“Old School” Onboarding Is a Thing of the Past (But the Free Swag Isn’t)

As more companies take a hybrid approach to work, their HR and talent teams are tailoring the onboarding experience to meet new hires where they are.

Written by Cathleen Draper
Published on Jan. 25, 2023
“Old School” Onboarding Is a Thing of the Past (But the Free Swag Isn’t)
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If you’ve worked for your company for more than three years, you might remember your onboarding experience.

It probably involved arriving at the office, meeting with HR and your supervisors, receiving a swag bag and taking a tour of the office.

Over the course of the first week, you connected with other departments and learned the basics of your new role. But since 2020, that experience has drastically changed.

When the pandemic hit, that seamless flow of an in-person onboarding experience was interrupted. The essence of onboarding remained, but the virtual experience required a different approach, a heightened level of care and down-to-the-minute scheduling. 

The onboarding process has changed again. Fifty percent of remote-capable employees in the U.S. were hybrid according to a June 2022 survey by Gallup, and that number was expected to climb into 2023.

Cloudflare has more than 3,100 employees around the world, some of whom work in one of the company’s 20 offices.

Making hybrid work inclusive is essential to Cloudflare’s success, according to Learning Partner Sofia Good. That means onboarding is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

When the pandemic began and Cloudflare made the initial transition to remote onboarding, the company focused on an equitable experience for everyone. And as Cloudflare’s workforce has gone hybrid, they’ve stayed committed to that.

“New employees can choose to come into the office during their first week or onboard from home,” Good said. 

Cloudflare brings its new hires in as “classes,” so 10 new employees embark on their first day together and complete the onboarding journey as a group. These classes are reflective of Cloudflare’s approach to work and culture.

“Each employee has a cross-functional community right from the start,” Good said.

Built In spoke to Good, in addition to professionals at Smarter Sorting and LumApps to find out how they tailor their onboarding experience to a hybrid workforce and build community virtually and in person.

 

Nicole Adams Kraus
Chief Talent Officer • SmarterX

Smarter Sorting’s customers use its product intelligence to learn more about consumer products so they can move them across the supply chain while remaining compliant, avoiding fines and reducing their environmental impact.

 

What is Smarter Sorting’s approach to onboarding a new hybrid employee? 

We have the will, tools and technology to support a strong employee experience across channels — in person, remote and hybrid. It’s what people expect from their employers. We’re building a remote-first team with offices or shared workspaces where we have a concentration of employees, like our headquarters in Boulder. That decision opened a lot of doors for us and meant investing in remote work. When we onboard someone close to an office, we ask them to come into the office a little more frequently, especially in the beginning. No matter where you are, you have a first day lunch celebration with your team. All employees receive an onboarding plan, 30-, 60- and 90-day goals in their role and an onboarding buddy who helps them in their first 90 days. In addition, everyone takes our five core knowledge courses. If the employee is fully remote, we make sure to have them meet with their team in person within the first two months of joining the company.

 

We have the will, tools and technology to support a strong employee experience across channels.”

 

When onboarding a fully remote new hire, what steps do you take to make sure they feel included?

We know we have to take an extra step when onboarding remote employees. The water cooler interactions you have in a hybrid or office situation don’t just happen on their own. This is where careful planning of the onboarding plan and beyond is important. New remote employees have more casual one-on-one meetings via Zoom with the people they’ll be expected to interact with, and they are featured in our monthly all-hands meetings. As part of our core knowledge sessions, we create new hire cohorts to help them bond with one another. Beyond traditional onboarding, we do more personal things. For example, our remote team members each choose a holiday gift from an online platform because they won’t have a chance to attend local holiday parties. It helps them feel included. My team and I also hold 30-, 60- and 90-day confidential check-ins to gather feedback on onboarding and identify any potential issues to triage. Finally, we have budgets for teams to hold in-person meetings at least twice a year, and we hold an annual offsite for the whole company. We were recently all in California. It was an exciting bonding experience that sets a solid tone for 2023.

 

What special items do you send in your welcome kit to new hybrid or remote employees to help them feel like a part of Smarter Sorting from day one?

We love our welcome kits, and we send them to new employees a week before they join. They’re a celebration and reflect our excitement and appreciation for the new person. Everything sets the tone for the employee experience and represents our culture. We include a handwritten welcome letter and the essentials, like a computer and monitor. Of course, there are tons of Jolly Ranchers — we discovered that the colors match our branding and couldn’t resist. Then we add champagne or non-alcoholic mixers. Our benefits, which include a Costco membership and state parks passes, are top ranked, and we highlight those in the kit. While we’re focused on sustainability in our work and culture, we believe that some physical assets are still important. We go old school and print our brand book so our team can see and feel the story of our growth as a company and what our brand means, and they can reference that document from time to time. Finally, starting in early 2023 new employees will receive a link via email to choose two swag items that are made to order in keeping with our sustainability focus.

 

 

Sofia Good
Learning Partner • Cloudflare

Cloudflare protects and accelerates Internet applications without adding hardware, installing software or changing code. 

 

What is Cloudflare’s approach to onboarding a new hybrid employee?

We work to create virtual personal touchpoints throughout onboarding, like live and asynchronous community building opportunities. If an employee chooses to come into one of our offices on their first week, they get the opportunity to meet with other colleagues. But all new employees, whether they be remote or hybrid, participate in orientation training on their laptop. That way, both groups have the same fundamental experience and support during their onboarding. 

 

We are always working to build morale and rapport from day one and carry that on in their Cloudflare experience.”

 

When onboarding a fully remote new hire, what steps do you take to make sure they feel included?

New hires join daily community bonding sessions, where our trainers help them get to know one another within their regions. We also ask a question-of-the-day in their Class virtual chat space so they can connect with their colleagues across all regions. Building connections within their Class is critical to the success of their onboarding and integration at Cloudflare. At the end of the week they break into teams to work on their Capstone Project, and they develop a mock pitch about Cloudflare. This allows them to get to know each other better and enables them to learn to work together cross-functionally, just as they will be in their real roles. We also have regional leads and use the Class virtual chat space to answer any questions throughout the work week so they know they are supported in all aspects of their onboarding. We are always working to build morale and rapport from day one and carry that on in their Cloudflare experience.

 

What special items do you send in your welcome kit to new hybrid or remote employees to help them feel like a part of Cloudflare from day one?

One week before onboarding, new hires receive a welcome email from the onboarding team. We make sure they have all the information they need to start, including some fun tools, like images created by our marketing team to share on social media. We also send them a swag box that includes a welcome note and a Cloudflare-branded t-shirt, water bottle, notebook and socks. We get excited seeing our new hires share their excitement and swag on LinkedIn and other social platforms! It’s also great to see new hires showing up on the first day in their new Cloudflare swag, which makes for an even better Class photo. 

 

 

Maddie Stein
U.S. HR Manager • LumApps

LumApps’ digital workplace and intranet allows users to access corporate content, news, documents, communities and business applications. 

 

What is LumApps’ approach to onboarding a new hybrid employee?

We want our remote, hybrid and in-office employees to have as much of the same hands-on onboarding experience as possible. We offer a three-day onboarding session for new employees that is conducted simultaneously in person and over Google Meet, depending on where the speaker and audience are located. The benefit of being a tight-knit global organization is that we’ve created a dynamic and inviting experience in every virtual meeting we have. 

When onboarding remote employees, our HR team members take extra care to make sure that they feel they are a part of the team and can share little details about themselves that may be easier to pick up on in person. Our new hires have a chance during onboarding sessions and meetings set up for them to meet as many people in the organization as possible. Cultivating these relationships early on creates a more seamless and efficient onboarding for all.

 

We want our remote, hybrid and in-office employees to have as much of the same hands-on onboarding experience as possible.”

 

When onboarding a fully remote new hire, what steps do you take to make sure they feel included?

When onboarding fully remote new hires, we want the experience to be as similar as possible to what they’d be a part of if they were in our offices each day. This comes down to making sure they are meeting the right people at the right stages of their onboarding. By utilizing our own product, we can have all of our new hires in one centralized place. They are encouraged to share as much about themselves as they’re comfortable with, from their professional background to how they like to spend their weekends. We’ve seen that this helps people to connect and find similar points of interest. We connect our new hires across Slack channels and ensure they are in groups that are relevant to them.

We’ve initiated another way to connect our employee base and help our employees get to know each other on a deeper level. We get together a few randomized groups of Lumies each month to share fun facts and discuss current topics that are relevant to our work or industry trends. It’s a great way to find connection points and share laughs between people you may not work with on the regular.

 

What special items do you send in your welcome kit to new hybrid or remote employees to help them feel like a part of the company from day one?

We love to share LumApps t-shirts, water bottles, pens and notebooks so they are ready to go on their first day with all the goodies and swag.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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