How to successfully onboard new hires in the world of hybrid work

A new job sounds tempting. But in a hybrid world, starting over is damn hard, writes UNSW Business School’s Frederik Anseel

In 2021, my colleague Anthony Klotz at Texas A&M University coined the term “The Great Resignation”. The term became an overnight classic because it captured so well this lingering feeling in the workforce of wanting, no, needing to leave everything behind and to start over, after two horrible COVID years.  

Who does not sometimes entertain wild dreams of new beginnings? It seems so tempting, leaving the tedious parts of your jobs behind and starting anew with a blank slate (and admittedly, with hopes for a higher salary). Does everything suddenly become easier if you dare to take the plunge? Be careful what you wish for. In recent months I have seen many people struggling in a new job. Why? Because they ended up in a hybrid work environment. I am a big proponent of hybrid work. But learning a new job in a hybrid environment is not easy.

Because let’s call a spade a spade. Most companies are lousy at accommodating and training newcomers. This is called ‘onboarding’ in HR jargon. According to a Gallup survey, only 12 percent of newcomers are satisfied with their onboarding. It often means nothing more than throwing someone into the deep end. ‘Experience is the best teacher’, is the advice. And with a bit of luck, ‘if something is not clear, just give us a call’.

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UNSW Business School's Professor Frederik Anseel says it makes no sense for companies to compete in a tight job market and recruit scarce talent, only to leave newcomers to their own devices afterwards. Image: supplied


This approach is not particularly efficient. It is often, sold as the 70:20:10 formula. You learn 70 percent of your job through experience, 20 percent from relationships with others and 10 percent through training and courses. Well, 70:20:10 is nonsense. The idea that you let people plod around a bit without any guidance and with the hopes that they will eventually surface on their own is wrong.

This approach is particularly frustrating in a hybrid environment. Because as a newcomer you have many questions, big and small, but often no-one close by to learn from. If the experienced hands happen to be working from home, a stupid question could get you stuck all day. Sure, you can schedule an online meeting, a quick chat or send an email. But you want so badly to make a good impression and not constantly bother the others.

The paradox is that the very reason you just got hired is that everyone else is overworked. You were the one that was brought in to lighten the workload. But taking time out to train you, will only worsen their workload. So, because you don’t want to be a burden you try to figure things out for yourself.

Consultants and multinationals are famous for having structured training programs for newcomers. Their onboarding process is more than simple training, it involves setting clear expectations, assigning concrete and well-defined projects, having online and in person learning modules, and managers who regularly check in and give feedback.

Read more: Six important ways COVID-19 has changed the workplace for good

Work rhythm

But even those large companies are struggling with the hybrid reality. Their approach has traditionally been aimed at having young newcomers coached by experienced employees. But for this to be successful, experienced colleagues must then be continuously available. And that clashes with the newly adopted rhythm of our hybrid world of work. People prefer to work from home 2-3 days a week. As a result, onboarding newcomers has become perhaps the biggest worry of hybrid working.

It is time for a wake-up call for companies. It makes no sense to compete in a tight job market, going out of your way to recruit scarce talent, only to leave the newcomers to their own devices afterwards. You want to give your employees every opportunity to become successful. This means that as a company you have to invest much more than before in the two crucial C’s: connection and culture.

But newcomers, don’t wait for organisations to invest in those two Cs. Take matters into your own hands. Don’t wait for someone to offer to show you the way, because then you can wait a long time. Draw up a step-by-step plan yourself, week by week. Present this to your new manager. Explain what you need, what information you are missing, when you want to speak to whom and what you want to achieve. Being proactive is the key to success when joining a hybrid workplace. And don’t wait too long to speak up and share your thoughts. You quickly lose that uninhibited look of the newcomer and that is exactly what will give a team and an organisation new oxygen.

Frederik Anseel is Professor of Management and Senior Deputy Dean (Research & Enterprise) at UNSW Business School. His research focuses on the motivational micro-foundations of how people contribute to organisational success. For more information, please contact Prof. Anseel directly. A version of this post was first published in De Tijd.


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