Onboarding Best Practices: Perfecting Your New Hire Experience

Explore how onboarding buddies enhance new hires' experiences, fostering productivity and satisfaction while personalizing the onboarding process.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
October 25, 2022
min read

In a previous newsletter, I discussed the critical importance of managers. One of the powers managers hold is that they can make or break the employee experience.

This power is especially potent during the new hires' first few months, which can leave a lasting impression that will affect the employees' decision to commit to the company.

That's why, for this newsletter, I'll focus on that onboarding period and what companies can do to ensure new employees can significantly benefit during this time.

The terrible state of onboarding

Onboarding can be a tough nut to crack and has been an issue for companies since even before the advent of hybrid work. Before such a virtual shift, more than one-third of companies lacked a structured onboarding process.

Nowadays, as new employees are increasingly not required to come to the office thanks to remote or hybrid work models, the issue is exacerbated even more. In a 2020 survey by Workable, HR practitioners reported remote onboarding or training as the biggest hiring challenge during the pandemic. Alarmingly, in a 2021 survey by Principles, 10% of HR practitioners weren't even sure how the new hires were adapting!

According to other surveys by Silkroad and Gallup, only 29% of new hires feel fully prepared and supported after being onboarded, a whopping 10% of employees left their companies because of their poor new hire experience, and 88% of the employees had lackluster onboarding experiences.

Since a lot of the new hires are fresh graduates, they may find the Culture, Community, Connection, and Collaboration of the company extremely challenging and complicated, especially now that they spend less time interacting face-to-face with their team members and other colleagues in the hybrid work models.

Getting it right pays off: the huge upside of onboarding best practices

As a result, teams who can provide new members with a positive onboarding process will do wonders for the new hire experience. In his interview that I previously wrote about, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella even mentioned how interns come back to work for Microsoft simply because of a great immediate manager.

Overall, formal onboarding programs could see 50% greater employee retention, and employees with a positive boarding experience are almost three times more likely to feel prepared and supported in their roles, boosting their confidence, and consequently, their performance.

Additionally, new employees can be a huge driver of change. It's much harder to change the behavior of existing staff, for example, to motivate them more to take an active role in driving culture and community.

But new hires learn from scratch, so coaching them on the right behaviors is much easier. Managers can help drive this process by designing a customized onboarding experience to instill desirable behaviors from the get-go.

Hey buddy! Let's onboard together

I want to focus on the essential measures that can work for anyone and is a long-term team effort: Provide new hires with an onboarding buddy.

The benefits of onboarding buddies are clear:

  1. Onboarding buddies provide context. New employees will get lost in the unwritten rules and abstract areas of a company culture in which long-time team members are well-versed. Helping new employees learn about those can lead to a much smoother transition into the company. The tenured employees can show their fresh peers the type of context they can't find in the employee handbook, such as the relevant stakeholders, the matrix of different organizations, and other valuable tips that could help them hit the ground running.
  2. Onboarding buddies boost productivity. New employees often experience the tension between wanting to be efficient as soon as possible while still having to learn the ropes. Having an onboarding buddy can help improve the new hire's speed to productivity significantly, and they don't have to meet each other that often. Microsoft reported that despite meeting as little as eight times in 90 days, fresh hires could be 97% more productive.
  3. Onboarding buddies improve satisfaction, not just of the new employees but of the onboarding buddies themselves. According to Microsoft, new hires with onboarding buddies were 23% more satisfied with their overall onboarding experience than those without, and the satisfaction increased by 36% in the following 90 days. Similarly, employees who become onboarding buddies also report satisfaction in showcasing and honing their managerial and leadership skills and developing a firmer grasp of their expertise.

Microsofts visual for onboarding. I'm not sure what it means, but it looks good ><.

Setting onboarding buddies and managers up for success

Given how crucial onboarding buddies are to the onboarding experience, companies should do more to help employees who volunteer to be onboarding buddies for new hires.

Companies should reprioritize or reassign the workload of employees who become onboarding buddies, communicate a predetermined duration for the onboarding experience, and allow onboarding buddies to report to the same manager for a better understanding of the new hire's role.

Additionally, there are a few things that immediate managers can do to help their new team members:

  • Engage new hires immediately and make expectations clear. Engaging them early on is extra effective if the manager meets with them one-on-one during their first week in the company. Harvard Business Review lists the early benefits as a 12% larger internal network and double network centrality (the influence that people in an employee's network have) within 90 days. They also have higher-quality meetings, and nearly three times as much time collaborating with their team as those who did not have a one-on-one. Another overlooked type of meeting is one-on-one or group coffee between the new hires and the company's CEO, especially for smaller organizations. This coffee chat will give the new employees a sense of inclusion and commitment, which drives better retention and performance.
  • Focus on the manager-employee relationship. Research done by Microsoft has shown that employees are 3.5 times more likely to be satisfied when their managers play an active role in the process.
  • Make sure new employees feel welcomed at the beginning of the onboarding period and give them a comprehensive summary of their achievements and onboarding goals at the end. In the process, managers can track whether their new hires have completed their daily schedules or whether they have completed their onboarding modules.

The critical need for personalization

Personalization should be the top priority when tailoring the workplace experience to cater to the employees' needs. In the last newsletter, I wrote about it as a form of effective nudging, and now, in the onboarding process, personalization is even more crucial than ever.

Suppose you get matched with an onboarding buddy with overlapping interests. In that case, you'll be more likely to have an excellent impression of the company, plus you get to hear the inside stories/tips/tricks for that company that you care about.

Especially on the point of context, like-minded onboarding buddies are much likelier to provide relevance. Who to work with, which spaces are best for you, where to go for help, and how to make sure your time with the company is loaded with fun and fulfillment, all become more valuable when it comes from 'someone like you.'

Invitation: Join our beta program

We are in the midst of launching new features to match colleagues and create a data-driven, personalized workplace experience and employee engagement. If you're interested in exchanging usage of our platform for early feedback, please let me know!

Have a great week,


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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.