The Charity Learning Consortium: Top tips for digital onboarding

Lisa Bateson

Lisa Bateson shares lessons learned from quickly hiring and onboarding over 500 newcomers to Shaw Trust. The charity’s induction program, which used e-learning provided by the Charity Learning Consortium, was shortlisted for the LPI Onboarding Program of the Year award.

Successful onboarding and onboarding programs allow new colleagues to quickly become effective in their role. Ideally, in this process, they have also made connections with their colleagues and manager.

“Success” could be broadly described as new entrants:

  • Understand what they should do
  • know how to do it
  • Appreciate how their role contributes to your organization’s strategic outcomes
  • What behaviors are expected of them
  • And how to live your values

A great onboarding and onboarding experience allows new employees to feel confident that they made the right decision to join you.

Before the pandemic, we could have gathered everyone in one room for a few days to practice. During the pandemic this was not possible and we used Microsoft Teams instead. Virtual inductions have become the norm for new colleagues – who would also be working from home during lockdown.

In October 2020, Shaw Trust began delivering a contract for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It was about helping people made unemployed by the Covid pandemic to return to work. This meant recruiting and onboarding over 500 new employees in phases. The new employees would all be from home, helping people over the phone or via Teams.

As the pandemic continued and we worked at such speed and scale, onboarding and onboarding was done exclusively on Teams.

The two-week initiation program

The two-week program started with our Welcome to Shaw Trust course, followed by a session that gave them an overview of the DWP contract they would be working on.

The first week of the initiation included all the mandatory training you would expect, most of which was delivered via e-learning provided by the Charitable Learning Consortium. This was interspersed with lectures and facilitated sessions that delved deeper into the DWP contract and their individual roles in its implementation. We have also scheduled time to meet and follow colleagues.

second week of the induction focused exclusively on the use of the information management system, where everyone had access to a dummy/training version to practice with.

The induction program was designed by myself and key stakeholders and has continued to evolve. After all our hard work, we were thrilled that it was shortlisted for the Learning and Performance Institute’s 2021 Onboarding Program of the Year award! We learned a lot of lessons along the way. Here are our tips for digital onboarding:

1. Think about how you can create a sense of community online, so newcomers can connect, learn together and support each other. For example, if you use Teams, you can create a community. Create a chat group for each new cohort and be the first to use it by introducing yourself. Launch a poll in chat and ask newcomers to vote on a nickname for their group. All of this helps people connect and create a sense of team.

2. Pay close attention to IT, to make sure you have everything in place to enable a induction:

  • Work closely with your IT team to ensure newcomers have everything they need at home from day one of onboarding
  • Review all information sent by IT to newcomers and test it. Is it friendly?
  • Before the induction program begins, start the first day with an informal walk-in computer surgery session, where newcomers can solve any problems.
  • Build time into your schedule from day one so that anyone with computer issues has plenty of time to resolve them. For example, extend the lunch hour
  • Ensure your IT team has people in place to support the influx of newcomers and potential troubleshooting on key dates
  • Have a backup plan in case someone has major computer problems. For example, copy all emails and meeting invites to their alternate/personal email addresses. This way they can join meetings using their personal devices if needed.
  • Provide support for the use of applications such as Teams on the first day of the orientation. We did a very light “that’s the basics” session, which included etiquette, to open the induction. This allows anyone unfamiliar with the apps you use to learn, relax, and engage.

3. Get the most out of the app you’re using! Use what’s at your disposal to create great learning experiences. For example, you can play music at the start of a session while waiting for everyone to join to avoid awkward silence. Use video and animation in your presentations. Build interaction through polls, quizzes, hands up, chat rooms, and whiteboards. Also use the chat function and encourage the use of emojis and GIFs.

4. To avoid Zoom fatigue, incorporate a mix of activities into your initiation schedule. For example, the day could start with a face-to-face lesson, where you can check in on how everyone is doing and make any adjustments. This could be followed by everyone working solo to complete an eLearning, then working in pairs and observing colleagues.

5. Engage with newcomers’ line managers. Share the onboarding plan with them and indicate where you gave them time to meet their new team member. Ask them to send meeting invitations for managers and new colleagues to meet.

6. Ask facilitators to join sessions early. We have found that our newcomers join their face-to-face classes early so they can chat and connect with their new colleagues. It’s also an informal opportunity to come back to what works well (or not), as well as to have the general atmosphere of the group.

7. Make sure welcome emails, guides, and FAQ documents are well-branded and well-written in plain English. Test them on your friends and family to make sure they make sense to someone outside the organization.

8. Ask a senior manager to welcome newcomers at the start of the program. They only need five minutes, but it can make a big difference.

9. If the orientation includes training on the use of customer information systems or similar, divide the large groups into smaller ones and organize parallel sessions. You will need more facilitators/trainers, but the return on investment is worth it.

10. Ensure facilitators/trainers are prepared for the virtual delivery. In particular, encourage presenters to make the best use of their voices. In the absence of full body language on Teams or Zoom, your voice – pitch, pace, and volume – becomes an important tool for keeping learners engaged.

Lisa Bateson is the learning and development business partner of Shaw Trust, a member of the Charitable Learning Consortium. She was interviewed by Michelle Parry-Slater, of Kairos Modern Learning, for the charity spotlight on Learning Now TV.

Norma A. Roth