August 27, 2020

Effective Onboarding in the Gig Economy


Est. Reading: 4 minutes

By Mette Søs Gottlieb, Learning Expert

Imagine arriving for your first day of work, eager to begin the next step in your career. The HR director greets you, hands you a giant binder, and leaves. You stare at the binder, wondering if this is your cue to run for the exit and never look back.

Welcoming new employees to the organization with effective onboarding sets them up for success and makes them feel like valued members of a team from the start. Why are so many organizations bad at it, then? And how can they step up their onboarding game? With the right strategy and tools, employers can ensure they’re providing their workforce with the best chance for success.

Creating Instant Value

Today’s digital workforce has the option to move from one gig to the next—the “gig economy.” There are innumerable blogs and Instagram accounts that tout a work-from-anywhere lifestyle of coding while traveling the world, for instance, or becoming your own boss by choosing which and how many freelance writing or graphic design gigs to take on. This comfort among Millennials with switching jobs has led to the creation of yet another label for them: the “job-hopping generation.”

Long-term tenure at one organization just isn’t the norm anymore. The reality is that employees may only stay with your company for a short time, which makes it even more important to be able to hit the ground running from day one. The sooner this happens, the sooner your new hire will be an effective employee who feels like a valuable contributor.

Ineffective Examples

An onboarding process can’t be successful if it doesn’t exist. New hires come on and are handed a ream of handouts to read—that’s it. Other companies don’t approach onboarding in an agile way with continuously updated sets of collateral, documents, and procedure aids. Instead, onboarding is treated as a one-and-done, point-in-time activity as if things don’t change—even as the world around us does.

If onboarding does happen, it tends to take the form of teaching new hires about time sheets, vacation policy, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), codes of conduct, and so forth. But then they are thrown into the business function pool and expected to swim. Perhaps they will find a mentor or “work buddy” who can show them the tricks and tips of the company, but as an employer, you can’t always be sure that person will explain things the correct way. Or maybe the person you partner the new employee up with isn’t happy with how certain things are done or they’re only explaining the things they want the new hire to know. That leads to a whole crop of new challenges—such as having to later reteach employees things they were taught incorrectly from the get-go, which is harder than doing it right the first time.

Action Steps for a Successful Onboarding Program

The first step in creating an onboarding process that works is to create a list of all the things a new employee needs to know about the business (culture, key meetings, code of conduct, and so on). That list also needs to include information about who needs to be involved with each step/segment, and how to ensure new employees get the information and training they need. The progress of new hires should be monitored from their very first day—an onboarding checklist for the employee would allow for any hiccups in the project to be caught early. This maximizes the probability of an aligned and successful project completion.

Onboarding is not a one-time event but a process, and it takes longer than just a week or two. The first week should focus on fundamentals, certainly. But after a month or so, start adding to that basic knowledge. You must spread out onboarding to ensure the information sticks with the trainee. People can only absorb so much at once, so spreading training out and delivering information in digestible amounts helps with knowledge retention.

To help contractors and new hires execute and complete assignments, grant them easy, on-demand access to communications with the other members of your team as necessary. Offering freelancers access to online chat and file-sharing systems ensures that not only do employees have the information where and when they need it, but they also can feel a part of the overall organization. This can go a long way toward boosting engagement and collaboration.

If important company information is available when and where employees need it, they

are better able to receive and digest it. Making it easy for new hires, freelancers, and short-term employees to access and interact with important onboarding information is imperative for the overall effectiveness of your onboarding and your employees moving forward.

When is an employee fully onboarded? How can you measure that? You need to have business goals set around these questions. This is how you can determine whether your program is successful—otherwise, you risk losing people you hired. It’s very expensive and difficult to find the right talent.

Beginning Well

With the current propensity for hopping from gig to gig, today’s job environment is good for workers in search of greater flexibility and for employers who want a greater variety of aptitudes. However, it can make onboarding tricky. Employers need to get value from new hires from day one since there’s no telling how long they will stay, while contract workers also need to get up to speed for immediate productivity.

Onboarding is not some vague HR “nice to have” that impedes time-to-value for new employees. Instead, its interactive, relevant, strategic, and ongoing use all but guarantees faster time to value and a richer experience for all. The above recommendations will help you develop a strong onboarding program that will set employees up for success no matter the length of their tenure.

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