Savvy organizations are leveraging technology to re-engineer the day-one experience with talent retention and their employee value proposition in mind.

Author: Rebecca Starr


During a time when organizations across the U.S. are struggling with The Great Resignation, creating a great first day of work increasingly is important. Onboarding as soon as the candidate accepts your offer creates a foundation to build engagement and retention. In the competition for talent, immediately following up on an offer and engaging the new hire is essential. Even before the pandemic, Indeed reported in 2019 that 83% of employers experienced candidates disappearing or "ghosting" during the recruitment and onboarding process.1

Borrowing a page from the remote office playbook, more organizations are using virtual onboarding tools to take care of routine paperwork before the start date. That way, a new employee can spend the first few days meeting people and learning about the culture of the company, instead of attending to housekeeping details.

Virtual onboarding sends the message that the company is agile, cares about the employee experience and can accommodate workforce needs. Planning ahead, organizations can take care of onboarding basics and support managers by:

  • Providing all necessary equipment, software and applications with easy-to-follow instructions and accurate links to their company's portal and HR systems
  • Distributing pre-start-date checklists and playbooks
  • Training on communication and team building skills

When done well, onboarding allows your organization to create clarity around your culture; introduce and support diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives; set clear expectations for performance; and keep candidates interested in staying with the company long-term. Appropriately executed, employers will lay the correct foundation for additional employee conversations in the short, mid and long term. Employees, for their part, learn what the company expects from them as new teammates and understand why they want to invest themselves in the organization over time.

Daily remote supervision poses new challenges

There is no doubt that organizations are navigating new territory when it comes to managing employees remotely. The remote workforce disrupts the traditional way in which employers and managers measure work ethic and engagement. Sitting in a chair while available for instant messaging 40 hours a week does not equal productivity or engagement. No longer can a manager walk down the hall and say, "Hey, where are we on the XYZ project?" Instead, at a more fundamental level, accountability is key. Organizations must develop processes and systems to support focus on output and project milestones, while clearly defining what success looks like.

The new environment has exposed and differentiated engaged managers from those who are unengaged. More apparent now is the lack of managerial soft skills needed to lead successfully. Employee feedback surveys indicate that many managers lack empathy. By understanding that the whole person comes to work, successful managers are those who make an effort to know employees' preferences and preferred work styles. These preferences may include flexible start times or allowing employees to work around their children's school schedules.

Showcase the culture immediately and creatively

Day-one virtual onboarding offers a great platform for an organization to demonstrate what sets them apart. Creative ways to welcome a new employee might include surprising the teammate with a company "swag bag" or sending a welcome card signed by teammates. A business book that many on the team have read also can help set the tone. In presenting benefits, many Gallagher clients offer user-friendly resources and tools to help new employees navigate their choices.

While demonstrating agility, virtual onboarding also can present challenges. Technology loves to throw a curve ball, ranging from spotty connectivity to application glitches. Lack of human interaction, such as inability to take the new colleague to lunch in person, is another drawback. As an unseen challenge, the new hire can miss meaningful moments and opportunities for personal connections. Examples include soaking in the exciting vibe at headquarters, talking music with a teammate or saying hello to the CEO at the salad bar.

First impressions are everything

According to Sapling HR, a great onboarding experience can improve new hire retention by 82% and boost productivity by 70%. However, a negative onboarding experience doubles the chances that an employee will seek another opportunity.2 Small things — the basics, really — are important. Do others on the team know the new colleague's name and that the new person is starting at all? Did the manager call the new teammate on day one? Has the new teammate received needed equipment and systems permissions, and are those systems working?

Depending on the industry, day-one nuances can be critical. If you are a tech company, and a new team member's onboarding experience is plagued with tech issues, or HR sends documents that have to be printed and signed, the new hire will question whether the company is in the right place. If your business is a manufacturing company or healthcare organization, does the new person feel safe physically while training and starting work? Does the new colleague start out on the floor with proper personal protective equipment and training? These details matter and speak volumes.

Create shared experiences

Helping new hires enjoy shared experiences with colleagues creates emotional bonds that can build retention. Examples include:

  • Besides creating a schedule of meet and greets for your new teammate, invite all new hires for that month to participate in a cohort.
  • Invite new hires to an introduction call and virtual lunch meet-and-greet.
  • Deliver several touch points from peers and managers, such as a virtual coffee break around a fun topic.
  • Assign an experienced and proven "onboarding buddy"; studies show this tactic can be very effective.

Tailor a high-touch, 90-day onboarding journey

A great onboarding program will not depend on whether it takes place virtually or in-person. The key is to create an onboarding journey lasting at least 90 days and offering high-touch experiences personalized to the individual.

Increasingly, onboarding programs will leverage mobile app capabilities and use data analytics to create content tailored specifically to the individual new hire. Instead of employee handbooks and mission/vision statements, new employees will access information portals that meld important company information with engaging content using videos and interactive media.

While technically sophisticated, progressive onboarding will continue to rely on the human factor, as well. Onboarding buddies, mentors and regular check-ins throughout the first 6 months, combined with periodic "stay interviews," will engage new hires and elicit regular feedback on their employment experiences.

As workers return to the office, be prepared to make re-boarding fun

Teams that have worked remotely for months now are returning to the office. These employees will benefit from a re-boarding transition period. Keep in mind many employees must make arrangements to return to commutes and shift back to working in the office. Re-boarding presents a huge opportunity to build retention. Be flexible to support employees in finding childcare, pet care, servicing cars or even moving back if the employee relocated. Leaders may be surprised to learn that some employees have moved away and did not disclose the move.

Given workforce reluctance to return to the office, savvy leaders will make the transition engaging and fun. However — and this is important — keep in mind that some employees may be leaving behind children and pets who enjoyed nesting at home with their caregivers continually for almost two years. Leaving dependents represents a big adjustment for some employees and may traumatize families for a period of time.

First and foremost, make sure the work space is ready. Ensure offices are thoroughly cleaned and supplies are stocked. Charge an IT person to make sure all access badges are working. Employees want to feel physically and emotionally safe when returning to the office. Otherwise, the swag bags, free lunches and social sessions will fall flat.

Given the high stakes in returning teams to the office, leaders need to re-recruit their people: reaffirm the culture, the mission and the values. Those employees hired in the last two years may never have received proper onboarding. This group will need help with introductions, and they deserve extra attention.

Virtual onboarding is here to stay

The pandemic is not here to stay — but virtual onboarding is. As employee populations become more dispersed, organizations everywhere will continue to onboard new employees virtually. Even as workforces return to the office, sophisticated organizations will continue to conduct pre-day-one onboarding virtually and efficiently to help build employee engagement and retention.

Gallagher can help you navigate the nuances of virtual onboarding and re-boarding — contact us for a chat. We bring deep industry experience and expertise in partnering with organizations like yours to help them face the future with confidence.


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This material was created to provide accurate and reliable information on the subjects covered but should not be regarded as a complete analysis of these subjects. It is not intended to provide specific legal, tax or other professional advice. The services of an appropriate professional should be sought regarding your individual situation.