Onboarding New Employees in a Hybrid Workplace

As you’re navigating hybrid work, it’s a good moment to assess how your onboarding processes enable or empower your new hires to thrive. Researchers at Microsoft have conducted and identified studies that suggest that onboarding to a new role, team, or company is a key moment for building connections with the new manager and team and doing so a few days in person provides unique benefits. But just requiring newcomers to be onsite full time doesn’t guarantee success. The authors explain and offer examples of how onboarding that truly helps new employees thrive in the modern workplace is less about face time and more about intention, structure, and resources.

During the pandemic, companies around the world explored new ways of working that challenged long-held assumptions and beliefs about where work gets done. Many companies, including Microsoft, saw the benefits of flexible work and wanted to offer employees a chance to continue to work in a hybrid environment, while balancing the needs of the organization.

One aspect of work that changed during the remote era, and continues to evolve, is onboarding: a key moment for new employees to build connections with their manager and team. Many companies adapted to remote onboarding and continue to welcome new hires in this manner, while others are moving back to in-person programs. We wondered: What’s the ideal way to onboard new employees today? And, specifically, how can we ensure that new hires thrive — which we define as being energized and empowered to do meaningful work — while also supporting flexibility?

Our recent research based on anonymized Microsoft employee data suggests that new hires succeed when they feel supported to work in the way that works best for them in terms of when and where they work. Onboarding is a key moment for building connections with a new manager and team and doing so a few days in person provides unique benefits, but just requiring newcomers to be onsite full time doesn’t guarantee success.

In an effort to help leaders establish norms and best practices for onboarding, we found three key insights from our own research on what fosters a positive employee experience and facilitates learning during a hybrid onboarding process.

A few days in person has benefits for onboarding

Our data show that compared to new hires who never saw their manager or team in person, new hires who spend one or two days a month with their manager and teams within their first 90 days:

These results indicate that in-person time during onboarding is beneficial. Providing an opportunity for the new hire to meet their manager and teams can help build relationships, improve communication, develop a sense of task competence, get stronger support from team members, and add value to the overall onboarding experience.

And a positive onboarding experience matters for retention, as our data shows that the new hires who are satisfied with their onboarding at 90 days are two times more likely to stay with the company 1.5 years down the road.

However, being in the office most of the time (more than 60% of workdays) brings no additional value for short term (the first 90 days) or long-term (the first year) onboarding outcomes. In fact, the new hires who saw their teams often (more than 30% of workdays) reported significantly lower scores on two important 90-day onboarding markers — alignment with job expectations (- 5% points) and contributions to the team’s success (- 6%). What’s more, during their first year, new hires who came into the office regularly (more than 60% of workdays) reported less opportunity to learn (- 5%) and less self-reported productivity (- 9%), indicating that being onsite most of the time can take away from the focus time that’s critical for learning and knowledge acquisition in the long term.

Our data shows no difference in sentiment for those who onboard remotely or those who onboard onsite regarding their career experiences, building new skills, and energy they draw from work, as well as support they receive from managers in the first year.

However, some groups may benefit from more in-person time

New hires vary in their needs and can require different things from their onboarding experience. According to our research, the benefits for onboarding onsite look different across experience levels of new hires. Compared to the early-in-career new hires who onboard offsite, those who regularly go into the office:

These results indicate that new hires who are starting out in their career may need more in-person interactions as part of their onboarding to learn what’s expected, experience the culture, and understand how to succeed in the new environment. In contrast, the new hires who have more industry experience do not see the same benefits from going into the office often.

To help set up early-in-profession new hires for success, Microsoft designed the Aspire Experience program, which consists of a two-year journey of learning and development that focuses on growth, building networks, and discovering career opportunities within the company. These experiences are delivered through a combination of in-person and hybrid events. Using our research, we’ve adjusted where, how, and when Aspire Experience programs and events take place. As an example of our data driven approach, we’ve invited our global year one Aspirers to visit our main campus as part of their year one Microsoft Aspire experience.

Providing these curated opportunities for early-in-career new hires to be onsite helps create a sense of meaning and connection to their work and teams, while giving more experienced new hires the flexibility to decide where they work best helps foster productivity and mastery of the new role.

What adds the most value is a more intentional approach to onboarding

While tailored approaches across different new hire groups are useful, to maximize return on investment for an onboarding program, it is important to provide some resources that all new hires universally benefit from. The top factors that make the most difference are clarity about role responsibilities, feedback on how they are doing, and resources to help them answer questions. The new hires who are set up with these critical elements of onboarding are:

What’s needed is for managers to be intentional, provide structure, align on job expectations, set up their new hire with an onboarding buddy, establish onboarding milestones, give frequent actionable feedback, and provide a list of resources. New hires whose manager plays an active role in their onboarding are 3.5 times more likely to be satisfied with their onboarding experience and 1.5 times more likely to feel they’re contributing to their team’s success. In a hybrid world, the manager’s role in onboarding is a key driver in new hires’ satisfaction with their onboarding experience.

At Microsoft, alongside our onboarding materials, we developed a Flexible Work Toolkit to equip our managers with information and resources to help meet the needs of individual work styles and offer as much flexibility as possible. The toolkit includes resources on how to support employees in a hybrid world, leverage team agreements to balance individual with team needs and set clear expectations on how to work together allowing new team members to acclimate quickly, identify moments that matter to be intentional about when to bring people together in-person, and leverage tools to run effective and inclusive hybrid meetings.

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Bottom line, employees benefit from the best of both worlds: flexible work and in-person connection. Our research shows that some in-person time matters, but more time spent onsite beyond that does not necessarily yield more benefits. Instead, to create the most value for onboarding, be intentional, create structure, and provide an opportunity to meet in person, while giving new hires the flexibility to choose what works best for them to thrive in our hybrid world.

Onboarding, Hybrid work, Remote work, Employee retention, Business management, Human resource management, Employee engagement, Organizational learning, Digital Article

Dawn Klinghoffer,
Dawn Klinghoffer is the head of people analytics at Microsoft.

Karen Kocher,
Karen Kocher leads the future of work, workforce of the future and talent & learning experiences at Microsoft.

Natalie Luna
Natalie Luna is on Microsoft’s employee listening team, leading employee lifecycle and daily surveys, and researching onboarding, culture and hybrid ways of working.

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