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By Sinakho Dhlamini, HR Content Specialist, Top Employers Institute
By Sinakho Dhlamini, HR Content Specialist, Top Employers Institute

Unlocking the Future of Onboarding for the Remote Worker



Onboarding is an essential part of any organisation. The process of onboarding is a critical aspect of integrating new employees into the company. A well-constructed and thought-out onboarding system can make the difference in, not only, an employee’s satisfaction at work but can also make a significant difference in how employees see their career in the organisation. It can make the initial difference between organisations that retain talent and those that lose talented members of their organisation.

As with many HR responsibilities, onboarding has become increasingly digital over the past few years with a dramatic acceleration in the digitisation of the process since the onset of the global pandemic. We are settling into, what has been colloquially known as, the ‘new normal, it is important to consider how much of these reactionary changes in onboarding are here to stay and in what structure will we see them develop.

As more and more employees are being hired without ever meeting in person, HR leaders and decision-makers are evaluating what has and has not been working for their organisation. In this article, we will take a brief look at how companies are successfully onboarding their employees to gain a better understanding of what these strategies and processes show us about the future of onboarding.

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Digital and Virtual Onboarding Procedures

Before the rapid move to remote work, Top Employers across the globe had already begun to implement digitally supported onboarding processes. We identified that in 2020, before the global restrictions, 83.9% of businesses had digitally supported onboarding experience and, even without the lockdown restrictions in place, in 2020 33% had already implemented a virtual pre-boarding platform that started before the employee’s first working day with the number of organisations implementing these systems rising to 39.8% in 2021. Another digitally-minded initiative that we have seen with our global Top Employers is the use of internal social media groups for new hires, with 65.49% of Top Employers utilising them in 2020.

While HR leaders have been embracing the ability to employ digital and virtual solutions to onboarding activities that used to be done in person it is still important to notice that many of these decisions, while consistently done, have not had a strategic plan underlining them. That means that it is hard to see the benefits of relying on digital structures as support for these initiatives because they are not being executed in a purposeful and objective-driven manner.

Remote Onboarding Beyond a Desktop

In many of the digital innovations that have been made to support onboarding efforts, there has been a reliance on using laptops and desktop computers to fully use these systems. While many positions allow this to be an option for their employees there are many regions and industries where new and existing employees work outside of offices and do not have access to equipment that has been commonly used to onboard employees remotely. As companies diversify how they onboard their employees there have been several different solutions that keep the onboarding process remote.

One of the most common ways businesses have sought out to do this onboarding work has involved using smartphones and their digital capabilities to remotely onboard employees. They have done this by using SMS services to deliver some aspects of their onboarding process; creating mobile applications that deliver some of the training, wellness, and support resources; and video conferencing through mobile versions of the desktop versions like MS Teams and Zoom. The convenience of smartphones helps to make them effective and relatively simple to integrate them into existing structures within HR’s onboarding procedures.

Is Remote Onboarding the Only Future of Onboarding

One of the thoughts leading into this article centred around the question of whether the reactionary shift towards remote onboarding would be here to stay and while we largely focused on the positive aspects of remote onboarding it would be remiss to not look at some of the aspects that make in-person onboarding successful.

One thing that most employees look forward to when beginning a new position is meeting their co-workers and being able to connect with them beyond their work tasks. While this is not lost completely with remote onboarding, especially as many companies have invested in virtual events that attempt to recreate the events they used to hold in person, it is not the same as being in the same room as someone.

It is possible for remote onboarding to be done effectively for a company and as the future of work continues to develop and reinvent itself the flexibility that it helps to facilitate means that it is likely to stay. It is unlikely to stay in the same format that we have now, with it likely becoming a hybrid system of remote tools and in-person procedures. As HR professionals are only beginning to assess the future of onboarding it is likely to undergo several reinventions.