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  • Robin Rosenberg

From The Great Resignation to The Great Onboarding

We’ve experienced The Great Resignation. As people take positions in new companies (or return to previous companies), they will need to be onboarded and acculturated. This process can create both challenges and opportunities.


Among the challenges is onboarding, particularly in a remote or hybrid environment. Through onboarding, new employees learn the specifics of what their work is, how they should do it (e.g., tools and processes, social norms and rules) as well as who they’ll be working with (and those people personalities and quirks). Many organizations have figured out how to onboard during the pandemic, addressing three distinct areas:

· Organizational onboarding (e.g., explaining the organization’s mission and values, providing resources [such as a computer] and logistical information such as “who helps me with _____?”)

· Technical onboarding (e.g., how to use the tools that are explained with organizational onboarding, such as various software)

· Social onboarding (e.g., creating structured opportunities for formal and informal communication, developing relationships with other employees, including a “buddy”).

In some sense, organizational and technical onboarding are the most straightforward and the speediest to implement. Relationships—and trust—develop over time.

One thing that can help the process is setting clear expectations, and clarifying how the work aligns with the organization’s mission (which in turn, creates deeper meaning to the work). Create ample opportunities for relationships to develop through retreats, collaboration meetings, “social time,” even randomized phone or video calls pairing new and retained employees so that they can get to know each other better.


Once employees have been onboarded, they face a larger challenge: learning and assimilating into the organization’s culture and learning how to operate within the culture. It’s the process of discovering the stated “how things are done here” as well as the unstated “how things are done here.” The stated policies and processes may differ from, or even conflict with, what actually happens. New employees learn both the stated and unstated processes. With hybrid and remote environments, the acculturation process is more challenging for several reasons.

Opportunities For Informal Help

Remote and hybrid work typically offer fewer opportunities for spontaneous guidance or help when new employees aren’t sure about how, why, or with whom a task should be done. In person, a new employee might walk by a colleague’s desk and ask for help. To get in-the-moment guidance remotely, the new colleague must ask for help in writing—in an email, through Slack, or some other means.

The formality of this mode can leave new employees trying to figure it out on their own. In turn, this creates fewer opportunities to build relationships in an informal way. Companies like Sidekick and Tandem provide ways for remote employees to see each other informally throughout the day—analogous to how you would see them in an open plan office—and simply tap on a colleague’s image to talk to them.

Opportunities For Informal Conversations

For employees who are remote even part-time, there are fewer opportunities for the informal conversations that create the social glue of relationships. Chatting before or after meetings, over coffee or lunch, or while waiting for the elevator are all opportunities for new employees to learn more about the organization and their colleagues. Additionally, these are opportunities for retained employees to impart their wisdom and get to know new colleagues better.

These informal social opportunities offer ways for colleagues to find commonalities, brainstorm ideas, and deepen trust. Planned, frequent, quick check-ins or “office hours” between retained employees and new employees can provide a structure for new employees to ask questions. In addition, hosting virtual lunches for pairs of new and retained employees, or in groups, can help develop the relationships, a sense of belonging, and a sense of trust.

Social Norms Evolve?

For some teams, working groups, and organizations, new employees may outnumber retained employees by the end of 2022. It’s worth noting that when new employees in a team or working group outnumber retained employees, the culture may be more influenced by the new employees.

When there is a bolus of new employees, together they may feel more comfortable suggesting alternative ways of doing things. This provides an opportunity to rethink how things are done. Consider experimenting with their suggestions; this can help new employees feel included, and they may have good ideas! Try doing things differently to see whether the alternative achieves goals more effectively and/or efficiently.


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