This blog is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

The onboarding process for new employees is a critical phase that is potentially impacted by the new era of hybrid work. The onboarding process involves the socialization of newcomers to organizational culture and becoming familiar with work and colleagues, which helps newcomers transition from being outsiders to engaged and satisfied insiders. While factors that can sustain or inhibit the onboarding process have been studied, the challenge now is understanding how the process unfolds in hybrid work contexts.

Hybrid work comes with its own set of challenges that could inhibit the adjustment of newcomers, such as developing knowledge about their work roles and organization, establishing relationships with colleagues, and developing affective commitment to the organization. Remote work, in particular, can undermine the effectiveness of the onboarding process by causing social isolation and stress due to the intensive use of technology. It can also affect perceptions of support that newcomers receive from the organization and their supervisors, which are crucial for a positive onboarding experience.

The Center for Employee Relations and Communication (CERC), a research center at Università IULM focusing on employee relations and communication, conducted a study exploring the factors that can impact the effectiveness of newcomer onboarding in hybrid work contexts. A survey was conducted with 109 newcomers who began working in their current organization after January 2021 and worked remotely for at least one day a week. The questionnaire used validated scales to measure newcomer adjustment, affective commitment, workplace social isolation, technostress, perceived organizational support, and perceived supervisor support.

The study produced reassuring findings about the effectiveness of onboarding processes in hybrid work contexts but also highlighted areas for improvement. Findings showed that hybrid work did not impede the possibility of effective onboarding and newcomer adjustment. However, there was notable room for improvement regarding new employees’ knowledge of work roles and the organization. A greater concern was a finding that respondents had weak emotional bonds with their organizations.

While remote work can impact the onboarding process, it does not entirely prevent effective onboarding. Companies should pay attention to certain factors to facilitate successful onboarding in a hybrid work environment.

Key findings from the study include:
— Newcomers perceived a lack of face-to-face contact and informal communication with colleagues due to remote working, but did not feel highly socially isolated overall.
— The stress level associated with technology was not high for the survey sample, but companies should address the pressure that employees feel to work faster and keep technological skills updated.
—- The sample, which consisted mostly of young people up to the age of 25, might have greater familiarity with technology. This familiarity may have mitigated perceptions of social isolation and stress due to tech.
— New employees said they received discreet support from both the organization and supervisors. Organizations showed this through tolerance for errors, listening to employee opinions, and attention to well-being.

Overall, findings suggest that the hybrid work context has an impact on the onboarding process for newcomers. While face-to-face interaction, informal communication, and newcomer adjustment are jeopardized, newcomers tend to feel at ease as they do not experience excessive social isolation and stress, which can be attributed to the extensive use of technology.
Since organizational and managerial support play a crucial role in helping newcomers integrate, companies should prioritize strategies that ensure new employees still feel supported, even in hybrid work contexts. By doing so, organizations can effectively onboard new employees and help them succeed in their roles.

Alessandra Mazzei is Director of the Centre for Employee Relations and Communication at Università IULM in Milan, where she is also Coordinator of the Bachelor Program in Corporate Communication and Public Relations. Her main research interests are: employee communication and engagement; organizational voice, silence and dissent; whistleblowing; diversity & inclusion; and internal crisis communication.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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