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Preboarding: 6 Best Practices to Boost Your Remote Onboarding Experience

Jan 27, 2022| Reading time: 13min

BY Monica Bright-Hill

Manager of People Operations

Organizations have long struggled to onboard new hires. Welcoming employees virtually makes this task even more difficult. New team members frequently feel out of the loop, isolated, and disconnected from the company’s mission and culture.

Most companies know this is an issue—they say they’re serious about investing in the digital employee experience. Yet, many aren’t sure how to translate that commitment into a concrete plan. Fortunately, preboarding is an excellent solution.

Employee preboarding forms should be part of a broader onboarding program. It’s the window between when the new hire accepts the offer and starts the job. You can use a preboarding program to calm employees’ first-day nerves. You’ll make new hires feel connected and welcomed from the moment they accept the job offer.

These best practices will help you build a preboarding process that goes beyond handling logistics to showcase the company culture and foster inclusion.

1. Audit your onboarding process

Review your existing onboarding program to assess what’s working and what’s not. These insights will help you build a preboarding program that’s aligned with employee expectations and needs from the outset.

Every organization is different. New hires at one company might require hands-on support to master new applications. At another, employees may benefit from informational guides to get up to speed on industry best practices. You’ll need to tailor your preboarding activities to meet these specific needs.

A great way to audit your onboarding process is to gather feedback from new employees. Create an onboarding survey for new hires to help gain an understanding of their experience. You’ll share this survey with all new hires during their first or second week with the company. Once you have your feedback, analyze themes in the responses. Look for trends, problems, and highlights. Maybe you’re a hybrid team and new hires aren’t sure about official work hours. Or perhaps the findings show employees want more information about what to expect on their first day. With this information, you can develop a preboarding program that sets employees up for success.

Remember to share the survey results with leadership and frontline managers. Distributing survey results to company leaders provides a full picture of the challenges and gives them an opportunity to contribute to a solution.

2. Craft a welcome email series

Create a preboarding-themed email sequence to establish a relationship with new hires. The Journal of Management Development recommends that HR initiate an “online relationship” with employees before they start on day one at the new job. Taking this step allows your company to begin “an immediate personalized relationship” with new employees, which is a key element of effective leadership. In addition, it allows the newcomer to learn about your organization.

An email sequence helps to compensate for what may be lost when onboarding virtually. During a traditional onboarding process, employees have several informal interactions where they learn about the company and its culture. They grab an impromptu coffee with the boss, bond with teammates at the water cooler, and observe peers throughout the workday. These exchanges aren’t possible in a remote setting.

With a welcome email series, you can still build a positive impression and deeper understanding of the organization. Instead of radio silence from your organization in the weeks before new employees start, they’ll receive engaging, helpful content that gives them a sense of your company’s culture and values. For example, software company Help Scout put together a four-part preboarding email sequence. The emails include an introduction to Help Scout’s values, a photo from the last company retreat, and a blog post about the company’s approach to remote work.

Preboarding welcome email example from Help Scout

An email from Help Scout’s preboarding sequence. Personalize the message with the employee’s name.

As part of this sequence, add an email from the employee’s onboarding buddy so they have another go-to person they can approach with questions. An onboarding buddy is an employee who supports the new hire in their first few weeks, providing them with information about company processes, culture, and more. According to Gartner’s research, 74% of new hires see their peers as the most valuable source of support while they’re onboarding. Plus, new hires with onboarding buddies are more satisfied with the overall onboarding experience.

3. Prepare a preboarding information pack

Most new hires don’t know what to expect, and starting a job remotely can add to their stress and uncertainty. To ease those new job jitters, provide employees with information about their role and first-week schedule before they join the team. This way, they’ll have a clear picture of their first few days and understand what’s expected of them.

One example of this approach is marketing platform Percolate’s preboarding information pack. Ahead of their official start date, new hires at Percolate receive their email login, FAQs, and onboarding schedule.

If you’re preparing your first preboarding information pack, here are common examples of what you might include:

  • Documentation about processes and workflows: In the remote work environment, written communication is critical. A study of Microsoft onboarding finds a lack of accurate documentation about workflows resulted in a poor remote onboarding experience. In turn, missing or inadequate documentation led to delays in starting work.
  • The organizational chart: New employees can use the org chart to get to know team members, see where they fit in, and learn how work gets done. Look for org chart software that shows employee profiles. An employee profile could include a photo, name pronunciation, preferred pronoun, and location. These details foster connection and improve communication. For example, a manager’s profile might include a preference for Slack updates over email, while a map visualization might help a new joiner find nearby colleagues they can meet for coffee.
  • Detailed role responsibilities and OKRs: The Journal of Organizational Psychology finds that realistic job previews that clearly define the role help set expectations and lead to improved job satisfaction. And while job previews are primarily used during the hiring process, you should keep each role’s core duties top of mind for employees from onboarding and beyond.

Once you’ve determined the information you’ll include, bring everything together in a people operations platform. A Digitate onboarding study found one out of six new hires didn’t find the company’s systems easy to use. Starting a new job is overwhelming enough without having to search for information spread across emails and spreadsheets. Centralizing this kind of data makes it easy for people to refer back to important information about company culture, processes, organizational structure, responsibilities, and OKRs at any time.

4. Share preboarding video messages

Use preboarding video messages to introduce new remote hires to the team. Not only does video communication foster trust and create a human connection across remote teams, but it also cultivates a sense of belonging.

A FinanceBuzz survey of remote workers finds 46% experience feelings of isolation. Video messages from the C-suite and peers establish a connection well before the new employee officially joins the organization. That’s why EQRx, a U.S.-based pharmaceutical company, sends video messages to team members as part of its preboarding program. New hires receive messages from EQRx executives and future colleagues welcoming them to the team. This approach seems to be working. On the employer review site Comparably, 100% of employees say they had a positive onboarding experience at EQRx.

Remember to consider accessibility when developing your preboarding videos. This might mean adding captions or a written transcript. Adopting this approach will be key for creating an inclusive preboarding process.

5. Deliver a welcome gift

Sending a welcome kit can help newcomers feel like part of the team before they start. By giving new hires a welcome gift, you help them adjust to the business. Researchers call this process organizational socialization. Through organizational socialization, employees move from being organizational outsiders to “organizational insiders.”

Take Reckitt, a consumer goods company. Reckitt gives each new employee a care package filled with their products. The preboarding package comes with a personalized note explaining how the products fit in with the company’s mission.

Even if you don’t produce physical products, giving new hires a swag bag filled with company-branded goods can help express your appreciation and communicate your excitement about their presence on the team.

6. Set up technology before the start date

Finally, it’s helpful to configure new employees’ technology in advance so they don’t have to spend their first day troubleshooting technical issues.

Ensuring employees have the tools required to perform their tasks makes them feel equipped to do their jobs. This is especially important in a virtual context where employees can’t simply walk over to IT for real-time support.

You’ll also want to select technology to automate as much of the process as possible. For example, use a password manager that grants access to all the relevant applications. It also helps to have platforms that can serve as a single source of truth. Introducing a people operations platform that integrates with other HR technology, such as your payroll and HRIS, can give employees a one-stop shop to view everything from organizational structure to compensation details and planned time off across the team

Work closely with IT throughout this process. This collaboration will mean much of the tech aspects will be on auto-pilot when the new hire starts.

Use these best practices to provide a positive preboarding experience

Gallup’s employee onboarding research suggests employees form judgments of a new company’s behavior as soon as they join the organization. That early impression has lasting consequences—Gallup finds it influences the quality of the employee/employer relationship down the line. For instance, employees are more likely to look for another role if they have a disappointing employee experience.

If your organization fully adapts to the era of remote work, you’ll welcome connected, confident new employees. Preboarding will help you achieve that goal. With a preboarding program, you’ll see high levels of employee engagement and retention.

Even if you invest in a solid preboarding program, you’ll still battle to attract remote workers without a competitive compensation package. Learn best practices for calculating pay in this comprehensive guide into remote worker salaries.

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