Corporate onboarding and digital onboarding: meaning, design and examples

It has been known since Plato's time that "the beginning is the most important part of the work." What does this mean? And what does this have to do with the business dynamics of resource management? On closer inspection, it has a lot to do with it. In this guide we will discuss Onboarding in 360 degrees, finding out together what it is, what role it plays, and how to plan for new hires' acclimatization to the company. Starting with the definitions of corporate onboarding and digital onboarding, and arriving at the more technological declinations of the process, we will discover together the opportunities for good onboarding and the benefits it provides to companies and workers.

share on

Reading Time: 15 minutes


Onboarding: translation and meaning

As is well known, words are important. So let’s start right there, to understand more closely what value an onboarding process has for a company and a worker who, in this company, begins a journey. Let’s start with the definition of the English word “onboarding,” which literally translated means “on boarding.” Beyond the literal translation of “onboarding,” let’s try to specify further. “Getting someone on board” is equivalent to “welcoming,” “onboarding,” and, as a result, “facilitating the start of a new experience,” “amalgamating a team and a process,” giving-in other words-a person, all the tools to start doing their job and to approach, as quickly as possible, the time when they can be considered a productive resource for the company.

So far are we there?

The onboarding plan is a real structured plan, an articulated process that aims to facilitate the insertion and acclimatization of a newly hired employee, with all the appropriate information and knowledge, as well as the necessary tools, to accompany him/her in the direction of becoming a productive component of the reality in which he/she has joined. Here, in simple words, is the meaning of onboarding. A process, then, that every company adopts to initiate the employment journey of new employees internally and that goes far beyond individual “welcome” practices, specific “kits,” or occasional shadowing by colleagues. In the next few paragraphs, we are going to dissect this definition in order to drop it as concretely as possible into the experiences and situations that companies and new hires may face.

What is corporate onboarding

Given the appropriate definitions, let us turn to practice. To do so-that is, to understand more closely what corporate onboarding means-let us try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who, onboarding, live it. So let us imagine new hires, or even simply, newcomers to an environment (in this case, work). The greatest risk, and the one that good onboarding practices aim to avoid, is that of feeling “thrown” into a world that does not belong to us, whose dynamics, people, values, processes we do not know. In other words: feeling lost. Vessel-at-sea syndrome, you know? This can happen if HR, in structuring the new resource’s entry into the company, makes the mistake of imagining him or her as a potentially productive worker or employee in zero time. As we know, this is not possible. Corporate onboarding aims precisely at planning, in the necessary time and space, those actions that will accompany the new or newly hired employee toward that goal. To do so, it may seem trivial, but it is not, those who begin a new professional adventure must first be able to familiarize themselves with:

  • people
  • values and culture
  • processes
  • domestic policies
  • the tools

of the company. Know them, understand them, feel them as your own. To make this happen, it is crucial to organize the first days and weeks of a new resource (one can start even before the first day and continue beyond the first weeks, we will see later). Doing so will give the right coordinates to people to avoid the so-called “fish out of water” effect and will allow, both the organization and the resource, an inherent saving of time (in tendency), to approach at the right pace the business goals that are set.

The onboarding process aims to facilitate, among other things:

  • Familiarization with colleagues;
  • integration in the company;
  • The motivation of new hires;
  • a sense of belonging.

It thus aims to give those starting out in a new work organization the tools they need to get going.

Onboarding and orientation: synonyms or differences?

Before going into detail about the various steps that constitute the corporate onboarding process, let’s clarify one doubt. What is the difference between onboarding and orientation? It may, in fact, have occurred to you to hear about orientation in the past and now you may not be clear about the difference. To simplify, we could say that orientation is one part of a larger, more complex process that is onboarding, but it does not exhaust it.

Onboarding is a 360-degree corporate inclusion process, while orientation provides the resource with an overview of:

  • mission
  • vision
  • objectives
  • policies

of the company.
The onboarding plan, however, also involves other key aspects such as training and socialization.

Orientation is typically a one-time process, while onboarding is an ongoing process, which, as we said, does not end in one episode, covers multiple sessions and involves multiple figures (as we shall see) and even different spaces in the company.

What the onboarding process in the company consists of

Summarizing what has been said so far and suggesting a more detailed address, we could say that onboarding in the company consists of the set of activities that enable an appropriate start of a new human resource’s work in the company.

Through the onboarding process, one should be able to impart, to the worker or employee, the foundations, in terms of knowledge of company values and culture, inclusion in social/relational dynamics, and acquisition of the useful tools to become efficient and productive team members, within the expected time frame. This will help the newly hired employee’s motivation and optimize the company’s investment, which will be able to count on a strong employee-organization bond from the outset, and will thus see reduced employee and collaborator turnover (talent retention).

We will see in more ne detail what makes an onboarding, a good onboarding, but summarizing we can say that it should be:

  • appropriately planned;
  • widespread;
  • Divided into stages;
  • Where possible, verified.

Why onboarding is important

But let’s take a step back and see together why onboarding is so important, considering both points of view, namely that of the organization accompanying a new human resource in starting his or her job, and that of the new employee or new hire debuting a new professional experience. Let us try to summarize, by points, some of the main benefits of good onboarding, both sides.

Benefits and advantages for the company

Imagine a new player joining a team. The team, and the coach, have every interest in getting the “newcomer” off to the most effective start, developing in a structured manner, at the right times, and involving the proper resources. Why? Very simple. Let’s see it together.

  1. Because this will increase the “new player’s” sense of belonging to the team and make him feel motivated. Translated: if that player is a talent, the team will bond with him. Stepping out of the sports metaphor, we could say that well-thought-out and implemented corporate onboarding will help retain the most qualified employees, who will have felt appropriately welcomed from the first moment.
  2. If the ultimate goal is the pursuit of productivity, this is the right foot with which to begin the journey. Because a clear understanding of one’s role, one’s goals, and the company system one has joined will be a necessary and indispensable starting point for workers on the path to full productivity. And just from proper onboarding comes that kind of awareness.
  3. The savings in time (and therefore money) associated with training and starting new hires is a no small benefit to the company, which, by investing in effective onboarding, will guard against the risk of excessive turnover.

Benefits and advantages for the newly hired employee

Let us now try to step into the shoes of the employee again, at his or her “kick-off” in the company. What can a well-structured and comprehensive onboarding plan guarantee him? Equally simple. Let’s find out.

  1. First of all, motivate. As we were saying, feeling valued by a reality that shows that it cares about your reception and placement, planning it, giving you time to understand your and your colleagues’ roles and tasks, the goals to strive for and the tools available to you, will make you feel “accompanied” and thus shelter you from the “abandonment at sea” syndrome you too often run the risk of running into at the start of a new professional experience that is not properly supported.
  2. It improves employee engagement, because it helps them feel as quickly as possible that they are part of the team, useful and productive members, without the risk of boredom, a sense of worthlessness, and struggle to keep up. The connection with the company is activated immediately. And the sense of belonging accordingly.
  3. It reduces stress and contributes to thepositive start of the work experience. Feeling from the beginning that you are in charge of very specific tasks (such as may be detailed training programs, acquaintance meetings, etc.) facilitates positive inclusion and enjoyment of the first hours/days of work…don’t you agree?

How to do onboarding from start to finish

How then to set up an effective onboarding plan? Where to start? How do you organize it? Let us try to give the answers to these questions by identifying: when, how and who. Let’s start.


When does onboarding begin? The answer might seem obvious: the first day of work. In fact, it is possible to anticipate the start of the pathway even to the days leading up to day 1 of the new hire. From the moment the candidate accepts the offer, it is conceivable to initiate a series of activities aimed at his or her involvement or preparation for his or her first days on the job.

In the so-called Preonboarding stage, it is possible:

  • Engage the resource in informal socializing with colleagues. If, for example, a company dinner, a cocktail party, or a small team building event is already planned, it is advisable to extend to the newly hired employee, even if he or she has not formally started work yet. This will help him reduce some of the pressure and anxiety he will necessarily feel weighing on his own first day.
  • Setting up his workstation, his work tools, everything he will need to leave (desk, computer, monitor, mouse, headset, welcome kit, etc.), comforted by the feeling that someone has arranged everything so that when he arrives everything will be ready.
  • Anticipate to colleagues and other workers something about the new resource, inviting them to actively participate in its welcome.
  • Define in detail the onboarding plan that will start on Day 1 and designate a buddy (a mentor, a facilitator of the onboarding of new hires, we will see more about this later).

At startup, in the very first days of onboarding, there will be time to:

  • Introduce the worker to his colleagues.
  • Share policies, procedures and pillars of corporate culture.
  • Initiate specific training.
  • Complete all paperwork.
  • Provide appropriate information sessions.

After the first week of work, onboarding continues with:

  • Feedback system and related follow up, to understand how it is going.
  • Continuing education.

Another mistake not to make is to think that onboarding can be considered completed in a few days or weeks. Considering a resource already perfectly established when acclimatization has not yet been completed is, in fact, to be avoided, so that the resource does not feel lost, left to its own devices, essentially, of little use. There is no definite rule telling us how long onboarding should take, this depends on many factors, but generally it could take as long as two or three months.


Concretely, what actions are taken during the onboarding of a newly hired employee? Let’s give some examples.

  • Company tour;
  • Buddy shadowing;
  • Training focused on the tools and programs in use, procedures;
  • Sharing the goals of the first weeks/months;
  • Training focused on culture, company policies, company history, organizational chart, products and services, competitors, standards of conduct and safety;
  • Socialization and labor integration activities;
  • In-person discussion sessions in which to create communication channels and stimulate feedback, requests for help/clarification.


Okay, we have defined what needs to be done, but who does it? Who is responsible for onboarding a new hire into the company? The answer, as you might imagine, is simple: several people. The reception and accompaniment of new hires cannot be entrusted to one person, that much is clear. All colleagues must be involved so that the new resource feels welcomed by the entire team, across the board.

That said, there are two figures we will focus on. The manager and the buddy.

Why is it important for a manager to be actively involved, and have a primary role, in the process of onboarding a figure? Soon said. He must act as the glue (and link), between the team and the newcomer or newcomer. Being a point of reference from the start will mean showing yourself to be present, helpful and attentive to people. It will help create a serene environment in which the resource person will feel comfortable and accompanied in starting the new journey. It will help create closeness and avoid distances that, in the long run, would slow down the start of effective productivity.

The figure of the onboarding buddy is then increasingly common in the Italian and international corporate landscape. Literally buddy means “friend” or “companion.” Basically, he is a “mentor,” a figure of reference for the newly hired person and a facilitator of the “induction” actions of new resources. He or she is an experienced figure, tending to be of the same age as the new employee, albeit with potentially different backgrounds and roles, previously designated to accompany the new resource as he or she begins his or her work experience. It will ensure an empathetic, “friendly” and informal welcome, unraveling the inevitable doubts of the first days and accompanying the new colleague through the various stages of onboarding.


Digital Onboarding

The onboarding process, as we said, can consist of different tools, practices, roles and actions. These range from a welcome kit, to meeting in the company with colleagues, to an aperitif to “melt the ice,” to training, which can be in-person or remote. In this regard, let us now focus on a specific type of approach to onboarding,digital onboarding.

We have already addressed how delicate the process of settling into a new work ecosystem can be for a new resource. That is why every detail of the new hire’s first days and weeks must be studied and planned as best as possible, and it is undeniable that to maximize certain aspects (of effectiveness, economic sustainability, retention, etc.) in several cases technology can help (and not a little). Even in the process of welcoming “newcomers” these days, digital tools cannot be ignored.

Let’s take a closer look at what is meant by digital onboarding. This definition encompasses the set of digital tools and technologies that are adopted to refine the dynamics of corporate onboarding of new employees. As is natural, onboarding is unlikely to be exhausted in digital onboarding actions, because the human component is an ingredient that cannot be done without, even today, in the process of welcoming and initiating a new person.

However, as always, to better understand, let us give some examples of digital tools that make life easier (of HR and beyond 😊):

  • Online platforms ⇒ For example, intranets, LMS (Learning Management System) and generally restricted areas that can enable employees and contractors to “discover” their new work environment, find information, find documentation, train, etc.
  • Software ⇒ For example, HR software. Onboarding in HR is of great importance: after all, it constitutes the first action structured and thought out around a new human resource, and, again, technology can make the job easier. Among the first important procedures and information to be “passed on” to the newcomer or newcomer may be the many activities pertaining to the sphere of “personnel management,” such as timesheet, or collaboration, among others.
  • App ⇒ With an onboarding App, remote onboarding actions can be easily envisioned that can better distribute in time and space the activities with which a new resource is required to contend, in the early days, in a new job. Can onboarding in app be done? Of course, it can be done. We will see this later with also concrete examples, of realities that have imagined and developed attractive apps to ensure fireworks onboarding. However, and we will see this again and again later when talking about the advantages and disadvantages of digital onboarding, it is good to remember not to delegate everything to an app, no matter how well done it may be.

Gamification in onboarding

We have talked in depth about gamification in E-learning, but let’s see together how this methodology can, appropriately leveraged, also improve the corporate onboarding process and the retention of new hires. First, let us start by giving a definition of gamification.

Gamification refers to a methodology that uses and puts to use elements typical of play, outside of playful contexts, such as, for example, training, or, in this case, onboarding.

Through the use of mechanics and elements that we are used to finding, for example, in video games, such as quests, scores, rankings, badges and rewards, the aim will be to make the process that, once on board, necessarily involves each new recruit more engaging.

Imagine then that you have to acquire the procedures, rules, processes or know the people and roles once you are in. What if in order to do so, we are involved in a kind of “game”? What if that innate psychological component of ours that leads us to get excited about taking part in a competition is activated, even if there are no special prizes up for grabs? You know the competitiveness that comes with evenings with friends around a boxed game? Games give meaning to experiences, characterize them and make them unforgettable. In this sense, to think about and structure a “gamified and compelling onboarding,” storytelling also comes to our aid (read more about storytelling in E-learning).

Knowing how to baste a good story is already a good part of the job, which will be completed with playful gimmicks of gamification functional precisely to engagement, with mechanics of rewards, recognition, feedback, more original and less traditional.

  • A concrete example of this is with the British consulting and auditing firm
    . The insight, in this case, was to organize the new hires into real teams: each team member collaborates with the others to find the right answers to questions related to the company’s policies, procedures, and ethical references. Onboarding, in this case begins with a real virtual tour of the company (virtual onboarding), just like in a video game. The result is to challenge the newly hired employees right away, activating and stimulating them, without pouring mere information on them, but stimulating, among other things, their sense of belonging to the group (team).

Examples of onboarding

Speaking of training, digital onboarding is a well-established reality, and very often through special E-learning courses, key information and concepts are conveyed to new hires, which should be the necessary prerequisite for their active presence in the company.

A well-structured new employee onboarding course can gather within it basics and important principles. Let’ s look together at some previews of E-learning onboarding courses we have worked on with our clients, to touch on some examples

  • Do you know where our locations are? We can find out with simple clicks, browsing a course as we are used to doing with the web pages we browse every day.
  • Need guidance to better understand the company’s Code of Ethics, Organizational Model, protocol and specific procedures? Probably a step-by-step Digital Avatar is what you need…
  • There are instances when a digital onboarding training course can make you Get on board while also maintaining a very close connection with human resources, figures and roles which, from here on, will form staples of your daily work routine, for example by introducing video contributions to welcome or train key figures in the company.

Digital onboarding: advantages vs. disadvantages

Speaking of the pros and cons of digital onboarding, we can state it openly at the outset: the balance, from our point of view, is skewed toward the benefits.

Here is a summary and non-exhaustive list of the benefits of digital onboarding:

  • Increased chances of retaining talent, so-called talent retention;
  • Greater and more immediate productivity of new resources;
  • Increased level of engagement of the onboarding process;
  • Cost containment, in terms of time and money, of resource onboarding;
  • Streamlining of administrative processes;
  • Efficiency of process investment;
  • Untying the temporal and spatial ties of onboarding;
  • Dematerialization of a process.

Among the disadvantages we feel we can count one possibility that, quite simply, it is good to guard against when planning an onboarding plan; that is, the exclusive reliance of the onboarding process on digital tools. When not appropriately joined, in some key passages, by one or more “real” colleagues, the risk that might set in is that sense of “horror vacui” we mentioned at the beginning. Whereas, properly coupled with moments of welcome, restitution and accompaniment, digital onborading is an accelerator of independence and productivity. That is why, the preferred form of onboarding is often blended onboarding. Blended onboarding is a hybrid onboarding model that combines in-person activities with digital activities. Let us see in more detail what this is all about in the next section.

Blended onboarding

Blended onboarding is the result of combining a traditional induction approach with online onboarding: concretely, it amounts to mixing face-to-face sessions with distance activities (through LMS, Intranet, Web, media of various kinds, etc.). It starts with the realization that no matter how facilitating new technologies may be (in terms of saving time, optimizing the process, and properly distributing the cognitive load), not everything (and not always) can be freed from an “in-person” step.

If a new resource has the opportunity to learn information and procedures in a blended mode, integrating in-person shadowing with learning through interactive videos, games, and virtual tours, it will benefit in terms of flexibility and fluidity of the onboarding process. Because, as we said, 100 percent digitized onboarding would risk compromising the new hire’s feeling of integration into the work team.

So, ultimately: what kind of onboarding is right to favor? The hybrid one. Definitely.

Let’s think about it. The human component is sometimes inescapable. When? For example, in the introduction to colleagues. Meeting the people with whom you will share your work time, whom you will physically meet on a near-constant basis, is a key activity of a new person’s induction into the company and necessarily must also come through glances and handshakes. The company tour can also take place as we have seen through apps or digital instrumentation, but the added value of a first coffee or welcome drink with the team, is not replaceable by any remote meeting on Zoom, do you agree?

In parallel, there are activities that, approached as a game or challenge to be undertaken in a platform, immersive environment, potentially always with you thanks to your smartphone, might be more effective. Think, for example, of trainings on specific software procedures.

In medio stat virtus, said the Latins.

Frog Learning for onboarding in the enterprise

Has everything we’ve told you so far on the topic of corporate onboarding and digital onboarding intrigued you? Very well, because know that all these considerations, the insights offered and the examples we have dwelt on, are but a part of the vast world into which we are very willing to accompany you. If you are eager to learn more, please feel free to contact us and let’s have a chat.

share on

Others like you have read:
blended learning
Blended Learning: how to make corporate training effective

Reading Time: 12 minutes That E-learning has changed the way training is a well-known fact by now. Since its establishment, however, two opposing schools of thought have stood out. The former has given full support to online learning, proving itself open to the novelties and countless possibilities offered by technology. The second, however, has distanced itself from it, continuing to prefer traditional learning modes.

That is, until attempts were made to make them coexist by making courses that could take advantage of the strengths of both. After numerous attempts, and with the support of increasingly developed technology, the potential of this methodological approach became apparent. Blended learning has thus begun to be talked about.

Read more
webinar tecnologie cognitive
Webinar.The Real Impact of Cognitive Technologies in E-Learning.

Reading Time: 3 minutes Is Artificial Intelligence really changing the way E-learning is done or is it just an illusion?
If it is not, how can it be effectively integrated by making a real impact in training?
Together with isEazy we will address these questions during the upcoming webinar, with the aim of exploring the subject matter analytically and critically.

Read more
Webinar. The ingredients for starry Digital Onboarding: the Cannavacciuolo case

Reading Time: 2 minutes We are ready for a new webinar by Frog Learning. How about you?
In the next appointment we will explore digital onboarding, a key process for the effective integration of new employees. We will tell you how an innovative and well-structured onboarding plan can generate positive effects in terms of retention and retention of new talent. To do so, we will look at the case history of Cannavacciuolo Group.

Read more
Sign up for our Newsletter

Take the Leap Forward in E-Learning training for Companies!

Logo frog learning