How effective is your onboarding process for a remote or hybrid world of work?

Statistics show that up to 40% of new recruits leave within the first six months of starting a new job (ACAS). An effective onboarding programme is one of the best ways you can work towards beating this statistic.

Ensuring every new staff receives a comprehensive and effective introduction to all facets of organisational life is hardest at the best of times. But just how effective are your processes in a remote or hybrid world?

I was reading some recently published research from Leeds University Social-Technical Centre investigating the effectiveness of intern induction programmes in hybrid working situations and the report made interesting reading with some useful takeaways. In this short article, I will give you a summary of the key points that I felt were noteworthy.

There is good news as well as bad news, so let us start with the good news.

On the whole, the research participants found that their remote induction programmes were sufficiently effective at providing them with the necessary task-based skills they needed to undertake their specific role in the organisation, for example, how to run or write particular reports, or undertake technical activities. These were learned through such activities as recorded briefings, live virtual team introductions, and 1:1 handover training from a colleague. Often this was led by an outgoing intern, and often it involved virtual ‘screen sharing’.

They reported several positive benefits from their remote induction programmes, including:

  • the opportunity to rehearse tasks through live screen-sharing and to ask questions in real-time;
  • the ability to record, play and slow down training sessions that resulted in less need to ask further questions of their colleagues and to get tasks right for real first-time and at a later time.


The bad news is that the participants reported finding their induction programmes “tedious”, “dry”, and “demotivating”. This is of particular concern as we are all aware how important first impressions are in all aspects of our lives and no less so than in terms of a new job. In addition, they reported that whilst their inductions were good at bringing them up to speed with their specific tasks, they were much less good at helping them understand the wider team and organisational context of these tasks and their role.

Building on this theme, participants felt that they missed out on what could be termed ‘learning by osmosis’, referring to the less directed and more informal learning that just happens when we are immersed in a new environment. People reported that they did not realise how much they had missed in the fully remote working mode until they transitioned to a hybrid or office-based working model. Working remotely it is much harder to hear what is going on and to easily, and without fuss, just ask a colleague to explain something they did not understand. It is this informal and social learning that is near totally absent in the remote working mode. If you need to ask a question you have to do more to find a colleague who can help and then find a time that works for them. This lake of informal and social learning also significantly impacted their ability to understand the cultural and social norms of the organisation. Yes, they may have understood these within the context of their immediate team, but much less so in terms of the organisation as a whole and in the context of the physical offices.

This lack of social connection also impacted the interns from being able to easily express how they were coping with their workload and either ask for help or ask for more tasks to do. As a result, many participants felt that they only recognised too late what they could have done better in terms of both their productivity and adding more value to the organisation.

Participants also felt that their learning process and experience was somewhat hidden from the organisation and their colleagues. This offered both good and bad outcomes. On the good side, interns commented that they often received praise for work they had completed, even though they had found it very challenging and required a lot of Google searching and phone calls to friends and family to achieve the final result. This frustration and challenge would have been greatly alleviated if they had been able to ask a suitably experienced colleague for some simple clarifications.

The big question now will be how this research informs the future design of your onboarding programmes to deliver a better outcome for your people and the organisation?

I have several comments to offer.

We need to invest more time in finding ways to make our new colleagues feel comfortable and able to reach out to their new colleagues quickly and informally. This is about finding ways of breaking down the initial social barriers. Perhaps, it is also about making established colleagues more accountable for their part in this process? Tools like instant messaging can help in creating more accepted norms in terms of asking a quick question.

We need to do more to break up the tedium of Zoom after Zoom, or Team after Team meeting and provide more of a mix of digital experiences which also offer a good amount of opportunity and time for meaningful interaction, as opposed to one-way presentations.
We need to do more to help people know about the cultural norms, even if they are rarely in the office environment. Perhaps this is about providing some video media that showcases normal working practices and ‘a day in the life of’ an office worker?

I also think that leadership will need to make more of an effort to be visible, present, and articulating every nuance of their organisation’s being, and not just the formal versions of the corporate vision and mission statements. Storytelling is the key here, this is what people can connect with and will remember.

Perhaps there could also be some form of ‘Samaritans’ help offer for new starts that are feeling lost or isolated; an in-confidence opportunity to discuss and express their concerns with a colleague training to provide some first-line support on ‘the way things actually get done around here’.

If this has offered you food for thought in terms of how you want to direct your digital learning strategy for the coming year, why not research our comprehensive multi-publisher catalogue offering a huge range of courses here to find the courses you need to support your organisation in 2022 and beyond?
If this has offered you food for thought in terms of how you want to direct your digital learning strategy for the coming year, why not research our comprehensive multi-publisher catalogue offering a huge range of courses on all these subjects here to find the courses you need to support your organisation in 2021 and beyond?