The Winning Formula for Experience-Driven Virtual Onboarding

Posted in Best Practice

In this quarter’s thought-leadership panel, we invited three of our most innovative customers to chat about their experiences with virtual onboarding, the ideas that’ve worked best for them, and the winning formula for experience-driven, virtual onboarding that drives business results.

Without further ado – here’s what we learned from Jenn Perry, Shopify’s Onboarding Logistics Manager; Robert Hicks, Group HR Director for Reward Gateway; and Darren Grant, Global Onboarding Manager for Cisco Meraki.

Let’s get stuck in…


1 – Make it WOWboarding not onBORING

“Shopify is known for having these fantastic offices, so creating that WOW factor for new hires was always super easy for us. […] One of the big challenges now has been, how can we create that WOW factor elsewhere? That’s been a huge focus as we make onboarding a digital-first offering” - Jenn Perry, EDGE 2020

One of the recurring themes from the panel was the importance of onboarding that genuinely wows new hires. That’s been a major priority for Shopify as they become a ‘Digital by Default’ company, allowing everyone to work from home permanently if they prefer.

As Robert puts it, “onboarding should be engaging, it should be straightforward, and it should be fun. There’s no point it being dry – it’s got to be exciting”.

Read more: Breaking it down: To WOW new hires, target these three areas

What cropped up throughout EDGE and our panel experts reaffirmed is, people remember how you made them feel. Onboarding isn’t just about transferring knowledge and embedding processes; it’s about creating experiences that make them feel great.

Like Darren said, “I try to keep it extremely real. We’re all experiencing the same things right now […] so I keep it light, I keep it fun, I keep it engaging. I share my personal struggles with working remotely.”

This idea of authenticity is fundamental to engagement onboarding. Through leaders being themselves and being human, you carve space for employees to feel safe bringing their whole self to work too.

A related point was the importance of creating trust early. You can’t wow employees who don’t trust you! All three of our experience-driven onboarding experts embed check-in touchpoints throughout onboarding to build trust immediately that the business genuinely cares.


2 - Kick-ass personalization is key 

“An employee wants to feel special; not that they’re just receiving generic messages. They’re going to have different elements that’ll be important to them. […] You want consistency. You want flexibility. But you also want the employee to feel it’s special for them” - Robert Hicks, EDGE 2020

Personalization is SO important. The whole point of onboarding software isn’t (just) to save time and effort. It’s to empower personalization at scale.

As Darren says, ““personalization is key to ignite that initial spark for an onboarding journey”. Cisco Meraki are focusing heavily on personalized preboarding right now, to help reassure and engage new hires who don’t know what to expect.

Read more: The secret to automating personalized onboarding 

Jenn talks about how Shopify personalize onboarding by tailoring learning paths around disciplines and tailoring communication schedules around time-zones. In the future, Jenn believes onboarding will see much more self-directed, asynchronous learning to suit the individual.

She also shares Shopify’s incredible postcard program, which sees every new starter get a handwritten, hand-decorated personalized welcome postcard:

“We had no idea how much impact it was going to have. Just seeing the comments coming in from new hires when get their cards, and how they love them, and share them across social media - it’s such a small act that has a huge impact”.  

Robert also talks about the need to create personalized learning journeys that accommodate difference:

“Onboarding needs to recognize the salesperson in the US, the client success person in Australia and the HR assistant in Bulgaria are going to have different things they need to learn. They’re going to have access to different tools, they’re going to need to know different aspects of how your company works and who’s important within their day job.”

This idea even extends to personalization of management styles, our host Chris (Enboarder’s very own Director of Customer Success for EMEA) noted. “Lots of companies are asking their new hires how they like to be managed, and how they like to work”.

priscilla-du-preez-nF8xhLMmg0c-unsplash (1)

3 – Creating belonging matters more than ever  

“Creating connection and a sense of belonging are the most important things you can do right now with a remote workforce.” - Jenn Perry, EDGE 2020

For all our experience-driven onboarding experts, connection is a huge focus. But how do you create that connection, a sense of belonging, when you’re onboarding virtually?

Jenn spoke about how Shopify have created a Slack channel for new hires to connect before they even start, so they can start embedding into the company culture before day one.

This focus on culture is huge, especially in remote onboarding. Robert points out:

“You’re losing an element of human touch so you now need to make that up by making the digital experience really, really important. […] 

Every company has its own set of values, its own purpose, its own mission. You’ve got to put those things at the center of what you do, to help your new employees get up to speed. […] If your employees know what you’re about, they’re really going to feel more included.”

For Reward Gateway, fostering this sense of connection has meant increasing visibility by blogging about new hires, by connecting people via Slack, and via featuring employees on their in-house Desert Island Hits podcast.

For Cisco Meraki too, the main purpose of remote onboarding is to create a sense of connection by recreating the in-person experience of your culture digitally:

“How can we take the in-office experiences and turn them into virtual experiences? Cisco Meraki is very big on the connection and the sense of belonging and inclusion. […]” 

Darren shared some amazing ideas that have been working for Cisco Meraki, like virtual coffee classes, virtual yoga classes, virtual meditation classes - even virtual hip-hop classes. He also shared their ‘three-on-three lunches’ initiative, where the business sets up new hires with two other people and buys them all lunch together so they can connect.

We also LOVED Meraki’s Happiness Events initiative, where every department gets a quarterly budget to splurge on something happy. Darren talks about his department recently brought everyone dinner to bring home then spent the evening playing online party games.

Sounds like a WOW employee experience to us!


4 – Get the onboarding basics right – then innovate 

“The important part is really the basics. That’s all about the set-up. We’ve all got the horror stories – it used to be they didn’t have a desk but now it’s, ‘oh, we don’t have a laptop in stock’. We need to make sure onboarding includes IT. It’s IT that’ll make or break your remote onboarding process." - Robert Hicks, EDGE 2020

The counterpart to personalization, Robert says, is consistency:

 “Onboarding starts with making sure everything’s consistent; everything’s done to the same levels of service; everyone receives the same treatment. So that’s around access to systems, access to the hardware, the amount of time you have with key people.”

Then, when we get those basics right, there’s space to innovate to deliver exceptional WOW experiences. Robert also touched on a point that came up throughout EDGE:

“Onboarding isn’t an HR issue. Onboarding is a business performance issue, so therefore it’s a business results issue. […] HR’s job is to set up the frameworks and to manage the processes but onboarding lives well or dies sadly by what managers do with the tools we give them.”

That’s a point you’ll hear us hammering home constantly: onboarding isn’t an HR initiative. You need whole business buy-in to create a culture where managers are empowered and inspired to deliver a positive onboarding experience.

Read more: Making it personal: Easy ways for managers to create a great onboarding experience

This panel on experience-driven onboarding was one of our absolute favorite sessions and was rammed with value we can’t do justice to here. So… go and catch up yourself! All the EDGE sessions are available for free now in our on-demand resource center.