Work-From-Home Conditions Require New Ways to Onboard Employees

Feb 7, 2022

What if we treated new employees like new customers?

It’s a provocative question worth considering. In a time when finding, hiring and retaining talented employees is harder than ever, we need to look at how little we spend to turn these employees into loyalists. It may take months or a year to fill a position, so what are you giving new employees (beyond a salary and benefits) to help them perform like rock stars and keep them on your company’s stage? The employee engagement market is projected to be only $370 million, which is pretty paltry compared to the money spent on customer engagement.

Companies big and small, B2B and B2C, spend billions of dollars turning new customers into loyal customers. The customer experience management market is projected to grow to $16.9 billion by 2026, which makes sense; acquiring a new customer costs five to 25 times as much as keeping an existing one. 

However, acquiring a new employee can cost even more. HR expert Josh Bersin of Deloitte Consulting found that losing a technical employee can easily cost a company the equivalent of that employee’s salary for a year. Losing an executive-level employee may cost a company two times the equivalent of the executive’s annual salary to replace. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that an average of 36% of new hires fail within the first 18 months, so it’s easy for companies to get this wrong.

Before the pandemic, you’d put new employees in a conference room for the day, give them a T-shirt, a mug and a laptop, show them presentations from company leaders and HR, and then send them off to their cubes with your best wishes and a Salesforce login.

However, with ongoing work-from-home conditions, anyone hired in the past year probably just got that box of swag and a link to some canned HR videos. How are those new hires supposed to be productive with so little to go on? How can they feel like they are making a difference — really accomplishing something?

Companies are getting creative. Some are trying to keep employees excited by sending out kitchen-themed care packages or throwing virtual pizza parties. Others are looking for new ways to connect their new employees. For example, Twitter educates employees every Friday with a 30-minute presentation from a different team. Netflix assigns a dedicated trainer to new employees to answer daily questions. Buffer takes the team-pairing approach seriously, assigning new employees a leader buddy, a role buddy and a culture buddy so that employees hear about where they’re going from leadership, figure out how to get there with their peers and find out about the history and culture of the company from a long-time employee.

I love the idea of having all of these folks available to help new employees, but to be honest, I’m kind of an introvert. If three buddies had offered to help me during my first week as a new hire, I probably would have felt overwhelmed. When I was in those situations, I preferred to research, review prior work and learn about the company on my own. For me, however, the challenge was always: “How do I find the needle in the haystack?” 

Even under the best of circumstances, searching for information on company servers can be an exercise in “guess the folder” for new hires. Now, with the challenges of remote and hybrid work, it’s gotten even harder because, at home, there’s nobody to ask in the next cube over.

Luckily, there are a few steps businesses can take to prepare for ongoing success under these changing conditions.

1. Assess and organize assets. Companies need to optimize internal resource structures, so employees have easy and immediate access to whatever they need to get their work done. Look at how folders and information are currently structured and consider how you can simplify. What would make it easiest for employees to find the right documents?

2. Embrace distributed, asynchronous work. Both hybrid work and the growing importance of global teams are making the standardized 9-to-5 workday a thing of the past. Companies should make sure employees have all the information required to complete assigned tasks upfront, so their fellow team members don’t get held up by a lot of back-and-forth or late-night questions.

3. Create a long-term remote strategy. The new world of work requires more than just a quick fix. Company leaders have to execute new thinking to support dispersed teams in an ongoing way.

4. Evaluate on-premises vs. cloud-based SaaS applications. With a distributed workforce, secure online access to a range of applications is important. Focus on giving employees what they need to get their jobs done.

Companies may also need to consider an enterprise search solution to make finding information as easy as doing a web search. This is a tall order, to be sure; I’ve worked at both Microsoft and Google, and even they struggle with this. Some apps are on-premise, while others are in the cloud. Some documents are semi-public, while others are trade secrets. The information you need could be almost anywhere.

This is, undoubtedly, frustrating for employees who have just started and are already stressed out. Most companies are moving too fast to stop and properly onboard new employees. Between server links, Google Docs and emails, it’s no wonder they call this stage “drinking from the firehose.” The work folders might not be organized, co-workers might not reply to questions in a timely fashion, and bosses might not have given all of the background needed to work effectively. Even if new hires have buddies helping them out with a flurry of Slack messages, it’s still not an easy task to decode an entire company’s culture from afar.

How can you better support recent hires who have never seen the inside of your company office, who don’t even know how much fun their co-workers are in person? It’s worth asking: If that new employee was a new customer, how would you treat them? I certainly think it would be better to do what’s necessary to keep them loyal to your company.

By Arvind Jain