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What is Onboarding? Your Guide to the Onboarding Process

13 min read
what is onboarding

It is important to make sure that new hires feel supported when they enter a new organization. In an especially tight labor market, the onboarding process is key to setting up these hard-won hires for success. What is onboarding? It’s the process of integrating new hires into an organization.

An effective onboarding process can make a big difference to the success of an organization. Research shows that employee onboarding can improve employee retention by 82% and productivity by 70%. However, even though an onboarding is so important to employee success, only 12% of employees feel they had a great onboarding.

What can you do to make sure that your onboarding process is providing everything new hires need? In this article we’ll cover the key benefits of a good onboarding process, important steps, and best practices. Download our onboarding checklist below to make sure that you don’t miss a step.

By improving onboarding in your organization, you can boost productivity, reduce costs, and help retain employees. Let’s get started!


What is onboarding? 

The process of onboarding is how an organization gets new hires up to speed. During the onboarding process, employees learn more about the scope of their role, their colleagues, and the values of the larger organization. Through the process of onboarding, incoming employees have the opportunity to get access to and training for the tools they’ll need to be using. They’ll also be able to ask important questions and acclimate to the company climate.

Why is onboarding so important? A staggering 90% of employees decide whether to stay or leave a company during their first 6 months. In the tightest labor market in recent history, organizations cannot afford to lose employees to inadequate onboarding processes. For this reason, organizations need to invest in making the employee onboarding experience a good one.

Bad onboarding processes leave employees feeling unsupported. They won’t have the resources they need to reach their goals, which can be very demotivating.

What onboarding is not: Onboarding vs. orientation

It is important to note that there are key differences between onboarding and orientation. For most organizations, the orientation is a one-time event. It is typically only a couple hours or at most a full work day and it is typically general enough to apply to many employees from various teams.

Meanwhile, the employee onboarding process will take several days or even weeks. During the onboarding process, employees will receive information that is much more specific to their team and their role. Orientation is just a small part of an onboarding process!

Benefits of an effective onboarding process

Benefits of onboarding for organizations

Some of the most valuable benefits of a well-structured employee onboarding are as follows:

  • Talent retention: Organizations are better able to retain highly qualified talent when they start with a great onboarding. 
  • Increases productivity: Employees that feel included in the company, and are given clear objectives, are more focused and perform better.
  • Positive impression: An employee that feels good in a company from day one tends to have a better impression overall of the business. 
  • Reduces hiring costs: The company won’t experience a high turnover rate, and thus economic investments are reduced. 

Benefits of Onboarding for Employees

  • Feel welcomed: New employees are quickly comfortable in their role and feel a part of the company culture. 
  • More informed: Employees are better informed about their tasks and functions within the company.
  • Increased motivation: Employees experience greater motivation and investment in the company. 
  • Increased engagement: New staff experience increased job satisfaction, resulting in higher employee engagement.

Benefits of Digital Onboarding for Remote Teams

  • Saves time on administrative tasks so you can spend more time focusing on the new employee. 
  • Minimize the risk of forgetting to send a document, ie. in the case of a worker’s discharge following an accident.
  • Facilitate the hiring of remote workers. The integration of remote workers is made easy with digital tools.
  • Content is always up to date.  The new employee has access to the latest information, including any changes to the onboarding.
  • Information is shared and integrated with all parties involved. This makes it easy for employees to access their documents (ie. contract), without needing to reach out to HR directly.
  • The information is always available and can be provided in stages rather than all at once. Also, they can consult the onboarding information at any moment.

onboarding employees

Setting onboarding process objectives

As you set up your onboarding process, it is important to set clear objectives so that you know where to devote your energy. Here are some of the key objectives that should be considered throughout the onboarding process:

  • To teach the new employee the internal policies of the company (the norms, roles, legal, security, etc.).
  • Explain the employee’s roles and duties, and which tools they need to perform their duties. 
  • Opportunity to share the company philosophy and integrate the new worker into the team.
  • To explain the placement of the employee in the company’s organizational chart.

With these goals in mind, you’ll be able to create an onboarding process that sets new hires up for success.

Tracking onboarding metrics

Once you’ve determined the objectives of your onboarding program, you can use key onboarding metrics in order to track the success of your onboarding. Consider tracking the following onboarding success metrics:

  • New employee satisfaction: Send new hires special-tailored satisfaction surveys at the one-month, three-month, and six-month marks to see how new employees are adapting to the team. You’ll be able to gain a lot of insight into the successes and shortcomings of your onboarding process. Make sure to use quantitative evaluation methods so you can crunch the numbers and come up with clear results.
  • Time-to-productivity: The goal of any onboarding process is to get employees up and running as soon as possible. Ask new hires (and their managers) to estimate how long it took them to start working independently. Then, get them the tools they need to cut this time down!
  • New hire turnover: Studies show that 20% of employees leave within their first 45 days of employment. Make sure to calculate new hire turnover to see if your onboarding process is driving newcomers out the door!

Read 5 Key Metrics to Track Onboarding Success →

The Onboarding Process: 4 Key Steps

The duration of the employee onboarding process can last anywhere from 45 days to one year, depending on the characteristics of the job and the skills of the new worker.  The first few days, weeks, and months, are crucial to forming a good working relationship between an employee and the company.

Here are some of the key points that you should consider at each phase of the onboarding process.

1) Before the New Employee’s Start Date

The process of pre-onboarding or “preboarding” occurs before the new hire’s first day on the job. Firstly, you need to determine which onboarding documents you need to prepare and sign before their arrival.  These might include legal documents, documents specific to the new hire’s position, payroll documents, and company-specific documents.

Stay in touch with the new hire and answer any questions they have before starting their new role, ie. working hours, dress code, vacation days, etc. Try to help them feel supported and part of the team from the beginning.

Before their start date, the new employee must know: 

  • Who are their bosses and co-workers 
  • Where they will perform their duties 
  • The responsibilities of the job
  • The means of work
  • The habits of the company and the company culture

2) Plan Out Onboarding Activities

Aside from paperwork, it is always a good idea to plan out the new hire’s first week. You will want to make sure that teammates are aware of the newcomer’s start date and that their workstation is ready to go.  You might also want to search for some creative ideas for new employee onboardings.  For example, ice breaker activities and lunches for them with other team members.  This way, newly onboarded employees will feel comfortable immediately.

3) Help New Employees Feel Acquainted from Day 1

On the very first day, it’s vital that new hires receive a warm welcome.  Make a point to give employees a tour of the office and introduce them to coworkers and other new employees. If you have a buddy system, like Factorial HR’s, it is a great way to help employees feel closer and more connected to team members working in other departments.

4) Check-in on New Team Members

After the first week, the onboarding process is not over!  It takes time for newly hired employees to feel 100% comfortable and confident in their position.  Be sure to check in from time to time to make sure that trainings are going well and that they feel adapted and adjusted.  Hosting team-building activities are a great way to make newer employees feel incorporated.  It can really make a difference in retention efforts!

Sample onboarding plan for new employees

There is no cookie-cutter format that every company must follow when designing their plan for onboarding. In fact, the plan you create is dependent on, the type of company, the management, and the team involved.  Using an onboarding checklist template is especially helpful to make sure that you don’t miss a step when new talent joins your team.

The phases of onboarding begin before a new employee accepts your offer. As for the length of time, it can last anywhere from 1 day, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or more.  Here is a timeline to help you organize and plan onboarding from start to finish.

Pre-Onboarding: The selection process

  • Determine the selection process budget. The cost of recruitment and selection isn’t always cheap.
  • When writing the job offer, you need to be clear in the description. In addition, it’s a good idea to outline what is the company philosophy, its values, and overall goals. 
  • During the interview, present the company well. Make sure the candidate understands that your company is a good option for them. Explain the role, expectations, and anything else you feel is best to communicate.
  • Once the employee has accepted the role, you can begin the pre-onboarding process. This stage involves things such as gathering the documentation required to have the employee legally start. 

Welcoming New Employees

  • Provide them a warm welcome (ie. email welcome, social media announcement with attached bio, etc.).
  • Resolve all questions the employee has brought up.
  • Initial training includes a full overview of the employee’s tasks, tools they will use, etc.).
  • Introduce new members to the rest of their team.
  • Provide an employee manual to the new member. This can be a paper copy or sent via email. A video is also a fantastic medium for presenting the bulk of the company’s introductory materials. 

During the First Week on the Job

Once the first day is complete, the employer should always follow up with the employee. The first week serves as a great time to get feedback from the employee on how they are feeling in their role, and more importantly, in their environment.

Here are some additional things you can do as an HR manager, to help the new employee along. 

  • Assign a mentor- One of the best ways to help your new employees transition into the workplace is by assigning them a mentor. This mentor can guide them as they learn their tasks so that eventually, they can perform them fully on their own.
  • Schedule periodic meetings- Make time to meet with your new employee every 15 to 20 days.  This is a great time to check in with your employees and determine whether they require anything to help them out. Following the initial 90 days, a review should be set up to evaluate the performance and adjustment of the employee, to their environment, other team members, and their role as a whole.

After the First Month

Following the first month, remember to regularly meet with the new employee and follow up with them to know whether they are satisfied in their new role. 

  • Encourage participation in company activities to continue integrating the employee. Employees that feel more involved in the company are often more motivated.

Adapting your onboarding to be remote-friendly

With the rise of hybrid and remote work, more and more organizations are onboarding employees who will never even step foot into a physical office space.

The remote onboarding process can involve some additional steps, such as sending gear to remote workers and ensuring compliance with the laws.

It also means that automating your onboarding process so that it can be self-led by employees will be even more important. Consider using some digital onboarding tools so that new hires can guide themselves autonomously.

Read Remote Onboarding: A Step-by-Step Guide→

Investing in the right digital onboarding tools

The main advantage of using digital tools is to accelerate the process. In addition, digital tools improve the overall efficiency of the new employee’s integration process.

These are the distinct types of digital tools every company should know about:

Onboarding Checklists

These are the simplest and most common tools to keep track of your to-dos. A basic way to create an employee checklist for onboarding is to use Excel. However, a spreadsheet isn’t the most visually appealing. Alternative tools like Trello, allow you to create, assign, and keep track of tasks. Check out some of the best practices for onboarding below.

Specialized Tools 

One example of this type of tool is Talmundo, a tool specialized in performing onboarding for companies. Their intuitive and structured process makes bringing on new employees a positive experience for all.

Integrated Tools – HRMS

HRMS software can improve your digital onboarding process. Systems like Factorial HR integrate many processes. Everything from applicant tracking to electronically sign documents, and more! Factorial HR streamlines your HR processes so you can save time on the laborious administrative tasks commonly associated with HR. 

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Electronic Signature

The functionality of an electronic signature allows you to automize the process of signing legal employee documents. Although programs like Signaturit provides this functionality, it’s best to use an integrated tool, like the one we’ve mentioned under HRMS. 

Machine Learning Systems

These tools tend to cost a pretty penny and require even more time to implement. However, on the other hand, they provide a great deal of help when training new employees. One such popular machine learning tool is called Cornerstone. The core of Cornerstone is promoting social learning to achieve better communication and employee involvement.


No, these are not talking robots that you place on your desk to keep you company throughout the day. Chatbots, similar to robots, are relatively new tools that allow employees to ask questions they would otherwise have to ask from the manager. With a chatbox, the company asks a question, and the bot responds. 

Free Multimedia Tools

There are many free applications that exist which allow you to record videos. Improve the onboarding experience by incorporating instructional videos. Share them with your new employees to assist in their learning process. Loom is a great fee multimedia tools is used to create basic videos.

Onboarding Best Practices

Employee onboarding is an incredibly valuable time. It is when your employee gets a feel for the company and its culture —but sometimes it is when a new hire goes back to the job market. A staggering 20% of new hires leave their job to pursue another opportunity within 45 days.

An exceptional onboarding process that goes the extra mile is the best way to keep top talent around. It will also get them up to speed even faster and help them to integrate and feel at home. If you implement even a few of these onboarding best practices, your company is sure to wow incoming talent.

Personalize your Welcome Kit

Onboarding involves a lot of logistics but it doesn’t have to be dry! Welcome Kits should be more than a pile of drab documents and some pens. Spruce up that employee handbook by hiring a writer to make it more readable or a designer to create fun infographics. Help new hires settle in by including a glossary of company jargon and a who’s who cheat sheet.

The renowned advertising agency Ogilvy gives newbies a chic red-and-black box complete with a manifesto written by Ogilvy himself and a list of his creative habits. A non-generic Welcome Kit is the first step of effective onboarding: it will give your newest employee a peek at company culture and make them eager to learn more.

Give an Onboarding Gift (or Some Nice Swag)

Let new hires know how happy you are to have them with a welcome gift such as flowers, lunch certificates, or a map of cool spots in the area. Some companies give out swag, like branded coffee mugs, water bottles, and sweatshirts. The more this swag is tailored to the company’s goals, the better. OPower, an energy data company, gives employees a bottle of champagne to be saved for when the company helps reduce carbon emissions in the US by 1%.

Swag is more than just “free stuff.” It can be a key part of the onboarding experience, helping new hires to integrate and invest themselves in the company’s goals. 

Make it Fun with Onboarding Games

Gamify the onboarding process to engage and motivate new employees from their first day on the job. Make the work environment inviting by awarding and tracking points on a digital or physical leaderboard. As new hires learn new skills and complete tasks, they can “level up.” This might be an exceptionally useful tactic if your company uses app onboarding. Be sure to offer challenges and bonus points! 

Send New Employees on a Scavenger Hunt

Some companies, like Texas-based digital marketing company Bazaarvoice, include scavenger hunts in their onboarding program. New hires are sent out to find clues hidden all over the office and property while they get the lay of the land.

Additionally, other companies hold virtual scavenger hunts, sending employees looking for answers to policy questions or for contact info on the company’s intranet. This onboarding effort is a fun way to acclimate new hires to tools and technologies they will need to use every day. Bonus: if they get stuck, they’ll have to ask one of their new coworkers for help.

The Best Onboarding Practices Break the Ice

Onboarding best practices include making sure to provide plenty of time for get-to-know-you activities for new hires. It’s important that new employees start building relationships with their coworkers as soon as possible.

Here at Factorial, when someone new joins the team, we have the standard introductions and then afterward, we play “two truths and a lie.” This gives new hires a chance to share about themselves and joke around with the team to build rapport. Using icebreakers will make sure new employees feel ready to jump in and make waves.

Set Up New Hires with a Buddy

There’s a lot to learn when a new employee joins a company! Make the stressful onboarding experience more navigable by pairing your new hire up with a buddy, a more-experienced team member who can show them the ropes. A buddy can give a new hire a tour of the office, introduce them to coworkers, and provide a safe place to ask questions that are too embarrassing to ask management.

Harvard Business Review found that for such a simple system, an onboarding buddy program showed outsized benefits. Providing context, boosting productivity, and improving employee satisfaction, an onboarding buddy is among the new employee orientation best practices.

Involve Management in the Onboarding Process

To go above and beyond best practices for onboarding new employees, give new hires a chance to connect with senior leaders. Involving senior leaders in onboarding humanizes the company for new hires. It also gives them a chance to connect with the mission of the company in a new way.

For example, all new hires at Netflix are welcomed with an orientation with the executive management. Within the first quarter, they meet the CEO. For managers and executives, these meetings can also provide valuable opportunities to learn more about employees and gather feedback about the company.

Optimize the Onboarding Process

With the information presented in this article, you are more than prepared to create the best onboarding plan for your new employees. By including these processes in your HR plan for 2020, there is a multitude of benefits, for both you and the employee.

Without knowing what is onboarding or how to effectively create and implement a plan, incoming employees won’t have a clear idea about your organization, their role, or the philosophy of the company they are working with.

Ensure a warm welcome to your new staff member and provide them with the best entry (ie. using digital tools to assist). The results will be better adaptation and integration, staff retention, increased satisfaction, and overall, a positive experience.

✅ Download our onboarding checklist

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