What is Onboarding, when does it start and which measures are recommended?

Onboarding Definition – the Admission and Integration of new Employees

How do you feel when you arrive for your first day of work in your new company and the new supervisor is surprised that you are starting today, no workstation has been set up yet and no working materials are available? Obviously, something has not gone well with onboarding. Onboarding is the process of taking on and integrating new employees into a company. The pictorial expression “Taking someone on board” therefore fits very well.

Who is Responsible for Onboarding?

In the narrow and more conventional sense it is the responsibility of the personnel management or the personnel department to accompany the process and all measures of the integration of new employees, e.g. to assign them to the workplace, to procure necessary working materials and to formulate first tasks in coordination with the superiors.

In a somewhat broader and more progressive sense, onboarding is the task of the entire company, and thus also of managers and colleagues, to support and promote the integration of new employees. In addition, it is a process that is also becoming increasingly important in areas such as project management or software development, as more and more people are working with external service providers who also need to be “on board”.

Onboarding - Welcome someone new with a litte note

Before their first day at work, future employees often ask themselves whether the decision for the new employer was the right one. This uncertainty becomes greater the more time elapses between signing the contract and starting work. This is where small gestures of appreciation can give new employees a good feeling.  A small note, a written greeting via e-mail or an invitation to a company party before the first working day encourages the decision to start with the company. These attentions can come from superiors or colleagues and should of course be meant seriously.

Onboarding in Practice

Phases during Onboarding

Onboarding is usually divided into three phases:

  • Preboarding is the period between signing the contract and the first working day. In practice, it can be observed in companies that this classic view is giving way to a more progessive one, according to which onboarding is already part of the application process.
  • In the orientation phase – often in the first two weeks of work – the new employee gets to know colleagues, superiors and processes. The aim is to organise familiarisation and lay the foundation for integration.
  • The actual induction of a new employee takes place in the third phase – meaningfully called integration. This is about coordinating expectations and gradually increasing the employee’s productivity in order to ideally make a mutually positive decision for continued cooperation after the agreed probationary period.


Types of Onboarding

Four different types of onboarding can be distinguished:

  • Formal onboarding addresses organisational aspects, e.g. workstation equipment, access authorisations, mail access, business cards etc.
  • Specialist onboarding includes the induction of new employees, the provision of information about the organisation, workflows, rules or meetings, as well as the acquisition of specialist knowledge.
  • Social onboarding focuses on contacts with colleagues, superiors, customers and the exchange with these contacts.
  • Cultural onboarding is about visions, values and principles of the organisation. Although it is advisable to communicate values and principles at an early stage, cultural onboarding is often a medium-term process, as there is a continuous comparison of communicated and lived values.


Conventional and Progressive Onboarding

In addition to the types mentioned, onboarding can also be divided into conventional and progressive aspects:

If onboarding is viewed progressively, the human factor moves more into focus and shifts the focus from fulfilling a task to working together as a team and between people. In this way, the loyalty of new employees to the company and their integration are promoted from the outset.

In the conventional sense, onboarding begins with the first working day of the new employee and usually ends with the expiry of an agreed trial period. In the progressive sense, onboarding can already be part of the application process. Organisations can

  • show new employees the concrete workplace,
  • organise meetings with the already active colleagues (and possibly also involve them in the selection process),
  • name common working materials and, if necessary, even offer the selection of optional devices and programs.

Such an approach offers a number of advantages:

  • Applicants know at an early stage where they will be working with whom and with what tools, and can use this information to make an informed decision.
  • Colleagues know who to look forward to and who to work with in the future.
  • And the company encourages the admission and integration of new employees at an early stage.

Another difference between conventional and progressive onboarding lies in the form of the employment relationship. Are we dealing with new permanent employees or temporary, external service providers such as project managers, software architects or software developers? In the case of a temporary collaboration, onboarding must take place much more quickly; fortunately, many service providers are familiar with the situation of quickly finding their way in a new working environment. This means that they know what to look out for and which tools, information and contacts are essential for their work.

Tips for Successful Onboarding

There are a number of measures that are relatively common in onboarding:

  • A bouquet of flowers, a small message at the new workplace, a greeting by the superior, the colleagues and possibly also the management gives new employees the feeling of being welcome.
  • The introduction of the colleagues with their tasks, the explanation of important procedures in the first days and the naming of contact persons make it easier to get to know each other and to get to know the company.
  • The joint arrangement of an induction plan and the subsequent communication within the team about it. In this way, all those involved know at an early stage where they stand and what they can expect. In the course of the induction plan, for example, training and further education measures or regular feedback rounds can be agreed upon.
  • The provision of the necessary work equipment. This point sounds very simple in theory and is very difficult for many organisations in practice. It is not enough to provide a laptop if it cannot dial into the network when programs and access rights are missing. It is not enough if the telephone set has not been activated with the correct setting in the telephone systems. Missing business cards or business cards with a misspelled names or job title are also not ideal. And what about a company badge, access rights or keys?

Some companies have had good experiences with a Buddy system. A buddy is a colleague who looks after a new employee, answers questions, establishes contacts with other colleagues and helps to master initial challenges.

Again and again, it is recommended to explain the company’s values. Apart from the fact that these should already be discussed when getting to know each other, it is not enough to name values. Values must be exemplified, only then do they provide orientation and help with onboarding.

Onboarding Remote

Und was passiert, wenn der neue Mitarbeiter an einem anderen Standort sitzt, vom Home Office aus agiert, und/oder in einer anderen Zeitzone aktiv ist? Immer wieder stehen Organisationen vor der Herausforderung, Mitarbeiter remote zu integrieren. Damit entfallen einige “übliche” Maßnahmen des sozialen Onboardings wie bspw. die klassische Vorstellung von Kollegen, ein Rundgang über das Firmengelände, der zwanglose Austausch in der Kaffeeküche oder das gemeinsame Mittagessen. Dennoch gibt es einige Dinge, die auch online gut funktionieren:

  • Die Bereitstellung von Arbeitsmaterialien wie bspw. einem “konfigurierten” Laptop inklusive aller notwendigen Programme, dem Zugang zu Dateien und Informationen z.B. per VPN, den Freigaben von Netzwerken usw.
  • Die proaktive Vernetzung durch Kollegen u.a. mittels vorhandener Collaboration-Tools oder Social Media Plattformen wie XING, LinkedIN, Twitter & Co.
  • Ein regelmäßiger telefonischer Austausch zwischen Vorgesetztem und dem neuem Mitarbeiter.
  • Ein kontinuierlicher Austausch zwischen Buddy und dem neuem Mitarbeiter.
  • Auch der Austausch in Form von Daily Meetings – bspw. jeden Morgen und jeden Abend – und eine moderierte Vernetzung fördert die Integration. Wissen die Beteiligten mit wem sie zusammenarbeiten, fällt diese Zusammenarbeit häufig leichter.
  • Ein klarer Einarbeitungsplan mit vereinbarten Meilensteinen und Zielen, mit kurzfristigen Tätigkeiten und mittelfristigen Aufgaben.
  • Die Durchführung von Retrospektiven und Lessons Learned Sessions.
  • Und last but not least: das Feedback und damit der offene Austausch untereinander. Was wünscht sich der neue Mitarbeiter? Wo sind Unklarheiten, wo gibt es Verbesserungspotentiale, was funktioniert gut, was könnte zukünftig noch besser funktionieren. Feedback ist die Basis für ein gelungenes Onboarding – offline und online. Und zwar für den neuen Mitarbeiter, die Organisation und künftige Mitarbeiter.


Challenges for Companies

Authenticity in Onboarding

Most companies want new employees to be able to perform the tasks for which they were hired as quickly as possible. New employees want to understand the company and its culture, find their way as quickly as possible in a new environment with new colleagues and processes, and know what is expected of them. For this to succeed in the long term, it is important to understand onboarding as a process. The process does not end on the first day of cooperation, but begins there at the latest. A joint exchange and the further development of the measures help to continuously improve onboarding. Authenticity is important here, because empty promises made via a website or in an interview are quickly noticed and do not contribute to the successful integration of new employees.

 An impulse to discuss:

It helps the team and the new employees if, during a daily exchange, they consider together at which points the new employees can be directly involved in the “actual” work – in addition to all the familiarisation tasks.


In some publications, a correlation is found between the increase in productivity of employees in the integration phase and the decrease in the risk of dismissal. Whether this correlation actually exists may be questioned, but it is certainly not linear.

The opposite of onboarding is offboarding. In the context of external services, offboarding is relatively common and usually structurally regulated, but in the context of fluctuation it can become a challenge for companies. 

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