The HR Guide to Digital Employee Onboarding – guidelines, tips, examples

If you work in HR or if you ever had to work with a new hire, you would know one thing for sure:

Onboarding new employees can be challenging.

But the truth is that the onboarding process is one of the most vital stages of an employee lifecycle.

It plays a very important role in employee retention rates and the quality of the work and experience of the employees in the long term.

Yet 88% of employees say there is too much to improve in their company’s onboarding.

Before you know it, talent walks out.

Now that in 2022, employee onboarding depends on digital tools and employee self-service through online resources, it can get even more challenging.

Unless you take it seriously, the overall employee experience you offer might deteriorate in the long term.

But that’s exactly what brought you here.

Let’s talk about:

  • What digital employee onboarding is,
  • Why you should onboard your new hires online,
  • How to create the perfect digital onboarding experience for your new hires, and
  • Some quick tips to take it up a notch

Without further ado, let’s get started with:

What Is Digital Employee Onboarding?

Digital employee onboarding is an employee onboarding practice that highly utilizes digital platforms, processes, and systems. While a digital onboarding process for employees aims to achieve goals similar to that of a traditional onboarding workflow, what differs is the medium and the effectiveness of the overall onboarding program. Various employee onboarding software, HR software, and new hire onboarding materials like onboarding checklists and online training sessions can be used for both remote employees and the rest of the employee base.

So, what is a digital onboarding process, really?

To put it simply, it is a better, more up-to-date way of onboarding employees.

And there is merit in transitioning to a digital employee onboarding process or at least switching your approach to onboarding.

Let’s talk about:

Why should you onboard your new employees online?

Digital onboarding has always been an option for the last decade, but it is for sure that what made it so available and accessible was the normalization of remote working.

And keeping in mind that remote working has had more than wonderful results for employees and employers worldwide, one major reason why digital onboarding matters is, again, the widespread practice of remote working.

But, of course, whether you are working remotely right now or not, there are many good reasons to start onboarding employees digitally.

Here are a few:

1- Decreased costs

Maybe the most fatal and (secretly) most important benefit of digitally onboarding employees is decreased costs.

And it naturally is so when the average cost of onboarding one employee is around $4,000.

From paying the HR specialist or an external recruiter to distributing job postings and, in different cases, replacing current employees, there are many reasons why an onboarding process can take time and money.

More importantly, it is important to remember that:

Poor onboarding might turn into employee turnover, which costs a whopping 100-300% of the employee’s salary.

When things get not only digital but also optimally executed, a big chunk of the costs for employee onboarding and further costs that might come up due to employee turnover can be prevented.

2- Decreased time spent actively onboarding

Digital onboarding helps save up not only on costs but also time and effort.

While in practice, 25% of businesses handle employee onboarding in a day or less, in theory, an ideal onboarding process takes around 90-100.

And yet, only 11% of employers onboard employees for 3 months or longer.

Moreover, recently HR specialists have come to the conclusion that an onboarding process spread across the first year of an employee’s lifecycle works the best.

But this is the verdict for a traditional onboarding approach.

The main benefit of digital onboarding in this sense is that it not only requires way less time and effort, it is also:

👉 Easier to construct an onboarding program,

👉 Less overwhelming even if the 1-year principle is followed,

👉 Takes less effort as all parties aren’t required to be physically present

But that’s not all:

3- Higher employee retention

When onboarding an employee, a user, or a customer, regardless of the target audience, what we are after is more than training the person about our product, though it really seems like that’s all there is to it.

In reality, what we are essentially after is a positive response that will bond them to the product, and to the business and even get them to be vocal about their experiences.

Like so:

github employee onboarding

If we want a positive response, we need to start working on retention, with or without digital onboarding.

A good employee onboarding alone can secure you:

And that applies to traditional onboarding as well.

When you add digital onboarding to the equation, these numbers are bound to jump higher since a digital employee onboarding process is guaranteed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the process both immediately and in the long term 👇

4- More effective in the long term

As we mentioned above, poor onboarding can do dreadful things to your team.

From decreased morale, productivity, and enthusiasm to increased stress and even imposter syndrome, there are many side effects of an employee onboarding executed not-so-well.

And what I shouldn’t have to mention is that even the best traditional employee onboarding process might end up entailing all that.

Meanwhile, even a try at digital onboarding can make all the difference since it can:

Decrease candidate and employee stress,

Increase the number and quality of productive one-on-one sessions,

Enable different seniors to mentor juniors regardless of location and time of the day,

Give access to information and employee playbooks available and easily accessible later on,

Enable longer and more fruitful onboarding sessions thanks to lowered time and place concerns,

And a lot more.

The point is that digital processes, and especially digital onboarding processes, have the potential to be more successful and efficient in their nature.

The trick is to know how to create a digital onboarding process successfully.

Well, here’s how:

8 Steps to Create a Digital Employee Onboarding Process from Scratch

Onboarding a new hire is a tedious work, be it face-to-face or digitally.

But at the end of the day, digital employee onboarding is not necessarily so different from the traditional on-premise onboarding we are all used to.

Let’s talk about it in four stages:

👉 Pre-recruitment,

👉 Initial onboarding,

👉 Training,

👉 Post-training

Here are 8 steps to the perfect digital onboarding process.

Pre-recruitment 📑

Believe it or not, digital onboarding, or at least the efforts toward it, start even before the new hire is a part of the process.

Two steps at this point are crucial:

1- Prepare Digital Recruitment Documents

You can’t quite get people to come to do an interview with you if you don’t know where and how to reach out to them.

Newspaper ads won’t cut it.

But thanks to LinkedIn and similar platforms, that is not much of a concern.

What might be a concern is how you reach out to potential hires and your recruitment documents.

Now, reaching out to potential hires is a no-brainer: you can post a job opening, reach out to people personally, or just let people find you.

What’s complicated is the documents.

And by that, I mean there is often none, to begin with. In fact, many people don’t get to see working conditions until a further conversation with a recruiter.

The last thing you want to do is gatekeep more information at the very beginning of the hiring process, and when the recruitment climate is highly digital as is, you cannot simply overlook how your recruitment documents look and read.

A great example of digital recruitment documents done right is Somon’s landing page for their job opening for a content writer position which was available on their website:

somon new hire recruitment document

somon recruitment form employee onboarding

The page helps not only understand the expectations, benefits & perks, and how the process of hiring will play out but also hypes you up about applying and innately respect the company more for such a cool working environment and being open about sharing the conditions on their website.

Kudos 👏

2- Start onboarding from the first interview on

Now that you’ve got some people applying, it’s time to interview the potential hires (just like traditional onboarding, huh?)

And apart from the interview most likely being online as well, there is not much that changes.

Except you want to use the perks of doing the interview online!

Through an online interview, it is easier to start onboarding using more visuals and more interactive onboarding tasks like walking the interviewees through the product, asking them to perform certain tasks, and doing everything from the comfort of their homes.

Remember: even if you aren’t doing your interviews for a remote job face-to-face, it is still important to start onboarding as early as possible.

This can include:

👉 A preview of training,

👉 Showing how a certain task is done (asking them to perform it to assess skills),

👉 A sneak peek at company culture (a small gift or compensation for their time)

And more.

It is also a best practice to slowly get more people included in the recruitment phase:

harris fanaroff digital employee onboarding statistics

It is in the best interest of both parties that the candidate gets to know about the job and its specificities as early as possible.

If you don’t hire them, you still got to know how well they would be fit for the job, and if you hire them, it is on to the second stage of digital onboarding:

Initial onboarding 💌

Now that you have a new hire, one of the number one priorities is to get them to really feel comfortable in the working environment and with your company values.

There are 2 crucial steps here:

3- Welcome to the team

Be it digital or traditional; any employee onboarding experience has to include a warm welcome.

Unless, of course, you want your new hires to leave in 2 months, tops.

Here’s how an ideal “welcome to the team” scenario in a digital hire experience will play out:

Welcome email from the team, the CEO, or the whole company, 

✅ First meeting with human resources/onboarding specialist/hiring department/whoever is responsible for recruiting the new employee,

✅ Giving the new hire a copy of the employee playbook, slides, pictures, and links to any company literature that will get them familiar with company values and culture,

✅ Giving the new hire access to the employee portal and relevant onboarding HR resources if not given earlier and other unified platforms like Slack,

✅ Providing them with their personal business email address and digital signature, access to business tools and onboarding tools they will need, 

Meeting the team – their own team first and foremost, later to be introduced to the entire company through platforms like Slack or an introduction during a company-wide meeting – to increase confidence

Once these essential steps are complete, you can let your new hires handle their onboarding tasks throughout the day and following days if there is much to complete, like introductory readings and tasks, before the actual employee training.

Try not to overwhelm them and give them enough time to complete each task 📋

Getting burnt out while working digitally is easy enough to do; you don’t want an already pretty burnt-out new hire.

4-Familiarize to company culture

As you can tell from the step above, company culture is pretty vital in 2022.

In fact, almost half of all potential hires prioritize company culture, and for millennials, company culture comes above all else when applying for a job.

So, when welcoming a new hire, be sure to:

👉 Show how healthy your working environment is with any healthy company policy you have (no meetings after 5, long weekends once a month, working space options, fun breaks, etc.)

👉 Introduce to any programs you are undertaking for employee morale (encouraging healthy activities and covering them, creating team activities like book clubs, encouraging to take business education and rewarding employees for it)

👉 Taking them on physical events when possible, like team lunches, happy hours, parties, and other events,

And any other activity or perk you can think of (and can afford) that will encourage your new hires to become a part of the team as soon as possible.

A good team knows how to work hard and play hard; make sure you actually follow up on those company culture activities in the long term 👀 

Then you can move onto:

Training for the role 🏃

Once the initial onboarding is over, it is time you move on to actually initiating the job training.

This can start as soon as the very first stage of onboarding is over, which normally lasts for a day minimum and a week maximum.

Of course, soft launching the training during initial training with readings and small tasks is a great practice before starting the complete training.

But there are other good practices like:

5- Introduce to a mentor/onboarding buddy

During onboarding and training, a new hire can easily get lost.

The problem is they might not be able to come forward about it due to internal factors like imposter syndrome or simply not realizing something is wrong.

And the bigger problem is, you might never know.

Having a mentor can help create a more effective employee onboarding journey for the new hire while also allowing you to track how they are doing with the training and overall onboarding.

And let’s be honest, not all companies offer rainbows and butterflies, and some rules are not written down in employee playbooks.

A mentoring digital onboarding program can help new hires understand unspoken expectations, workflows and systems, take it easy when they make a mistake, and essentially, feel more like a part of the team.

digital onboarding perks of digital mentoring

The same is true for onboarding buddies as well.

In any industry, it is highly possible that people hired at the same time for the same or similar positions tend to work better together.

That’s why buddy programs matter.

By connecting new hires hired simultaneously, it is possible to increase time to productivity, effective working due to friendly competition, and an overall more effective onboarding process.

6- Introduce tools and processes

Though you might have introduced your new hire to Slack, Zoom, and MS Teams, there are still some more tools and processes they need to learn to actually start performing.

Depending on your industry, you might have already started software onboarding during the initial onboarding, but it is best done after getting a mentor or a working buddy unless your new hire is really experienced with the software you use.

By doing so, you can increase the chances of your new hire performing better with the new software since they can speak up easily when they have a problem and ask for advice when needed.

Don’t know how to effectively onboard employees to new software?

Here’s a super easy solution:

Onboard employees once and for all: with UserGuiding 🚀

Once I had a friend take a job at a company that she later found out had no proper onboarding process.

There was a welcome, there were passwords to access tools, and that was it.

They just assumed she was proficient in using all the software even though she had told them earlier she wasn’t (but that she was an eager learner!)

Having no onboarding buddy or mentor and giving in to imposter syndrome, she ended up not letting anyone know and tried to learn how to use the tools all by herself.

advanced guide to digital onboarding

She did manage to learn how to use all the tools she needed, but it put a lot of stress on her, and she decided to quit right before it was a month passed.

And none of that would have happened if the company at least decided to automate the onboarding process.

Meet UserGuiding.

A no-code onboarding solution that is easy to use, implement, and afford:

userguiding digital employee onboarding
Here’s a short product tour I prepared on Asana’s UI in under 5 minutes:

 UserGuiding helps create onboarding flows for your product users, website visitors, and of course, employees with cool features like:

✅ Interactive product tours, walkthroughs, and guides,

✅ Hotspots, tooltips, in-app messages,

✅ Onboarding checklists,

✅ Resource centers,

✅ NPS surveys

And for onboarding employees to any product, the Google Chrome extension UserGuiding Now can be implemented in 2 easy steps:

👉 Install the Chrome extension and find your container ID at the end of the container code in the UserGuiding panel > settings > containers:

userguiding now digital onboarding

👉 After creating your guide on the software you’d like, click on the extension, add the container ID and the link of the page your guide is to the domain URL section:

userguidiing now digital employee onboarding

 

And you will be able to offer an onboarding flow on any software without having access to the developer code!

 👉 Try UserGuiding for FREE 👈 

Once your new hires are trained, know how to use necessary tools and how business processes work, and feel confident in asking questions and speaking up about problems, it is onto the last stage of digital onboarding:

Post-training 🧑‍💻

Though most businesses don’t actively keep onboarding employees once their training is complete, it is a prerequisite for a healthy work environment and strong company culture to keep learning and onboarding.

Moreover, onboarding specialists agree that an ideal employee onboarding process should take at least a year to finalize.

And even then, there is more to come:

7- Check on your new hire

Before seeing 1 year pass with your new employee and after it, it is important to frequently check up on them to make sure everything is alright.

Breaking this down, when it comes to new hire engagement, it is ideal to:

Meet daily during the first week (even for 10 minutes),

Meet weekly during the first month (apart from mentor meetings), and 

Meet bi-weekly afterward until at least the first year and, better yet, even after that

Talking about the work processes and challenges as well as overall mood and state of mind outside work to make sure your employees are doing alright is an employee engagement best practice rather than a new hire onboarding one.

Still, it is important to intensify it during the new hire period to avoid new hire dropout or fall-off.

8- Keep the onboarding cycle going

So, you’re done with the initial onboarding; your once-new hires are now proficient in all work tools and processes, and they are even advocates of company cultures.

What now?

The truth is, be it user onboarding, customer onboarding, or employee onboarding, regardless of the medium being digital or physical, onboarding is a constant process.

And your best bet at a successful onboarding is to keep the cycle turning.

Adopting new processes and tools? Make sure your employees are getting onboarded well.

Implementing a new policy? Check up on your employees’ and new hires’ reactions to it.

Getting more new hires? Get your employees who were in the mentoring program to become mentors this time.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to making sure the digital onboarding process is as good as can be and that you actively include onboarded parties in the onboarding for retrospective value.

Of course, it is easier than done.

But here are some quick tips to make it easier 👇

Tips for a Better Digital Onboarding Right Now

Before you go, let’s go over some tips that you can start implementing without devising an entire onboarding journey from scratch.

1- Show your company culture in every interaction

 86% of employers highly prioritize mental well-being, stress, and burnout.

And there is no denying it: good culture is a strong selling point for new employees.

Though it might seem like you can only arrange activities and events to show off your company values, they can actually be found in small interactions as well.

Make sure your new hire enjoys working with you through small interactions like:

👉 Meaningful small talk before and after meetings,

👉 Gaming, music channels in Slack, and other business communication tools,

👉 Encouraging reading and taking lessons for the job by covering the expenses,

And more, according to what changes you need or are willing to make in your business processes.

2- Don’t hesitate to use third-party tools

While onboarding a new hire, there are times that using third-party tools – onboarding tools like UserGuiding, HR tools like monday.com, or management tools like ClickUp – is more than necessary.

When affordable, introducing newcomers to 1-3 third-part tools to ease their transition into their new role is a favorable best practice.

3- Send a care package

A remote job or the need for a digital onboarding flow is no obstacle to sending your new hires a care pack!

In fact, even adding a personalized welcome message to the essential needs kit (the computer, company swag, and other necessary gear for the job) can be great practice.

It’s the thought that counts!

4- Enable early success

57% of employees are ready to start looking for a new job within the next year.

Plus, new hire burnout is a real issue.

 How do we prevent this? By setting new hires up for early success to get them to connect with the position and their managers early on.

There are many ways to do so, like giving simple tasks at the beginning, giving constructive feedback, including in successful projects and other practices depending on the specific position.

5- Encourage getting help

It is common knowledge that a new hire can have a hard time asking for help.

This is not only because of being in a vulnerable position to get in an imposter mindset but also because of joining an already functioning team who are familiar with each other’s work.

To encourage asking for help, it is important to:

👉 Openly ask people to ask questions (and get other teammates to join)

👉 Thank people for asking questions,

👉 Have a subtext of asking questions being a strength in any conversation,

👉 And most importantly, reassure people about being in a safe environment

You will see that your new hires will slowly but surely be more willing to ask more questions and consequently work more efficiently! 

6- Plan physical activities when possible

Lastly, it is a great practice to try and plan physical activities when it is possible.

Let’s underline this: needing to do digital onboarding or the fact that digital onboarding is almost always more efficient doesn’t change the fact that physical activities are still viable. 

Apart from activities planned to enhance company culture, like retreats, happy hours, and parties, it is possible to come up with other events to work physically together like meeting somewhere with the team or renting a space for a sprint or working marathon.

This way, employees get to experience working together in one place every once in a while, which can positively affect morale.

To Wrap Up…

Digitally onboarding employees is one of the best decisions you can make for your hiring processes.

It is up to you to use an onboarding platform or a third-party digital onboarding software in the process, but it sure does help.

What matters, in the end, is to include best practices in your entire process of hiring and onboarding digitally.

As long as you do it with a mindset of enhancing the employee experience, there is no way you will fail.

Best of luck!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the benefit of digital onboarding?

Digital onboarding or digital employee onboarding can benefit companies since it is easier to create a more consistent experience for employees, keep a more accurate repository of employee records, save time and money thanks to electronic forms and paperwork, and, overall, create a more efficient onboarding experience.

How do you digitize onboarding?

To digitize the employee onboarding process, it is necessary to tailor a new onboarding process that makes use of digital onboarding tools, get onboarding materials and HR paperwork on an electronic medium, and show extra effort to display company culture remotely.

How do I onboard a new employee online?

To onboard a new employee online, it is best to make use of electronic onboarding systems, employee self-service databases, hire training best practices, employ a mentoring program, and get teammates to create a safe space.

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Serra Alban

When I realized I won’t be the next Tarantino I found myself as a creative content writer at UserGuiding. I’ve been obsessed with UX design, customer success, and digital adoption ever since. If you could stare at good UX for hours like me don’t hesitate to hit me up on LinkedIn. I might end up dropping too much movie trivia but hey, old habits die hard.