Onboarding is one of the earliest indicators of success for a new employee — and for your company as a whole. Research from Brandon Hall Group suggests that a strong onboarding program can improve employee retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.

Employee onboarding provides important guidance for new folks joining your team, whether they’re taking ownership of a new project or backfilling a critical role. Employee onboarding isn’t just about education; it’s also about winning over new employees and helping them see a future of growth at your company with a solid employee communications strategy.

Gone are the days when onboarding was a quick office tour and lunch with your new team. Today, onboarding documentation, training, videos, and other resources help employees feel welcome and comfortable at a new company — even when working from home.

To fully understand employee onboarding and building a connected workforce, we spoke with Ali Gross, Director of Employee Experience. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of employee onboarding, why it’s important, and steps to build an onboarding process to make every employee successful.

What is an employee onboarding process?

According to Ali, onboarding is “the process of familiarizing a new employee with your organization.” 

Employees onboard in two key ways: through cultural acclimation and within their role in order to complete the work they were hired to do.

“Onboarding begins from when an offer is made to the employee until the time the employee becomes a productive member of the organization,” shared Ali. In other words, from the moment an employee becomes a member of your company — even before they start their first day of work — they’re officially being onboarded.

Managers typically schedule periodic introductions (like one-on-ones or check-ins) with the new team members while facilitating exposure to different teams. 

“The manager’s role is to ensure the new team member has a clear onboarding roadmap in order for them to succeed in their role,” said Ali. “Managers may also assign mentors or onboarding buddies to each new employee for additional guidance.

What does onboarding look like from the employee’s point-of-view?

While this process varies between companies, departments, and individual roles, new employees are often assigned key projects to make their roles and the onboarding process feel engaging from day one.

Following this roadmap ensures high engagement levels, camaraderie within the team, and a positive first impression of the company. This can have lasting effects, as the new employee feels like they can make an impact immediately.

If an employee finishes their first day or first week with your company and thinks, “I made the right decision,” your onboarding program is a success.

Why onboarding new employees is so important

Some team leads and executives feel a lengthy employee onboarding period is wasteful and sluggish. After all, don’t you want employees to get started on what you hired them for?

However, what some managers seem to overlook is that a comprehensive onboarding period is much more preferable to high turnover.

Let’s unpack a few other reasons why you should onboard employees.

Onboarding helps new employees learn and become productive faster

It takes a new employee an average of 12 weeks to become productive at work. According to Ali, employee onboarding can improve new hire time to productivity and accelerate learning.

While speed isn’t the only indicator of a success, it’s still important. Employees and managers alike often want to get to work as soon as possible.

But diving into job functions too early can cause employees to start off on the wrong foot, taking three steps forward and two steps back as they gather context and important information about the company as a whole.

Onboarding accelerates learning by providing time and space for employees to simply absorb important documentation and resources.

As an example, some jobs like sales or customer service require deep company and product knowledge. Without time to learn and master this information, new hires in those departments would struggle tremendously.

Onboarding helps new employees acclimate and find their place in the organization

Ali also explained that employee onboarding can create a sense of belonging and drive cultural acclimation.

Employee onboarding creates a unique sense of community. I’ve been a member of a few onboarding cohorts myself, and I’ve always appreciated the immediate camaraderie among my fellow new employees. 

Similarly, having access to and given time to study important resources can also help new employees feel like they belong to the larger organization. This happens faster through onboarding than it would if employees were left to learn on their own.

According to Ali, employee onboarding at Vimeo helps answer, “What does it mean to be a Vimean?” This question guides what documentation and resources are provided to new hires.

5 things you need for a great onboarding process

Every employee onboarding process is different. However, there are a few best practices and standard steps to follow when crafting your onboarding process. We’ve detailed those below with the help of our in-house expert.

1. Prepare new hire necessities

“To set our new hires up for success, we prepare all new hire necessities — such as office space, equipment, and documents — for a smooth transition [into the company],” shared Ali.

Whether your new hire will come into your office or work from home, gather and send any office equipment and company swag well ahead of their start date. My rule of thumb is at least one week.

2. Set expectations for the first day and week

Along with their equipment, new hires should have clear expectations on their first day. “New Vimeo employee initiations start with a customized getting started guide,” said Ali. 

For Vimeans, this guide includes input from their managers on the key people they will be working with, important meetings for them to attend, important team and department documentation, and an orientation process for their first week.

Again, consider sending this information ahead of their start date — by a few days, at least. This allows new hires to get acquainted with the documentation ahead of time (if they wish to do so) so their first day isn’t too overwhelming.

3. Add video to your employee comms

Instead of a written welcome guide, consider creating a welcome video for new hires, especially your remote employees. Video is a fun and engaging way to welcome and onboard new employees and gives them a glimpse into your company, office space, and team dynamics.

Video-based onboarding and video trainings — whether it’s through live streaming, video on demand, and interactive video — are all relatively easy to scale across multiple onboarding cohorts all while bringing distributed teams together.

Research shows that the average onboarding process consists of over 50 tasks to complete. Wouldn’t it be more fun to assign those tasks via video?

4. Communicate goals for the onboarding process

It’s important to share with new hires why they’re undergoing the onboarding process both company and culture-wise. This allows employees to set personal and interpersonal goals for their onboarding experience.

For example, according to Ali, “Vimeo’s orientation covers company culture and vision, with insights spread out at different intervals throughout the employee’s learning process.” 

With cultural education sprinkled among education at the product and department levels, employees know what to expect for their first weeks or months at your company.

5. Gather feedback

Onboarding employees at every level should be an iterative process. Regardless of the size or age of your company, proactively gathering feedback from new hires is incredibly important.

Research from Sapling shows that asking new employees for feedback about their onboarding experience can improve the employee-employer relationship by over 90%. Being open to feedback from new hires can also increase the likelihood that they’d refer your company to others.

As we’ve said before, employee onboarding isn’t just about education and preparation. It’s also about making the best first impression with your new hires, demonstrating how they can grow within their new role, and ensuring that they feel confident in their decision to join your company.

Set employees up for success

“At Vimeo, we aim to set Vimeans up for success from day one,” shared Ali. “We see the onboarding experience as a new hire’s first impression of Vimeo and want to ensure our employees feel secure, grounded and prepared to make an impact when stepping into their new workplace.”

You can do the same with a strong and thoughtful employee onboarding experience. Use the tools and tactics we’ve discussed here when onboarding new employees at every level, and don’t hesitate to iterate on your program as you receive feedback from your team.

Engage and inspire new employees with video