What is Onboarding? How has It Changed in 2021?

What is onboarding?

It’s a question that’s been asked many times over the years, and there have been a multitude of answers. But COVID-19 has permanently altered the way we work, and consequently, it’s entirely changed the way we onboard our new employees. The global digital transformation that’s occurring right now is accelerating the changes to the long-standing, traditional onboarding process and practices. As a result, it feels like employee onboarding has evolved by decades in the past year alone.

But amidst all the turbulent change, the very practice of onboarding actually improved. Significantly! So as we define what onboarding was then and now, we’ll also answer the most commonly asked questions about onboarding for a holistic view of this extremely integral process.

Onboarding definition

Click Boarding defines “onboarding” as the process of introducing your newly hired employees to the expectations, behaviors and culture of your organization. While this definition is accurate, onboarding is more than that. When you do it right, effective onboarding will positively impact your bottom line, because it builds loyalty with your employees. The stronger that loyalty, the stronger the propensity for that employee to stick around longer.

But the real impact of onboarding is profoundly bigger than that. It begins at a company before Day 1 and continues throughout the employee’s last experience at your company. In essence, onboarding encompasses the entire employee journey, from beginning to end.


How has onboarding changed during the pandemic?

First, we didn’t have a choice in the matter. Onboarding changed out of necessity, forcing everyone to pivot so a thread of continuity could be sustained as the pandemic pilfered its way around the world. What kind of impact did the changes create? Based on recent data from Software Advice, 82% of workers who had been working in an office transitioned to primarily working from home when the pandemic hit. Of those, only 50% have even been given a timeline for when they might be able to return to the office.

Secondly, we had to learn how to adapt and exist with innumerable changes happening around us almost daily. Coupled these with the fact that new employee expectations are higher than ever, HR professionals dug their heels in. They developed ways to create memorable and engaging experiences that employees deserve.

Click’s Senior Solutions Manager Danielle Balow confirms the need for change. “We have to throw the rule book out the window and re-envision what onboarding needs to look like. Now more than ever, the environment, the dynamic of onboarding and the employee experience needs to be changed considerably to be effective.” We’ll address specific onboarding best practices tied to these recommendations shortly, so read on!

What onboarding is NOT

Clearly, onboarding has a significant impact on an organization. But employee onboarding is not simply employee orientation. Nor is it a disappointing hands-off transaction or an arduous day trapped in a stuffy room, completing the dreaded but necessary paperwork.

Onboarding is so much more than the sum of its parts! It’s the process of ingraining your employees to the expectations, skills, knowledge and culture of your company. It’s been proven time and time again: your onboarding process will define your employee’s experience and long-term potential. It’s your opportunity to set the stage for your new hires and get them excited to be part of your organization!

How long does it typically take?

Most would answer that question with “30 days,” “60 days” or “90 days,” when in fact all three answers would be incorrect. The cornerstone of great onboarding is simple: it continues long after Day 1 and truly never ends given internal mobility potential across the organization such as:

  • Ongoing engagement opportunities
  • Pulse checks with employees at key intervals
  • Routine HR activities

Ultimately, your goal is to keep your new hires committed enough to stay at your organization for the long haul, not just their first role.

Who owns onboarding?

When your new hires experience high-quality onboarding, you’ve successfully created the foundation for happy, engaged and productive employees. But where exactly does the hefty responsibility for providing consistent, effective onboarding actually lie within an organization’s ecosystem?

At Click, we frequently hear the common misconception that onboarding is the sole responsibility of the hiring manager and HR. While it’s true these roles are fundamentally vital to new employee onboarding, there’s far more to the story.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Similarly with onboarding, it takes a whole company to effectively bring a new employee onboard a company. Why? Because – as we now know – onboarding isn’t just a stack of paperwork, compliance documentation and hours of boring orientation. It’s a collective, organization-wide effort to welcome new employees to a company, and it provides new hires with the tools, resources and network required for long-term success.

It also demonstrates the company’s commitment to ensuring new hires feel confident in their choice, constantly reaffirming their “YES!” By weaving this into an organization’s DNA, each new employee is then set up for a positive, rewarding and empowering onboarding experience.

Since each department within an organization contributes to the effort, it’s important to define an actual onboarding “owner” within the company – one that’s truly accountable to ensure a successful transition. We’ve found that placing accountability on the hiring manager results in the most success. As Don MacPherson of 12 Geniuses pointed out at last year’s HR Tech Symposium, “One of the most important things an organization can do is define who owns onboarding. A scenario I’ve seen extremely effective is one where the manager owns onboarding and HR supports the manager through tools and processes.”

Keep in mind, however, that the role ultimately depends on a company’s infrastructure, tools and support provided to managers which enables them to deliver a standardized, seamless experience. So if we were to frame this up under the RACI model, HR would be the “R” responsible for the process, and the hiring manager would be the “A”, or the accountable party.

Are onboarding and training the same thing?

Some employers refer to onboarding as a new hire’s probationary period. Others call it a new employee’s “introductory period.” Regardless of the label you wrap around it, employee onboarding is the most vitally important phase for new hires to learn about their role within the organization. So the long-winded answer to this often-asked question is no, onboarding and training are not the same thing.

Onboarding is the broader perspective
If your new employees don’t receive the proper ethical support from the company, they will struggle to understand or relate to the business on a basic level. According to Apollo Technical, the onboarding process is vital “…because it acclimates employees to their role, the company’s philosophies and what the company has to offer. It also engages employees, creating workers that are committed to the company’s success and helps retain new hires by making them feel like a member of the team.”

For a better, more holistic onboarding program, The Aberdeen Group recommends the following:

  • Equip hiring managers with the tools and resources they need to engage new staff.
  • Clearly communicate the company’s mission statement and core values.
  • Implement an onboarding program that features a variety of schedule training sessions.
  • As a manager, help establish connections between new hires and peers.

Training is more about the details
Training and onboarding – although mutually related – are two altogether separate things. Training pertains to the responsibilities or tasks associated with a job. Unlike onboarding, training covers the procedural aspect of completing these necessary tasks, in tandem with how to use the related technology and tools for successful performance.

With onboarding, new employees are immersed in an organization’s ideals, integrity and ethics, Unlike sporadic and short-lived training, employee onboarding lasts much longer than just that first 90 days.

What are the most important onboarding best practices?

Click’s employee journey experts developed a comprehensive set of onboarding best practices, and these principles are integrated into our own onboarding program. Not only convenient, our platform is mobile-first, future-proof and compliant, delivering seamless employee transitions throughout the entire employee journey lifecycle. 


1. A mobile-first, self-guided experience
Easy to use on any device, our onboarding platform features cascading steps and tasks for new hires to work on at their own pace. Once each is completed, the progress is visually tracked, and instructions are intuitively delivered. This gives new hires a clear understanding of expectations so they can best prepare.

2. A genuine welcome from the boss
Onboarding amplifies authenticity. Instead of a detached, canned message from the corporate office that accompanies an offer letter, a personal welcome note or video from the CEO or manager is delivered moments after the new hire accepts the offer. Reinforce their decision to join your company and make them feel appreciated and truly valued. Software Advice suggests a welcome package that includes gifts or messages from the team.

 3. A zero-redundancy experience with onboarding forms
The best onboarding program respects everyone’s time. Don’t make new hires spend a whole day filling out mind-numbing forms like background checks and I-9s. Our platform offers eSignature before Day 1, allowing new employees to complete forms in a more timely fashion. Not only does this demonstrate respect for your new hire’s time; it also makes them feel confident. 

4. An enthusiastic greeting from the team
The value of teams and the subtle importance of socialization cannot be understated. Welcome new hires with a video featuring your whole team instead of individual messages from each team member. It saves valuable time and reflects a friendly, approachable group. Additionally, team videos show new employees what a day in the life looks like or even try a virtual tour of the office.

BEST PRACTICES, PART 2: Day 1 & beyond

5. A fantastic & fun first day
First impressions are everything. Since you don’t get a second chance, make new hires feel like part of the team, right from the get-go! Team immersion shouldn’t commence in a conference room with benefits forms strewn about and a low droning of standard policies, procedures and the like. Start with simplicity. Share answers to anxiety-inducing questions (gulp!) before your new hires even have to think about asking:

  • What’s the lay of the land? Offer a virtual tour or a cleverly designed map of your office’s layout.
  • What’s the appropriate office/remote attire? Be detailed about what’s appropriate to wear and not to wear, and offer fun examples to engage new hires.
  • What are my benefits? Have common time off, employee perks, health coverage and policy documentation ready at the quick.

This approach enables new employees to feel empowered and informed, relieving Day 1 jitters or panic while making a memorable first impression with their new team.

6. A toolbox for productivity
There’s no wasting time when it comes to great onboarding, and it’s a requirement to be proactive instead of reactive. You want your new hires to hit the ground running. But how can they do that without a laptop? Or a mouse? Or the right software? They cannot.

Click recommends designing a consistent, automated process to accelerate productivity. It needs to align with the essential internal players in preparing a work-ready environment that makes employees feel welcome (regardless of whether that environment is remote or in-office). In addition, it will diminish the stress and strain on internal stakeholders.

7. A welcome gathering
Spoiler alert: another first impression opportunity! Resist the urge to introduce new hires on a spontaneous departmental drive-by. It’s distracting (for the new hires and the person being introduced), disjointed and always takes longer than you anticipate! Instead, introduce new hires with an in-person “welcome” gathering or Zoom meeting with the immediate team. It demonstrates an integrated group that collaboratively works together. Click also recommends an onboarding buddy or mentor to help new hires make the rounds, get to know the team and navigate the building.

8. An agenda or calendar
Inaugurate new hires with a blast of efficiency and a sprinkle of productivity. Send recurring meeting requests to them before Day 1 (e.g., weekly staff, quarterly company updates, Sales meetings, etc.), and empower them to assimilate into project teams in real time. As a result, you’ll create chances for them to get up to speed more quickly and become contributing, productive team members faster. 

9. Props from the boss 
Effective onboarding must include consistent, frequent feedback and positive encouragement. No one likes to be blindsided, especially by your boss at the 30-day review mark. Reinforce the employee’s decision to become part of your organization. Fill them with confidence by starting things on the right foot:

  • Send your new hire a text at Day 1’s end to congratulate them on a stellar first day.
  • Schedule regular meetings to check in or discuss progress on goals and objectives.
  • Surprise them on their one-month anniversary with a team Zoom call.

Is there a connection between onboarding and retention?

The answer is a resounding YES. In fact, SHRM.org states HR and staffing professionals alike strongly agree onboarding and employee retention are directly related. “Onboarding new hires at an organization should be a strategic process and last at least one year to ensure high retention.” Additionally, organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new hire retention.

Has the pandemic changed the importance of employee retention?

Another emphatic “YES.” COVID-19 only amplified the need for better onboarding to ensure employees stay with the company longer, especially the high-performing employees. The proof comes from a recent Work Institute article which states, “voluntary quit (turnover) rates are nearly twice the amount of employees quit their jobs in July 2020 than those who quit in April 2020.” 

To further fuel the fire of onboarding’s importance, the article cited an ample spike in voluntary turnover, placing blame on employers who aren’t sufficient in creating the right conditions where employees would stick around. The cost of 2020 employee turnover? It exceeded a shocking $630 billion, obvious evidence that despite the state of the working world, employees now control the job market.

Why a great onboarding program is urgent, especially now

Based on our findings, organizations can expect improved employee engagement and higher employee retention rates when they offer a great onboarding program. The pandemic-induced improvements changes addressed in this blog are fundamental – critical, quite frankly – for increased new hire productivity, engagement and longevity. 

The reality? Remote work is here to stay. That means your in-person onboarding needs to improve with the changes ushered in by the pandemic. And your remote onboarding needs to align closely for consistent results. Your new hires and employees are longing to feel connected and craving a sense of belonging right now. If their requirements aren’t met, they’ll say “sayonara” without a second thought. 

A final summary 

There are several truths we’ve come to accept over the past year, along with a host of changes:

  • We’re not ever going back to onboarding the way it used to be, pre-COVID. 
  • Your new hires won’t accept mediocre onboarding anymore. Period. They just won’t.
  • The pandemic changed onboarding for the better: more efficiencies, improved productivity – and if you adjust accordingly – higher employee retention rates.
  • Onboarding directly impacts employee retention, which is at risk now more than ever.
  • A mobile-first, seamless onboarding platform is the optimal solution.

How do you navigate this unchartered territory? Trust the experts at Click Boarding. We’re here as your consultant and ready to help you automate the process and delight your new hires. When you’re ready to focus on people and let the process run itself, we’re just a click away.


The Business Transformation Network has shared this article in partnership with ClickBoarding.