mind, one can argue that there is a basis for emphasizing the importance of emotions more than ever, and thereby the perspective of the new employee during the onboarding. But what can be done working remotely?

The role of the manager during the remote onboarding

The manager always plays a key role in the onboarding process - a role that only becomes more important during a period of great uncertainty. As described, the high degree of uncertainty may lead to various forms of disorientation thus stressing the importance of present management. Hence, the manager's primary task is to create direction and transparency.

Being available and continuously reaching out through dialogue and feedback are key competencies during remote onboarding. Communication will be the best remedy for the potential negative feelings and concerns that may arise. No communication will also be a way of communicating. Hence the manager is responsible for leading and guiding the new employee despite the challenging circumstances.

Given the high degree of unpredictability, it may be difficult for the manager to facilitate a predefined virtual onboarding schedule. The manager must focus on having an adaptable mindset and behavior. For the manager, this may require that she will need to give up some of the overview and control that is normally associated with onboarding and instead communicate more frequently via up-dates. This can, of course, create a feeling of powerlessness and frustration caused by the lack of overview associated with the new employee's progression with tasks, etc.

Thus, remote onboarding will require a greater degree of mutual trust and patience than usual. It requires the manager to be able to balance the focus of getting work done and being sensitive enough to address the more emotional aspects of the new employee.

Onboarding usually takes place in the interaction between HR and the nearest manager. Given the circumstances, it is possible that HR or other colleagues in the team need to be more supportive when it comes to the onboarding. It may be a good idea to make use of 'onboarding ambassadors', i.e. selected buddies or mentors who can help support onboarding. By nature, this coordination also needs to be done virtually.

What can be done working remotely?

Even though onboarding is challenged by working remotely, there are plenty of activities that will help facilitate a good integration into the new organisation.

First and foremost, one should make use of the technological opportunities available. The possibilities of virtual forums are many; Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Trello, Skype for Business, etc. You could even create an open chat room where everyone could ask and answer questions or be in contact with others from the nearest team, department or the organisation.

Finally, it is important to have a quantity in mind. Reading websites for longer periods and participating in long virtual meetings can be ineffective and exhausting. Virtual collaboration is a discipline. Practice and create room for input for improvement.

Cultural introduction

One of the things that may be particularly difficult to communicate remotely is your company culture. Many people are currently experiencing how much of the culture can be tied up in buildings, offices, decor, Friday bars, social gatherings, coffee machines and so on. Thus, it can be difficult to communicate the culture without having these remedies and artifacts. Therefore, in a time of crisis, it may be even more important for the new employee to get a sense that she is part of an organisation with an overall mission, vision, and values. Links to CEO company presentation or employee career narratives will enhance the feeling of belonging while providing inspiration for the new employee's own career paths in the organisation. An example of this could be Googles Intern video.

Give clear and simple instructions

A digital welcome package including information on how the organisation is handling the COVID-19 crisis will be relevant for all employees working from home.

However, it is important to keep the frequency in mind especially when it comes to handing over the formal information. Rules usually make good sense when they are directly applicable in the context of which they are used. Rules that only needs to be read and remembered are rarely motivating. Consequently, one could divide the rules into small chunks and perhaps make small interactions around them. Some organisations have set up dedicated 'COVID-19 response teams'. In that case, information on how to contact the team will also be relevant.

Reduce the distance by connecting yourself

New employees should experience that they have a secure job in an organisation where there is room for openness and a culture of mutual collaboration – most preferably from day 1.

Under normal circumstances, a new employee meets with the team from day 1. However, this activity can still be accomplished - simply in the virtual space and by using platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. You can also supplement team meetings with other and more informal connections in the virtual space including Friday bars, music quizzes and more. Encourage new employees to meet 1:1 over digital coffee meetings with one or two colleagues - for instance, to discuss professional issues. As an alternative, new employees can start every working day with a digital coffee meeting with a colleague and without any special agenda besides meeting and talking to each other.

A sense of mastery

New employees should experience that they have come to a professional place that puts professional development and learning at the forefront. If you have internal e-courses or a learning platform, this is obviously time to take advantage of these resources. You could also establish a ‘learning log’ where the new employee briefly reflects and writes down what has been learned every day. It allows for the new employee to get a sense of progression and learning during the onboarding.

They need my knowledge and skills

New employees should feel that they have achieved tangible results during the early stage of their onboarding period and that they have contributed to something important. It is, therefore, crucial to list and align specific goals and to set clear expectations for and during the period of working from home. This could be alignment on expectations on when one is expected to be available online and what’s expected to be delivered. Check-in on a regular basis and allow for continuous mutual feedback. If necessary, arrange a weekly meeting to provide brief updates, feedback, and progress on tasks and the likes.

Home office

Finally, you may help your new employees create a good home office space. We list six great tips for a healthy practice of working from home:

  1. Have a permanent and as far as possible noiseless workspace at home
  2. Structure your day
  3. Remember to take breaks – e.g. 20 minutes of work, 5-minute break.
  4. Communicate with your team, including when you log in, set goals, document work, etc.
  5. Maintain a good 'speak up' culture where it is possible to safely share doubts and concerns

And most importantly remember to

  1. Log out!



Onboarding | Experiences from the Danish Hospital Sector

A Structured and Data-driven approach to Onboarding - experiences from the Danish Hospital Sector

Written by Julie Salskov Andersen and Christian Harpelund


Onboarding Group is currently conducting an industry study of onboarding in the Danish healthcare sector. Our preliminary study, carried out at one of Denmark's largest hospitals, has already shown that parts of the Danish hospital sector experience immense challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining new employees. The solution to these challenges is not clear, as Danish hospitals are a very complex environment. Nonetheless, we know from our studies and from international research that structured onboarding has both quick and positive effects in the form of better retention of talent, greater commitment, enhanced well-being - and ultimately better ways of working.

Danish hospitals, as well as Danish companies, are increasingly investing in a professional approach to attracting and recruiting new employees. But when it comes to onboarding, and understanding the challenges and pitfalls that new employees face in the early period of their employment, there is usually great room for improvement. Onboarding deals with everything that happens when a new employee is hired and needs to be integrated into the workplace. In many cases, this effort is limited and randomly organized.

A high pace working environment

In a study conducted by the Danish Nursing Council in May 2019 (published on on July 5, 2019), the focus is on how many Danish nurses are at risk of experiencing a poor start to their working life as a nurse. Some of the challenges are explained by the fact that the hospital system is under severe pressure. The staff at the hospital are forced to speed up the pace of work, which rarely leaves time or resources to take proper care of the new colleagues, and thereby to ensure that knowledge and skills are passed on. In the same article, labor market researcher at Aalborg University, Henning Jørgensen, highlights that introductory courses are a vital prerequisite for nurses to have a successful experience in their first employment:

“I think one of the crucial things are these introductory courses. And there are many who do not actually get an introductory course when they begin at a new department because of the hustle and bustle out there, and that is a disaster.” (Jørgensen, Henning in Nue, Josephine, 2019).

The Danish Nursing Council's analysis finds that 1 in every 12 in a cohort of recently graduated nurses succumbed to stress within the first year. Based on 1,120 responses, this corresponds to 8% who were on sick leave for a shorter or longer time due to psychological factors in the working environment (Source: This emphasizes the need for competent and well-structured onboarding, especially when it comes to younger and recently graduated nurses.

It's all about contributing

One of the hospitals participating in the industry study is Herlev-Gentofte hospital, which has a clear wish to raise the standard of onboarding for their new employees. In an interview conducted by Onboarding Group, the hospital’s Head of Patient Care and Organization, Sidsel Rasborg Wied, points to the importance of the new employee being able to contribute to the core tasks as soon as possible - which she emphasizes will benefit everyone. For Sidsel, this is one of the primary reasons for embarking on the project:

“There is nothing worse than going to work feeling that you are not delivering anything - and in such a classic introduction process you can easily go to work for two, three, four weeks without really contributing anything other than to walk beside someone who is doing something”.

She further adds that it’s especially important when working with onboarding in the healthcare sector, that patients at all times feel safe and in good hands - even in the encounter with a new employee. It takes a lot of work to fully master the procedures and processes for patient safety etc. Sidsel emphasizes that working with onboarding they have been forced to rethink processes and look for areas where new employees can contribute 100 percent from day one or two. From a psychological perspective, this will help to maintain the motivation, energy, and momentum which we know the new employee brings with her when she enters the organization.

Two weeks or ten months

Asked what insights the study so far has brought them, Sidsel says they have realized that the 14 days introductory program they have previously run in some departments did not mean that new employees have been properly onboarded*. Our studies with the Danish hospitals show that on average it takes more than 10 months for the new employee to feel properly onboarded – that is, to feel she has gained good enough insight into the organization’s goals, values, rules, procedures, technical terms and so on, and has established good enough networking relationships, to be able to contribute as expected of her. Thus, onboarding extends far beyond the 14-day programs that many organizations tend to do.

Structure, culture, and competencies

Many onboarding programs are narrowly focused on critical areas such as rules and procedures, which is one of the tendencies that we expect to find in the hospital sector. However, with this study, we wish to take a step further and to broaden the understanding of what is important when onboarding new employees. In our onboarding model*, the six dimensions of culture, rules, collaboration, network, performance, and competencies are all made important and necessary dimensions in a successful onboarding experience.

Our preliminary study showed that the pervasive challenges in onboarding facing the hospital sector are how to give new hires an understanding of the culture of the organization, and the experience of contributing enough (and early enough) in their employment, as well as the experience of being equipped with all skills they need.

From data to action

For Sidsel and her colleagues, it has been crucial to work with onboarding as a data-driven process. Sidsel mentions that this is a general orientation working in the health sector, but adds:

"... with the onboarding part, we have worked a bit in the blind (...) so it will be a gift to add that to those processes as well".

In line with the analysis from the Danish Nursing Council, Sidsel points out:

“We are talking about a Health Sector which in many ways is under pressure, with departments that have to recruit 5, 10, 15 every single month. There is a need for professionalisation and systematisation, and also a need to acknowledge to ourselves that it could be done better. We actually have a burning platform to do this."

One of the people who help to redesign onboarding at Herlev and Gentofte Hospital is Senior Chief Nurse Sussi Løvgreen Larsen. Together with her colleague Charlotte Åkerstrøm, she has driven the development of the project in practice. The two have run a series of workshops focusing on different areas of action, with the intention of challenging the current understanding of onboarding. In an interview, Sussi talks about how employee involvement in the project has been crucial. As she puts it: "They have to grasp the meaning around it - they have to see it work." Hence, the basic idea has been to invite "those who actually carry out the onboarding" to be part of the workshops.

A catalyst for a tsunami

We asked Sussi what she thought was different about onboarding at a hospital compared to other types of organisations. She answered that within the hospital sector there is a challenge because of the historically sharp division between the respective categories of staff: doctors, nurses, social and healthcare helpers, etc. In reality, the groups must work incredibly closely together - in the literal sense of working with life and death. Hence the traditional way of differentiating between categories of professions may not always be helpful. For the new employee, this adds another layer of complexity to the onboarding. She becomes a member of her own professional group, however, in practice, she is also part of a wider group and relies heavily on several other professions. Sussi points out:

“Why can't a doctor be a buddy for a nurse? - why does it have to be the same profession? It's really interesting! This silo thinking is simply so old and needs to be challenged."

She anticipates that working with onboarding across the organization can be a catalyst for "a tsunami" within the organization that could potentially help to break down some of the ruling structures and ways of doing things.

Generic Human Properties

One of the basic ideas in the hospital's new onboarding design is to optimize the interaction between three key roles: the Manager, the Mentor, and a Buddy. The three roles take care of the organizational, professional and social part of the onboarding task respectively. This design will facilitate an inter-disciplinary collaboration that will support the successful welcoming and integration of the new employee. This design has triggered both enthusiasm and concern. Enthusiasm, because it provides clarity about roles and responsibilities. Concern, because of its potential to challenge the deeply installed power relations and old ways of thinking within the hospital sector.

Yet, working with onboarding has helped to legitimise a move across those boundaries, thereby strengthening collaboration across professions, functions, departments, etc. Sussi further emphasizes that onboarding speaks to the use of generic human characteristics more than characteristics associated with a profession. At the centre of everything they do at the hospital is the patient, who must always be well taken care of.

An organizational curveball

During the interview, Sussi mentions that employees who have been part of the workshops have expressed pride in being involved in onboarding activities that have proven to be successful. This is also part of Sussi’s personal drive working on the development of the project:

“Something that has intrigued me with this way or method that we have chosen - i.e. inviting people across the organisation to be part of working groups - is that people have voluntarily said 'see what we have' and proudly shown what in particular is working for them.”

“It's fun to challenge systems that have been around for hundreds of years and then simply throw a curveball like ‘onboarding’. I think I have been allowed to see things both from the inside out - and from the outside in, because we have been provided with data on onboarding, we have brought knowledge and models into the work, thus giving ourselves a new challenge too.”

Doing onboarding with pleasure

Onboarding in a hospital is on a complex scale. Preparing new employees to face vital decisions in their work with patients, including sometimes in stressful situations, requires a lot. Nevertheless, it is not so much complexity, but rather joy that characterizes our conversations with both Sussi and Sidsel. Overall, there has been a great pleasure in revisiting the hospital's approach to onboarding. Our last question to Sidsel is whether it has been difficult for important stakeholders to buy into the project. She answers:

“There has been joy in discovering that working with onboarding can be used to face some things that we find difficult. Not least for those employees who have been here for many years and who can easily get exhausted by having to introduce new people month after month.”

Read more about the industry study


Contributors and purpose of the study

A big thank you to Sidsel Rasborg Wied, Head of Patient Care and Organization, and Leading Senior Chief Nurse Sussi Løvgreen Larsen, both from Herlev and Gentofte Hospital, for participating in these conversations with Onboarding Group.

At Onboarding Group, we work with several Danish hospitals to understand and develop their onboarding. The purpose is to investigate and analyse the experience of being onboarded at specific hospitals, and in the Danish hospital sector in general. With the survey, we reach out to employees who have been hired within the last 12 months and collect data on what they experienced - and when - in relation to their onboarding. The analysis aims to provide both deeper insight and tangible directions for potential improvement. The participants in the study gain insight into their own onboarding situation, a data benchmark, as well as knowledge sharing across the participating hospitals.

The output of the study includes:

  • Where are the challenges? Professions, roles, etc.
  • When are there challenges? From day 0 to day 365
  • What are the challenges? Culture, network, competence, etc.
  • Areas of success and mapping of resources

Specifically, the study answers:

  • What is 'time-to-onboarding' for the new employees?
  • Are there any critical periods in the onboarding experience that require special attention?
  • How many new employees in the last 12 months have unnecessarily left their jobs due to poor onboarding?
  • Which of the 6 dimensions and 18 underlying attributes contribute to the good onboarding experience and where is there potential for improvement?
  • Which key factors drive a good onboarding experience?
  • Are there significant differences across units, departments, ages, roles, geography, etc. - and if so, where should the focus be in terms of improvement and sharing of best practice?
  • How is the hospital’s onboarding compared to others in the sector?

* Onboarding is the process that starts after the employment contract is signed and ends when the new employee feels fully integrated into the role. Onboarding consists of six dimensions. They include feeling like part of the culture; knowing and understanding the rules; feeling socially connected and being able to collaborate with your colleagues, partners, customers, etc; feeling that one is contributing; developing relevant skills; and being able to deliver the desired results.

* See an illustration of the Onboarding Model beneath and watch a 2 minutes introduction to the model

Introduction to the Onboarding Model


- Nue, Josephine (2019, July 5). Located on August 8, 2019, at

- Danish Nursing Council Analysis (DSR): Located on August 12, 2019, at

It matters where you start

Designing onboarding. Are you aware of the significant differences in onboarding new hires across levels, locations, roles, etc.?

Written by Julie Salskov Andersen and Christian Harpelund


Companies invest heavily in onboarding today. Leaders are painfully aware of the importance of integrating their new hires in the best way, in a labor market where people change their minds and change their jobs with increasingly rapid speed. But even though they invest in new onboarding technologies, new swag and new approaches, a fundamental problem still needs to be resolved in many workplaces: the problem of variations in how well these are implemented across the company.

Fragmented and inconsistent

A recent article published in Harvard Business Review addresses this issue of how to onboard new hires at all levels (Hollister & Watkins, 2019). The authors refer to a global, multi-business organisation with more than 120,000 employees. This company decided to conduct an in-depth study on how they onboarded their roughly 20,000 new hires every year. The study provided important insights showing that the approach towards onboarding varied significantly across location, functions, levels, etc. Put in another way, the onboarding experience was highly fragmented and inconsistent across the organisation.

The worry for the executives of the company was that variations in the effectiveness of onboarding could potentially have a negative effect on, among other things, employer branding, time to performance and employee engagement.

Personas on board

The company decided to develop an onboarding system that was company-wide, yet flexible enough to take into account the differences across units, levels, and roles. They created distinct “personas” representing broad categories of employees – for example, individual contributors, leaders, etc. The onboarding design and the allocated onboarding resources were then customized for each persona based on their level of complexity and needs.

The existence of arbitrary and unstructured onboarding efforts across an organisation is also a problem that we face in our efforts to help our clients. In a global IT company, we have recently been reviewing their current onboarding experience.* The review showed that, from an employee perspective, the onboarding experience varied significantly across department, role, location, and gender.

What and how

For example, between the “Sales Canada” department and the “Marketing United States” department, the difference in terms of the overall Onboarding Index** is profound. Their scores varied from “best in class” down to a critical score that we know from our wider experience with many clients indicates a great risk of very high staff turnover.

From interviews, we know that these variations are caused partly by inconsistency in onboarding effort across the organisation (as in the article mentioned before), and partly by inter-individual differences between those responsible for the onboarding, as well as intra-individual differences among the new hires. Meaning, that variations occur both in relation to which activities are being facilitated where, and how the new hires perceive the onboarding activities in each department.

A gender difference

In a review of another global IT company’s onboarding program, we found a significant difference between the average Onboarding Index score for men compared to the score for women (women representing a lower score).

This insight enabled the company to facilitate onboarding efforts tailored to the women in the organisation – for example, by establishing a women’s network.

Yet another example shows a high score on the collaboration dimension (one of six onboarding dimensions***) and a low score on the culture dimension. In general, cultural familiarisation seems to get too little attention in many of the companies we work with, even though struggles with culture can be a big reason why new hires don’t seem to integrate well.

A strategic investment

One way to accommodate the complexity associated with onboarding is to adopt a highly structured and data-driven approach. From studies, we know that structured onboarding is a strategic investment that is reflected not only in the psychological well-being of the new hires but is significantly beneficial from a financial point of view, for example by improving time-to-performance and reducing employee turnover. Hence, a streamlined, efficient process can make all the difference.

Onboarding Group’s services enable our clients to track and improve their current onboarding efforts and provide them with a framework for a sustainable onboarding strategy across the organisation (as with the example of the global multi-business company). Our experience is that, by investing in onboarding, organisations immediately add value to their new employees. It helps to provide a sense of meaning in their job and a sense of increased contribution. In the end, it ensures a stronger commitment and a higher sense of loyalty to the organisation.

Onboarding Studio

As with the example of the global multi-business company, successful onboarding is often best facilitated in a tailored way in order to accommodate the full complexity of onboarding new hires across the organisation. In order to ease and support that process, we developed Onboarding Studio ©, an online design tool that enables our customers to manage the design of their onboarding programs in a highly systematic and interactive way.

Onboarding Studio: Manager Timeline

Using Onboarding Studio, onboarding designers can create and manage multiple onboarding programs, for example, local and global programs, and accommodate different onboarding needs. For each onboarding program, activities can be mapped according to the relevant dimensions (from the Onboarding Model) and timescale for execution. This also helps them to stay alert to the potential pitfalls in the onboarding process – such as lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities - and gives them a well-thought framework for onboarding new hires across the organisation.

As of today, we have gathered more than 100 onboarding activities in our studio catalogue that companies can pick and choose from when they are designing onboarding programs.

The different timeline views will give the new hire, the manager, HR and other onboarding stakeholders (e.g., buddies, mentors) an overview of the activities that are scheduled for the entire pre- and onboarding period. In this way, everybody involved in the onboarding will know what will happen next, who is involved and when the activity starts and ends. This makes it easy to check in on the ongoing onboarding and track the progress.

Onboarding Studio: Activity Catalogue

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*Onboarding Review is an analysis of the current onboarding efforts in an organization. It identifies the successes of the onboarding process and highlights the areas that need improvement. The results provide insights into how to optimize the ongoing onboarding process and transform great quality candidates into effective and engaged employees.

**Onboarding Index Score is a number measured on a scale from 0-100 and based on an onboarding survey measuring 6 dimensions and 18 underlying attributes.

***About the dimensions: A new hire’s total onboarding experience is built upon the following dimensions: Culture, Rules, Network, Collaboration, Competencies, Performance.


The Onboarding Model - 3 tracks | 6 dimensions