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Inclusion starts on day one: 10 ways to build an inclusive onboarding experience

Step one: Inclusivity.

Luis Alvarez/ GETTY IMAGES
Luis Alvarez/ GETTY IMAGES

By Sonja Gittens-Ottley

Studies show that diversity leads to greater creativity and innovation. But in order to maintain diversity and ensure that every person in the room feels comfortable expressing themselves, your workplace needs to be inclusive as well.

In an inclusive workplace, employees are more engaged with their work and team, meaning they are more likely to stay with a company. This results in higher retention rates. Beyond retention, recruiting is easier when engagement is high: Referrals increase, employer brand is improved, and candidates are more likely to accept offers because engaged employees conduct better interviews, thus improving the candidate experience.

Onboarding is a pivotal moment for making employees feel included from day one. It sets the tone for a person’s tenure at your company, laying the foundation for their knowledge of and experience working for your company. This is why building an inclusive onboarding experience is so important to creating an inclusive company culture.

“Onboarding is a pivotal moment for making employees feel included.”

Unfortunately, onboarding isn’t always inclusive because the focus is on getting new hires ramped up and contributing rather than settled in. It can quickly become more about process than experience, and in doing so, we fail to really connect new hires to their new role, team, and company. The impact on new hires manifests as feelings of hesitation to commit to a long-term career at your company.

Instead of leaving employees feeling left out and disconnected, focus on providing an inclusive onboarding experience. It’s like adding someone to your game of musical chairs: You can’t add someone new without stopping the music and adding a chair. Creating a meaningful experience means slowing down, making adjustments, and including your new hire.

How to create an inclusive onboarding experience

There are many ways to make your onboarding process inclusive, from the company level to the team and individual level. Here are a few ways you can make employees feel like they belong at your company from day one.

1. Let new hires know inclusion matters

A simple way to make new hires feel included is to emphasize diversity and inclusion during the onboarding experience. Sharing your company’s commitment to inclusion, such as through a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) onboarding session, can let new hires know that this is important to you and that the attributes that make them unique matter to your company.

“An inclusive onboarding experience is like adding someone to your game of musical chairs: You can’t add someone new without stopping the music and adding a chair. Creating a meaningful experience means slowing down, making adjustments, and including your new hire.”

We also recommend sharing any resources you have that explain how to get involved in making your workplace more inclusive. about the resources available to all employees, resources available to minorities, as well as resources for allies on how to get involved in making your workplace more inclusive.

This can include a brief overview of and invitation to your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), or an explanation of your recruiting experience and how you approach D&I (like specific programs and initiatives that are used by your organization).

2. Paint the big picture

In order for onboarding to feel inclusive, new hires need to feel like they’re “in the know.” As a manager or team member, it’s easy to forget what it feels like to be new since you have so much institutional knowledge. When onboarding a new employee, approach it with empathy for your new teammates and appreciation for that feeling of not knowing what you don’t know.

You can do this by sharing your team’s current roadmap or strategy to give every new hire an understanding of what the team does and their priorities at the moment. Additionally, providing an organizational chart or explanation of how the team shares responsibilities is a great way to let each new hire know how they fit into the bigger picture.

There’s also a lot of context besides what the team is working on: Understanding how a team works together is a huge part of settling in. To this end, set expectations on how the team works together—from synchronous to asynchronous communication styles and cross-functional collaboration.

This way, a new hire can learn how best to communicate with their new team. (Should I assign someone a task, send them a Slack message, or stop by their desk?) These tips will make a new hire feel comfortable and less intimidated about navigating their new environment.

3. Prepare your team

Adding a new member to your team will inevitably change its dynamics. Preparing your team for how the new hire will fit in is key: What are their responsibilities? Who will they be working with or reporting to? Are they taking on any work from other team members? What does that handoff process look like?

It can be helpful to set the expectation that inclusivity is everyone’s responsibility. By doing so, you’ll encourage your team to act intentionally around including their new teammate and remind them to be inclusive and welcoming.

4. Help them speak your language

Every company has their own unique company language—whether it’s acronyms or specific terms they use. It’s important to help all new hires feel like they’re speaking the same language as their colleagues, so provide them with the resources to help them get up to speed with your company-specific vernacular.

This can take the form of a glossary of company terms or a guide on how to approach tough conversations. For example, we offer trainings in conjunction with the Conscious Leadership Group that can help employees approach conflicts and provide everyone with a shared vocabulary to use when communicating with their colleagues.

5. Contextualize their experience

Context is everything when a new hire starts. But making sure they’re equipped with the information they need to succeed is easier than it might sound. One easy step is to establish a buddy system, where every new hire is paired with a longer-tenured employee to show them the ropes. Their buddy is there to welcome them on the first day, answer questions, and be a dedicated resource through their first few months.

Batching start days is also a way to contextualize the new hire experience; doing so allows every new hire to start with a peer group. This creates bonds and shared experiences between new hires, and based on our experience at Asana, those last long beyond the first few weeks of work.

Another easy step to provide context for new hires is to set up one-on-one lunches and meetings in their first few weeks with people who can help welcome and integrate them. This can be individuals who share their interests or previous professional experience, or people on different teams with whom the new hire will be collaborating.

Helping a new hire connect with people across the company lets them build meaningful relationships starting on their first day, and as they go through onboarding they’ll feel more comfortable seeing some newly familiar faces.

6. Time it right

They say timing is everything, and with new hires, this is especially true. You can optimize new hire start dates by having them join at a time when they can contribute most effectively and when their team is available and present.

For example, having a new hire start over the holidays or right before their manager goes out on leave means they have less of a support system. This can make them feel left out or like their arrival to the company isn’t a priority.

7. Give space for settling in

Part of creating an inclusive onboarding experience is recognizing that not everyone takes in information the same way. Giving each new hire the time and space to hear and digest all the new information about their role and the company is one of the best ways you can make someone feel welcome.

This doesn’t mean extending your onboarding process to last forever. Instead, make onboarding content—like your employee handbook or process documents—available to new hires, block off time during their first few weeks for reading and asking follow-up questions, and make sure there’s clarity around where resources can be found.

With the space to absorb all the new information they’re getting, new hires are more likely to feel comfortable asking questions, follow their own learning styles, and feel like part of the team.

8. Add a personal touch

Onboarding can feel very overwhelming, and at times, transactional. Filling out paperwork, getting up to speed, and attending information sessions can leave new hires feeling tired in their first few weeks. To combat this and to create a welcoming environment, add a personal touch to your onboarding experience.

Instead of relying on surveys and paperwork, schedule check-ins for your new hires to meet with their managers and recruiters to get to know each other better. Rather than sending template emails to welcome new hires, customize their emails. And on their first day, provide a warm welcome, whether it’s a greeting them with a sign at reception or a small gift on their desk.

Adding a personal touch to the onboarding experience can really make an employee feel like they’ve found a home at your company; it especially helps with feelings of inclusion. Whether they’re discovering allies at an ERG or reconnecting with their recruiter over coffee, taking things offline makes the onboarding experience that much more inclusive.

9. Celebrate small wins

As the employer, it’s important to strike a balance between enabling a new employee to contribute immediately and feel included. Unfortunately, focusing too much on one can lead to an employee feeling like they aren’t making an impact, on the one hand, or like they don’t belong on the other.

Instead, create space for small wins so that new employees can gain confidence early on (like working on small projects).

10. Get feedback

Finally, feedback is key to crafting the most inclusive onboarding experience for your new hires. Keep multiple channels open for receiving feedback (anonymously, in person, etc.) so that new hires can share their experience and you can work to improve upon it for future new hires.

We suggest setting up formal avenues for feedback, like a check-in survey at 30, 60, and 90 days, as well as more informal, in-person opportunities for new hires to let you know how their experience is going, like coffee with their recruiter or manager. Be sure to provide different ways for new hires to give feedback so that everyone can choose the way they’re most comfortable sharing their thoughts.

From onboarding to results

Inclusion isn’t only important because of the feel-good feeling it creates: It also impacts innovation, employee engagement, retention, and recruiting—all of which affect your bottom line and have the potential to improve your business results.

Most importantly, an inclusive onboarding experience sets each employee up for success, regardless of their background, experience, or personality. Once onboarded, employees should feel that they made the right decision to join your company—they belong there.

Originally published at wavelength.asana.com

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