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!