Why Remote Work Has Been a Blessing for New Hire Onboarding

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Like nearly every other facet of business, onboarding has changed dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to go entirely remote. While the transition may have been abrupt, it has also brought some much-needed change to a long ineffective process.

Before the pandemic, onboarding was already a disorganized mess, beset by mountains of paperwork and confusing processes. For many companies, onboarding was a formality at best and a waste of time at worst. That point is underlined by a 2018 survey conducted by Nintex, which asked 1,000 US workers to weigh in on the most broken corporate processes. Onboarding was named one of the most broken processes of all, second only to IT, with 58 percent of respondents reporting their companies had malfunctioning onboarding processes.

Over the last year, however, onboarding has actually improved a bit. Companies have learned valuable lessons about digitization, automation, and efficiency that could have a lasting positive impact on how we onboard employees.

Unfortunately, as more and more companies return to the office and transition their remote processes back to in-person systems, those lessons are in danger of being forgotten. But there’s no reason why employers need to go back to the pre-pandemic way of onboarding — it has so little to offer us. In fact, this is the perfect opportunity for businesses to improve onboarding once and for all.

Remote work has shown us that there are many ways to streamline onboarding, from digitizing forms to automating tasks. Here’s what businesses have learned from the experience and how they can use it to optimize onboarding, even when they’re back to operating in person:

What Makes Onboarding Harder Than Other Corporate Processes?

Onboarding has historically been one of the most difficult processes for organizations to get right because the requirements for onboarding can vary so much from role to role and department to department. For example, finance teams are probably using way different systems and best practices than marketing teams.  Maybe the sales team just added new tools while support needs to drop some that aren’t working out.

Furthermore, onboarding isn’t overseen by just one department. HR and IT teams are generally jointly responsible for coordinating onboarding logistics. If there’s a disconnect between the two teams, you risk disrupting the entire flow. For example, if new hires don’t have access to all the right technical resources, they can’t start ramping up right away.

But the good news is that the shift to remote work has been a net positive for onboarding. That’s because remote work forced teams to digitize their processes, whether they wanted to or not. As a result, most onboarding is done entirely online now, with stacks of paperwork replaced by digital documents and workflows. For most companies, that means no one is chasing signatures or approvals anymore, thank to e-signature capabilities and automation.

What the Era of Remote Work Has Taught Us About Onboarding

If the last 18-months taught us anything, it’s that we can still be productive while working virtually. The same holds true for onboarding: Done right, onboarding can be even more efficient when it’s completely digital. New hires can complete their forms with little human hand-holding, kicking off an automated process that shuttles them through the rest of onboarding. A lot of what used to be manual — requesting approvals, creating accounts, granting permissions, entering data in HRIS systems, ordering equipment, and even 30- and 60-day overviews — can now be either partly or totally automated.

Automation keeps things moving along, reduces repetitive labor in the process, and creates a more seamless experience for all employees involved. New employees can enjoy a streamlined process that is consistent from one employee to another. At the same time, the HR team and other onboarding stakeholders can more easily scale the process to meet company needs without putting more labor power into onboarding.

That said, technology can’t fix everything that was once wrong with onboarding. The other major component is communication — especially as hybrid workplaces seem poised to become the new standard. Not all of us want to return to the office — and some of us can’t, depending on our situations. So, in addition to investing in the right technology tools, onboarding leaders must prioritize employee communication, collaboration, and inclusivity, even when team members are distributed across the country or around the world.

Terry Simpson is a senior solutions engineer at Nintex.

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Terry Simpson is a senior solutions engineer at Nintex, the global standard for process management and automation. He is an experienced PMP-certified project manager, consultant, and trainer. He has been a speaker at numerous SharePoint events, including SP Tech Con, Nintex User Groups, SharePoint Conference.ORG, SUGDC, SUGATL, and SharePoint Saturday events around the country. Terry is a graduate of Marshall University with a degree in finance, and he holds a master's in business administration from Frostburg State University.