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Strategies for Onboarding in a Hybrid World

One takeaway: New hires are 3.5 times more likely to report satisfaction if their managers play an active role

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Like many people who changed jobs recently, Dave Nobles embarked on his new role without ceremony. Joining Microsoft was a career pivot after years in the Navy and then at a university-affiliated research center, but he woke up that first morning and sat down to work in the same home office where he’d spent the entire pandemic.

“Nothing changed except the computer I use and the sites I access,” says Nobles, who tried moving his desk to a new spot in the room when he joined Microsoft, “just to make the experience feel a little different.”

More broadly, Nobles wondered how he would adapt to his first job in the business world while being unable to connect with colleagues in person. “I was nervous as all get out,” Nobles, a director of digital advisory services, says. Would virtual onboarding help him feel a true sense of belonging to a new organization?

It’s a question that resonates with new employees across business sectors, and with employers too—and it’s still relevant as the pandemic eases. After more than a year of remote work for many employees, followed by the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, onboarding is evolving into a largely hybrid affair—sometimes virtual, sometimes in person, and often a mix of the two.

The challenge remains: acclimating new employees to a company and its culture when teams are together in person less often. Takeaways from the era of remote onboarding can help organizations recalibrate their strategies going forward.

More than 25,000 employees have joined Microsoft since the pandemic started. Like every company, Microsoft is still adjusting—and readjusting—its practices as it discovers what works best when it comes to remote and hybrid work, but Microsoft’s research has shown that a key component of success is a laser-like focus on something simple, even obvious: the day-to-day lived experiences of its employees.

A colorful abstract illustration showing all the processes that go into onboarding.

Illustration by Leonardo Betti

Cultivate the most essential relationship for new hires: the one with their managers

The duty to make a remote worker feel welcome falls mostly on the new employee’s manager. During the pandemic, Microsoft found that new hires relied more heavily on managers than ever before.

Upper management responded by encouraging managers to personalize the onboarding process for each new employee, with an abundance of time devoted to individual conversations. Again, a seemingly obvious approach— and Microsoft found it to be extremely effective.

“We communicated to managers how important it is that you have one-on-ones early and often with your new hires,” says Dawn Klinghoffer, head of people analytics at Microsoft. “Managers took that really seriously, and they offered guidance in terms of aligning expectations on job priorities.”

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