In the natural flow of workplace churn, new talent enters your organisation, bright eyed and eager to get out of the starting blocks to see what you have to offer. But with lockdown restrictions varying across the UK, employers are having to figure out the best way to onboard new employees. If new starters can’t come to the workplace to get a sense of the culture, then the workplace culture will have to come to them.


27th January 2021

As a process in which success relies heavily on human connection, onboarding should be of significant interest to internal communication teams. It may take time and effort to perfect, but it’s important IC works with relevant colleagues to cover each and every step of the onboarding journey.

Jen Jackson, CEO at employee experience company Everyday Massive, says: “Building an onboarding programme can be a huge job that requires a number of departments to work together to create a seamless end-to-end experience.

“Internal comms professionals have the benefit of really understanding their workforce, so they’re integral in this. They can help to build personas and stakeholder maps, develop stakeholder analysis and use their understanding of people to advise on how employees interact and what they care about. It’s ultimately a very large communication strategy and campaign.”

On your marks

Whether organisations are conscious of it or not, the onboarding process tends to begin during the hiring period. Job notices are designed to attract the right candidates, and they’re a great opportunity to provide a glimpse into what the culture of the organisation is like.

Sasha Watson, people director at Moonpig, says: “Typically, HR doesn’t think about communications the way internal comms does, so it’s important for the two departments to work together on the employee lifecycle, a key area of which is the initial attraction. These stages are good touch points in which a well-thought-out message or vision can demonstrate values that are important to the culture, and influence a potential candidate’s view of the organisation.”

As someone who has worked in both camps, Sasha knows what IC professionals can bring to the table in regard to onboarding.

“IC’s knowledge of engagement should be used to help HR understand the power of good communication when bringing a strategy and vision to life through different mediums.

“With job ads, for example, IC can add value by making them more engaging and enticing, using language that is authentic to the organisation. Conversely, HR can advise on inclusivity, and the key practicalities that need to be included in order to meet the broader HR agenda.”

Job ads are a team effort

Ben Gledhill, head of resourcing at Thames Water, is a huge advocate for using job adverts as a key channel to draw in candidates who match the organisation’s values, and he’s spent the past few years involving IC in the writing process.

“A job advert is your opportunity to get people’s attention,” says Ben. “Internal communicators are like word wizards and, as such, they’re the perfect partners to help HR add colour to job adverts.

“Having that guidance on tone of voice and language is so beneficial. You want to tell a story through the job advert, so that when potential candidates are reading it, they can picture themselves doing the job.

“Practically, this means using the job advert to talk about outcomes – what you want people to see and what you want them to do. In this way, you show them how they will fit into the organisation and the value they will have, and this will make them fall in love with the role, and the business.

“Keep it transparent and authentic, though. I’ve seen lots of organisations oversell themselves and the role, and it never ends well.”

Get set

Pre-boarding is typically known as the period of time between an employee accepting an offer of employment and their first day on the job. You may think this period is just for sorting out the practicalities and legalities that come with starting a new job, but if you’re looking to make your overall onboarding process as impactful as it can be, you’ll want to utilise this period in order to build a good foundation.

“The period between someone accepting an offer of position and stepping into their new role can be a really valuable time to set expectations and begin cultural onboarding,” says Everyday Massive’s Jen Jackson.

“Help new starters to get a sense of some of the often overlooked elements of the workplace by mapping out this period with various touch points that cover building connections with other people and understanding cultural rituals and norms. This can be done by simply sharing cultural videos and content that expresses the organisation’s values clearly, and sharing the organisation’s vision and mission for the next three or so years.

“You could also create a video in which colleagues share what it’s like to work at the organisation.”

A sociable run-up

At Moonpig, the intricacies of the pre-boarding phase vary depending on the nature and level of the role, but its overall aim is to build sociable connections between the new starter and their soon-to-be teams.

“We like to keep in touch,” says Sasha. “Some teams send people cards; some teams send small gifts – it’s all about raising excitement.

“If there are socials that are coming up in the run-up to their start date, we encourage new starters to join. The sooner people feel part of the company, the better they will assimilate into it when they join. And conducting regular check-ins to stay connected is important, especially if there is a long lead time into the role.”

Jen agrees: “It’s very easy for things to be missed, so having established connection points is a nice way to stay on top of everything your organisation needs to be keeping track of, and to also let your new starter know that they haven’t been forgotten.

“Something as simple as a call from a manager or being sent a pack ahead of their first day works wonders. And there’s also the basic prep of having their accounts and tech set up with passwords in place and apps installed so they’re ready to go when the time comes.”

When practising a hands-on approach during this period, striking a balance between formal and informal integration is key.

“New starters need to have all the relevant practical information necessary before work officially begins, but you also want the experience to feel human, and make sure it doesn’t seem like you’re not also interested in their wellbeing,” says Sasha.

“It’s important to not go too over the top with the information you’re giving them and in your expectations of them in regard to staying in touch – not everyone will choose to have a break between finishing their previous role and starting their new one, so you need to be conscious not to overwhelm them.”


The first day in a role is widely seen as a nerve-wracking, potentially awkward, milestone, but if a new starter has been successfully preboarded, their first day shouldn’t necessarily feel like a first day at all.

“As soon as someone starts at a new organisation, they need to feel a spark,” says Thames Water’s Ben Gledhill. “You want new starters to feel excited to be at the organisation and feel like they’re part of what you’re trying to achieve, and the way to do this is to show them that you’re excited to have them.

“A previous organisation I worked for gave all new starters a personalised hand-written card, signed by the CEO, on their first day. This act was super simple, but it was really powerful. A similar effect can be replicated to suit remote working by sending starter packs, small welcome gifts or even personalised e-cards.”

The first day is a pivotal part of the preboarding and onboarding journey and, if it falls flat, it could unravel all the hard work you’ve done to get new starters feeling part of the organisation.

“Stepping into a new role is usually overwhelming, but if, by the end of the week, people aren’t thinking that they’ve made the right decision joining your organisation, then your preboarding and onboarding hasn’t worked,” says Ben. “Something as small as a laptop not being ready or a pass not working is the sort of thing that can annoy people or make them feel unwelcome, so you need to make sure all relevant teams are coordinated and ready for this person to join.”

Sasha agrees, adding: “Showing new starters you’ve thought carefully about their start date is key. It’s important to fully map out the first couple of days and make sure that there are meetings in the diary, so that there is already a sense of structure and they understand what they’ll be doing and, if in the workplace, where they should be.”

Virtual crowd support

As Covid-19 has made visiting the workplace unfeasible for most companies, alternative ways to create the first-day buzz have had to be found. For Moonpig, this has meant synchronising a cohort of new starters who can begin their official journey together.

“We’ve introduced online group introductions on the first day, so that they’re more dynamic and feel less intense,” says Sasha.

“Previously, being in the same workspace would have made it easier to initiate casual introductions with team members. Now, prearranged chats are scheduled for people to get to know one another. New starters are also partnered with colleagues who have been at the organisation for various lengths of time, so they can chat and help to ease them in.”

It’s also important to be mindful from the offset of new starters’ wellbeing. “Lots of people really value workplace interactions and seeing people in person,” says Ben. “While new starters may just be beginning their remote working journey with your organisation, it’s more than likely that they’ve been dealing with similar feelings of disconnectedness and isolation in the months preceding, whether that be in a previous role or as a result of redundancy or furlough.

“Make sure it’s immediately clear through the relevant channels or onboarding packs where new starters can access support, to ensure they don’t immediately feel isolated.”

Hitting your stride

As the weeks go on, your new starters should be finding their feet within the organisation and settling in, so your efforts should be focused on helping them to integrate further within the company. Pre-Covid, this may have meant team lunches and socials in person, but restrictions now mean more effort has to be given to aiding this process remotely.

“Keeping your newer workforce engaged involves making sure your values and behaviours continue to shine virtually,” says Ben. “This means making the most of what technology has to offer to create more human interactions and take engagement temperature checks.

“The best way to do this is to speak to your people and find out what they like, and how you can help them feel a physical part of what you’re doing when you’re separated.

“Some people might not want to do certain things, or they may not be able to, like if they have certain commitments and can’t make after-work happy hour, for example. Think of creative ways teams can be sociable and share ideas on your channels – the point is to get people chatting and bonding.”

According to Jen Jackson, as people are already feeling increasingly isolated – including those who may be in the workplace but working with reduced teams – it’s important to increase the number of touch points you set to make sure they continue to feel welcome.

“Encourage more one-on-ones and check-ins between new starters and their line managers,” says Jen, “and find ways to get people engaging and interacting with non-work-related chats in asynchronous communication channels that are set up, such as Slack or Yammer.

“If you don’t already have groups like this for things other than meetings, then this is the first thing to get sorted.”

The home stretch

With so much going on and, for some companies, a steady stream of new employees joining the organisation, it can be tempting to think onboarding is complete once an employee’s probation period is over, often at the three-month mark. It’s still important to check in, however, albeit at less frequent intervals.  

“Research shows that the highest drop-off rate for new employees is within the first six months,” says Jen, “so it’s important not to drop the ball. Retaining employees beyond the six-month mark leads to less turnover and better retention, which is critical, especially as the cost of hiring is so expensive.

“It’s not just the monetary impact to the organisation either. The time impact for managers and leaders to constantly upskill their people takes its toll, so to lose them again and again because employees aren’t feeling supported means leaders and managers are back to square one, which is exhausting.

“It can feel harder to introduce people to the workplace remotely, but an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality won’t work. Just because we’re not face to face, doesn’t mean we lose all of our humanity.”


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