Why you should onboard your employees virtually—even after the pandemic.
You know the old saying about the cobbler’s kids having no shoes?
Well, I recently spoke with the CHRO of a major financial firm known for its easy-to-use apps that let customers make instant transactions online. But, the CHRO told me, the company’s own employees have to wait anywhere between four to eight (!) weeks to get all the necessary IT equipment, finish administrative paperwork, and complete new-hire training before they’re ready to work at full capacity.
I hear a similar story too often.
Companies have had to innovate quickly to meet customer demand, but most of them are nowhere close to providing a similar consumer-like experience to their employees. It’s a huge mistake that could cost your company employee loyalty, productivity, and business continuity—and that error begins with onboarding.
A 2015 study by the Brandon Hall group found that organizations with strong onboarding processes improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. That means the longer a new employee waits to feel like a full member of the community, the less likely they’ll be productive—or stay with your company.
Unprepared for the new era
Earlier this year, ServiceNow’s Work Survey asked 900 C-suite leaders and 8,100 employees in 12 countries how the pandemic is impacting business. Ninety-two percent of executives responded that COVID has upended the way we work. Interestingly, 87% of employees feel that the changes are positive.
In other words, there’s no going back to before.
Unfortunately, nearly all executives and most employees reported that many routine business processes are still managed offline. It’s no wonder, then, that only 49% of HR executives said they felt ready to pivot again and adopt new workflows within 30 days if another major business disruption were to hit.
In March of 2020, ServiceNow leadership temporarily implemented a 100% distributed workplace. We pivoted on a dime, transforming our onboarding—including new hire orientation, provisioning, administrative tasks, compliance training, and facilities assignment—to an entirely virtual experience within hours of the announcement.
Of course, this was only possible because we had the digital workflows in place to do so. And we didn’t always get it perfect in the first place.
Through trial and error, we’ve learned a few lessons—and here are three of them that can improve the onboarding experience for your employees—so you can retain talent and make sure your business stays resilient.
1. Build the foundation—and excitement—before day one
Last week, I welcomed a new member to my team who, like the over 2,000 employees who began working at ServiceNow since March, started her job remotely.
“I was so impressed by how ServiceNow kept me engaged,” says Tammy Mao, a digital talent experience product manager. “The weeks between accepting an offer and starting a new job may be the most critical time for an employee.”
During the month, Tammy logged in to an onboarding portal to choose her laptop, authorize background check, fill out W-4, select benefits, and get necessary paperwork out of the way. Today, ServiceNow sees 99% completion of policy tasks before employees even begin work.
“On the same portal, there was a countdown clock to my first day, bios of the company leadership, as well as information about my future coworkers,” says Tammy. “It kept me excited about my new company.”
2. Set up a one-stop shop
This brings up another important point. Starting a new job is overwhelming already; your new hire shouldn’t have to juggle different portals and interfaces.
Whether Tammy’s choice of a MacBook should be approved by her manager or IT is, ultimately, irrelevant to her. Likewise, she doesn’t need to know if finance or HR should receive her payroll paperwork.
Tammy didn’t have to lift a finger once she filled out the forms.
“There was no sensory overload like an eCommerce site with too many links and buttons. Instead, a simple list of tasks appeared on a clean, straight interface,” says Tammy. “I did my tasks on desktop or mobile, depending on when I happened to have time.”
Though much of the paperwork will pass through several different teams across the enterprise, an automated workflow ensures that she will never be responsible for connecting the right request to the right team. This same automation has led to a 94% acceleration in new hire IT provisioning—which was crucial in ensuring employees have laptops delivered to their homes before Day 1.
The lesson here? Instead of creating clutter, offer your new hires clarity and simplicity. They’ll arrive at work ready to hit the ground running.
3. Make it 100% digital
When Oisín Ó Mír began as senior sales director at ServiceNow in June, offices were still closed in Ireland, where he’s based. He still felt welcome, thanks to the new hire orientation that mirrored the in-person experience from before the pandemic.
“When I started with IBM 22 years ago, I had no computer for the first week (or a desk!) and there was no onboarding training,” Oisin posted on LinkedIn. “When I subsequently started with Google five years later, onboarding consisted solely of reading from a policy binder.”
On the other hand, his onboarding at ServiceNow this summer consisted of video presentations about the company as well as live video sessions addressing EMEA-specific topics. He said he noticed a natural flow to the virtual onboarding sessions, which also included meeting his cohorts during virtual breakout sessions and interacting with the presenters around Europe.
“That combination of having your peers so invested in your onboarding as well as the solutions to make that happen seamlessly made me feel incredibly welcome,” Oisín told me.
Luckily, all this was in place before the pandemic.
HR had streamlined internal onboarding processes by using automation to coordinate activities across multiple departments, allowing the team to scale. So when COVID-19 forced physical offices to close, the employee experience team, together with their digital talent experience partners, was able to implement an entirely virtual orientation in a matter of hours. Result? 70% reduction in manual steps and 4,000 hours. Plus, we saw the orientation satisfaction clock in at 89% orientation satisfaction rating— one percent higher than before COVID.
Preparing for the next new normal
I sincerely hope there’s no other catastrophic event like this year’s pandemic. Still, as the reopening of offices remains uncertain and subject to change depending on local government guidance, we as HR professionals have the duty to support employees as best as we can.
As we innovate the ways of supporting a distributed workplace, onboarding must evolve as well. While rolling out new ways of onboarding employees globally, we’ve learned a few more lessons than what I shared here.
The distributed workforce allows enterprises to cast the talent net wider than ever before. That means HR professionals have to be ready to onboard the new hires, no matter where they are—Silicon Valley or Bentonville, Houston or Hyderabad. Now that you’ve adjusted to the new normal, today might be the best time to rethink onboarding for the future.