The phrase most commonly used to introduce the concept of new employee onboarding is probably, "You only get one chance to make a first impression."

This first impression, in the context of onboarding, refers to the impression the employer makes on the new employee. New hires' initial experience with their new employer is critical to their engagement, which leads to a proven set of benefits.

 

Onboarding defined

So what is onboarding?

The following definition is an aggregate from various industry sources: Onboarding is a strategic process used to attract and engage new employees, reinforce their job selection, acclimate them to the corporate culture, and help them get to meaningful contribution levels as efficiently as possible.

Every business or organization has an onboarding process, whether formal or informal. Not all of them are strategic in nature, but most at least attempt to achieve some of the goals listed in the definition above.

There are onboarding tasks every organization must do, like completing Forms I-9 with in the required timeframe and submitting W-4s so a new employee gets on the payroll.

A strategic onboarding program focuses on engagement of new employees to orient them to the job and the company.

Alignment to corporate goals takes place during the process, along with proper setting of performance expectations and employee development plans.

This leads to the realization of onboarding benefits: faster time to full productivity, improved employee retention, going paperless and an improved customer experience via more engaged and effective employees.

And, it's important to note, onboarding begins well before a new hire's start date - the first impression has already been made before the first day of work. Furthermore, a complete onboarding program should cover employees joining via mergers and acquisitions, contractors and other contingent staff.

From a technology perspective there are three main areas of contribution: forms management, workflow and socialization. The key to a smooth hiring and onboarding process is proactive, interactive communication between the applicant and all stakeholders in the hiring process. The foundation for this communication is a secure, online portal that allows each applicant to schedule interviews, submit resumes and references, complete forms, and fulfill other hiring process tasks. An onboarding portal also is an important element in socializing new hires and acclimating them to the corporate culture.

 

Forms management

On average there are from 18 to 20 forms and documents a new employee must complete or read and acknowledge during the onboarding process. It starts with profile information, which feeds an electronic application for employment, and background check authorization documentation. I-9s and W-4s must be completed and processed.

In addition to employee handbooks and policy and procedure documents, there are always client-specific forms each company creates as part of its HR compliance program. And lastly, the new employee enrolls in the company's benefit plans.

Smart forms facilitate the reuse of the information entered by an applicant. Information is entered once and then automatically filled in on all subsequent forms. This is convenient for the applicant and reduces data entry errors.

One approach is to have the applicant fill in the actual form online.

I prefer the tax prep software companies' approach, which is to provide a series of wizards that guide the data entry in a step-by-step process. For example, it's much easier to answer a few questions about a W-4 than it is to fill it out.

In either method the best practice is to show the actual form at the end of process, with the applicant's information filled in. This last step also facilitates the electronic signature process.

Electronic signatures are an important element of smart forms.

Compliant electronic signatures lie somewhere between the "I Accept" button we have all used online and the digital signatures we use when signing for credit card purchases.

With few exceptions, most documents in the hiring process can be signed electronically, even I-9 forms.

Done properly, electronic signatures are part of the forms completion process.

The first step is to explain the signature process and have the applicant agree to the process and then acknowledge that these signatures are as binding as if they physically signed the document.

Next, each completed form needs to be signed. Best practices have evolved for online signatures. Obviously, the applicant must already be logged into to the secure portal.

When prompted to sign a document, the applicant should be required to re-enter his or her password again. This has become a common practice for online bill pay authorization and other electronic signature processes. This step should eliminate any question about the applicant's intention to sign the document.

Upon completion of the signature process, the actual form should be presented to the applicant with all information filled in, including the date and time stamp.

At this point the document should be locked down. If the document needs to be updated, the signature process must be repeated.

 

Workflow

Many people participate in the onboarding process. The best way to get them involved is to have them tied into the process via workflow.

Workflows can be attached to smart forms, to the job classification, to specific dates, and even to a specific location. For example:

* A completed W-4 form can be routed to payroll and a task automatically assigned and then monitored through to completion.

* Offer acceptance can trigger a workflow that assigns tasks such as getting the new employee a computer, security badge, office space, phone, e-mail and other software access.

* The start date can trigger a variety of task assignments like benefits enrollment and training.

* Location-specific tasks can include things like getting parking passes and setting up transit accounts.

 

Socialization

A state-of-the-art onboarding portal provides a framework for the socialization of new hires into their new corporate environment.

Some of the most common socialization capabilities include:

* A welcome video from the CEO or owner.

* Benefits information showing health plan information, 401(k) and other benefits.

* Wellness and other corporate programs.

* Location-specific information like day care facilities, restaurants, fitness clubs, laundry, etc., all tied in with online maps.

* Departmental information and the corporate directory.

The online portal can also engage new employees by providing them with numerous tools they can use to interact with their new colleagues.

For example, these tools can include discussion groups, blogs and the ability to submit questions that get routed to subject matter experts.

 

Natural extension for brokers

Benefits brokers looking for new services to provide their employer groups should consider expanding into onboarding. Benefits are a part of the onboarding process anyway, so it is a natural extension of what you provide today.

Using the technology of smart forms, workflow and socialization tools packaged in a secure online portal, you can help them engage new employees and help reduce turnover, eliminate paper and paper-based processes, and get their new hires up to full productivity faster than ever before. And help them make a lasting first impression.

Lamb is SVP and general manager, Benergy Interworks, at A.D.A.M. Inc., in Atlanta. You can reach him at jlamb@adamcorp.com.

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