What Is Preboarding? (And How It Can Help Employees Ramp Up Faster)

Richa Singla

A great onboarding program can help you build a highly engaged, productive team. But if you’ve already been following the most common onboarding advice, you might realize there’s still something missing. When you lose three promising new employees in one quarter (two of which never came in on their first day of work), you might be wondering if there’s a way you could up the ante and start building loyalty from the moment that contract is signed.

You’re not alone. Millennials tend to switch jobs much faster than any other generation, and it is costing the economy close to 30.5 billion dollars each year. Finding the right talent and keeping them engaged is an uphill battle. Quality onboarding can help, but research shows that one in five employees who sign on the dotted lines never show up on that crucial first day.

First impressions matter, and that feeling of belonging that blooms in the first days and weeks in your new job is one that never totally fades away. That being the case, it’s crucial for businesses to make sure every new employee truly feels like part of the company as soon as they walk in the door.

The good news is, there is a way to foster engagement from the beginning — before the first day. With preboarding, you start earning your new employees' loyalty and trust the moment you’ve finalized their placement.

Here, we’ll look at what preboarding is and how it differs from the onboarding you already do so well. We’ll also share six practical strategies to engage your employees even before their first day.

What is Preboarding?

Put simply, preboarding is the phase of new employee engagement that begins the day they sign on the dotted line and ends when they officially start their new roles. It’s a way of introducing your new employees to your company before ‘real work’ begins, with all the potential stressors that might include.

Though preboarding is often overlooked by busy HR teams, it has some incredible potential. Effective preboarding goes beyond administrative tasks and focuses on building rapport to prepare and acclimate new employees to company culture and expectations. It also boosts morale and gives your new hires a reason to be excited about their future with your company.

Preboarding vs. Onboarding: What’s the Difference?

Onboarding and preboarding are very similar, but they aren’t completely the same.

Onboarding (and orientation) is the process of introducing a new employee to the company, beginning on their first day and continuing for weeks (sometimes months) until they are a fully functioning team member. Though it often focuses primarily on training and integration interventions, a great onboarding program will also include fun elements and activities designed to increase engagement and loyalty.

The key aspect that sets preboarding apart from traditional onboarding is the timeline. Preboarding begins before an employee’s official start date, shortly after they sign a contract of employment. It is also more about information sharing, setting expectations, and building rapport. During preboarding, you may provide login information, a map, some gifts, or other helpful resources before the employee’s first day.

To be clear, preboarding doesn’t replace onboarding. Instead, it’s meant to optimize the onboarding process by helping the employee come prepared on their first day.

What Are the Benefits of Employee Preboarding?

Even in the most engagement-driven companies, there are gaps where the employee experience could be significantly improved. Preboarding fills some of those gaps. It enables your employees to have the best start possible by improving the onboarding experience, enhancing communication, and reducing time to productivity.

The extra engagement you create through a thoughtfully run preboarding program will produce significant dividends over an employee’s entire career at the company. As loyalty increases, your retention rates will soar too.

Let’s look at how each of these benefits looks in practice:

Improved Onboarding Experience

Even your most confident new hire has a secret trepidation of walking into something completely unknown. Giving your brand new employees information about the company, its culture, and role expectations before the first day gives them a feeling of excitement and readiness that will lead to more engagement and the motivation to work hard.

From here, you’ll have the wind in your sails during the entire onboarding experience. Your new hire will finish the process with a great impression of your company and far more know-how than if they had walked in blind.

Reduced Time-to-Productivity

There’s another entirely practical reason preboarding should be a core offering of every HR department: paperwork. Rather than save all the paperwork for day one, giving your new employees a chance to tackle it from the comfort of their homes reduces that first day stress and enables them to reach peak productivity more quickly. Providing pre-start access to online training is also a great way to save time and resources.

Enhanced Communication and Relationship-Building

It’s not all red tape and training: preboarding is about building relationships, too. Setting up open lines of communication with your new hires before their first day enables you to address any concerns or questions just as soon as they pop up. This way, new employees won’t have to ask how to contact their manager or other departments — they already have those resources.

With better communication, building trust and understanding has never been easier. As employees transition from preboarding to onboarding and onto daily team life, you’ll find that morale among new employees reaches a new high.

Increased Retention and Engagement

That high morale isn’t a transitory thing. Managed well, it can last for an employee’s whole career at your organization. The early connections built between a new hire and your company during preboarding foster a lasting sense of belonging and investment in their role.

Your initial investment in their engagement and morale will color their whole relationship with your company, setting the foundations for a highly productive, loyal career. Employee retention rates will go up, as will your engagement stats.

6 Specific Strategies To Implement Preboarding

Now that you have a good grasp on the benefits of preboarding when it comes to productivity, retention, and the new hire experience, you’re probably wanting to set up a preboarding program as soon as possible. The good news is that a great preboarding program can be set up quickly and easily, and it doesn’t have to break your budget.

While some strategies work best in person, others can be used even for remote workers. The key is to go beyond basic administrative tasks and make new hires feel valued and excited. Here are six strategies to get your new hires engaged before their first day on the job:

 1. Answer Questions About What to Expect (Before They Ask)

Being available to answer questions is great, but it’s even better if you start by answering questions your new hires haven’t even had to ask. You can provide clarity and reduce anxiety for new hires by communicating important information such as start time, dress code, parking, and reporting structure. Send these over in an email or compile them as a standard part of your employee handbook (which you’ll want to distribute after they sign a contract). After all, knowledge is power and empowered employees are the kind that will take your organization to new heights.

2. Create a Welcome Pack of Company Merch

Sometimes, gifting an employee with company merch can feel like giving your friend a portrait of yourself at their birthday party. Otherwise, a branded stress ball or keychain just gives your employees more things to throw away.

However, if done right, providing merch can still be a worthwhile strategy. The key is to keep it simple and try to pick items new hires will actually use. Consider items like:

These can all be valuable welcoming gifts because they are likely to be used in the office. On top of that, it’s important to choose quality items. You want this to be your new employee's favorite shirt (e.g., a nice cotton shirt with your company’s logo). You want the pen to be the one they grab whenever they need a good one — consider a nice rollerball with a good grip.

In the merch box or welcome pack, it’s also a good idea to include a customized message to help your new hire feel valued and connected to the company culture. Include their name and express your hopes for them as an employee. In short, it’s important to keep the welcome pack practical but memorable.

3. Get the Admin Out of the Way

While building rapport with your new hire is an important part of preboarding, so is the administrative work. Streamlining paperwork before the new hire’s first day can be a freeing experience for both the new employee and the HR office.

During preboarding, you can complete administrative tasks like:

You can also offer them early access to relevant documentation and the employee handbook. Make sure someone is available to help at any sticky spots or provide one-on-one assistance when necessary.

TIP: Be careful not to present your new employee with a massive preboarding checklist of administrative burdens. It’s far more important to build excitement and help them prepare for their new role. Keep your admin work focused on the essential stuff during the preboarding stage.

4. Create a Company-Wide Announcement of the New Arrival

The new hire shouldn’t be the only one excited at the prospect of starting a new job. It helps tremendously with morale if their coworkers are also excited about the new addition to their team.

Creating a company-wide announcement of the new arrival is a great way to make sure everyone is ready to welcome your newest employee. Try sending a welcome email, a social media post, or even a physical notice in some central gathering spot. Include relevant information about the new hire’s background, start date, and role. Sharing personal anecdotes or highlights from the hiring process can help set up a spirit of camaraderie even before that first day comes and make the team feel they are welcoming a friend rather than an unknown face.

5. Invite Them to a Preboarding Hangout or Company Event

To take things a step further, consider inviting your new hire to a preboarding hangout with the new team or to meet people at a company event. An invite to an informal event that reflects your company culture can be a great way to help new hires build relationships before day one and establish a sense of belonging with the company.

Whether it’s pizza night at a local Italian restaurant, a tailgate BBQ at a local baseball game, or an office expedition to the nearest golf course, a low-stakes opportunity to meet team members can be worth its weight in gold. With larger teams, it may be more practical to schedule these events in accordance with a regular hiring cycle.

Of course, if in-person meets are completely impractical, a virtual meetup can still work. The goal is to give everyone a chance to introduce themselves without the pressure of the workday influencing the social dynamics.

6. Provide Early Access to Your Learning Platforms

Many companies provide access to company learning platforms and resources on day one. However, first day stress and a huge demand for the new hire’s time means that these platforms hardly ever get the attention they deserve.

It is far better to grant hires early access to all the company learning platforms and give them a chance to familiarize themselves with company culture, processes, and training materials before they jump into onboarding.

Early access also helps promote a culture of continuous learning and development from the day your new employee signs up. A culture of learning will remain an asset for far more than the first weeks or months. You’re setting your new employees up for success throughout their career when you show them where to find the information and resources they need right from the get-go.

Tips for Better Preboarding Experiences

Here are a few essential tips to keep in mind as you design your company’s unique preboarding experience for new hires. While the six strategies above provide a framework for a good preboarding process, these tips can help you optimize that framework for success by overcoming common obstacles.

Simplify the Process

It’s easy to be so tempted by all the potential preboarding activities out there that you want to do it all. With every potential move and piece of instruction promising huge dividends to your new employees, it's hard to know where to draw the line.

But preboarding is one area where more isn’t necessarily better. A complex preboarding process will leave your new hire confused, overwhelmed, and utterly unsure.

So choose carefully, streamline your offerings, and focus on quality rather than quantity. Provide a clear and organized schedule of any events. A preboarding checklist, like an onboarding checklist, can be a good idea — but make it short. Remember, you want this employee walking into day one feeling on top of the world.

Set Clear Expectations

The preboarding process is a time to set clear expectations. Your aim should be for that new employee to walk into that first week of work knowing exactly what is expected of them in their new role. Access to the company handbook is certainly one way to do this, but try to think outside the box to bring expectations to the forefront.

You could ask current employees to film ‘a day in the life’, for instance, or prepare a snapshot of the day for your new employee to read over. Offering the opportunity for your new hire to ‘hang out’ virtually for an afternoon and watch what’s going on in the office is another great way to get the new team member acclimated to how things work.

Personalize to Reflect Company Culture

A generic approach to preboarding might help you get some admin out of the way, but it won’t raise morale among your new hires. If you want to be truly effective, you need to personalize your preboarding experience to align with your company's unique culture. What is your company about, and what matters to you? Choose personalized experiences that reflect what sets you apart (a dance party, an extreme sports event, a beer tasting, etc.), and you’ll find your preboarding resonates strongly with new hires who are a perfect fit for your company.

Engage and Make it Memorable

The preboarding phase is an ideal time to engage with your new employees and find out their hopes, fears, and expectations for the job ahead. First-day jitters are a normal part of a new job, but what are they looking forward to? What are their biggest worries?

Assign a mentor or guide to each new hire who can feel out pain points and make a plan for conquering any difficulties. Is the new person feeling nervous about coming in late that first day? The mentor can help provide a map of the area with parking information to soothe those worries. Are they concerned about a confusing organizational structure? An experienced team member can draw a chart explaining who reports to whom.

A memorable preboarding experience is one that is tailored to each new employee’s needs, making them feel heard and understood.

Foster Connections with Managers

You want your new employee to feel comfortable with everyone on the team, but there’s no one more important in terms of connection than the reporting manager. One way to do this is to arrange a lunch or coffee meeting with the employee’s direct manager during the preboarding stage: a low-key time to build rapport and get to know the people they will be working under.

Keep expectations for this meetup at a minimum. You’ll want the new employee to feel comfortable fielding any questions they might have and also be free to simply relax and connect on a social level.

Maintain Ongoing Communication

Make ongoing communication a priority from the moment the job offer has been accepted. Slack is one great way to keep in touch with new hires, and inviting a new team member into all the appropriate channels before day one can ease them into team communication more effectively.

But communication should be more than just group chats. Encourage managers to send each new employee a personal message at the beginning of the preboarding period, making themselves available to answer questions on Slack, by phone, or in whatever medium is preferred. A personal check-in by a new coworker the day before the new job begins can also be a wonderful way to cap off the preboarding program.

Use Software to Streamline The Hiring Process

Keeping track of your onboarding and preboarding workflows, new hire data, and KPIs can be overwhelming, especially for a large team. The first day is bound to be full of hiccups — it’s best not to add technical difficulties or information mismanagement to the mix. You need software that can help you manage and streamline your hiring and onboarding process for efficiency.

Using human capital management (HCM) software like Criterion, you can:

Rather than relying on manual methods to manage your processes, use software built for HR professionals to make the preboarding experience as smooth as possible for new hires.

Final Thoughts

Your onboarding program may already be great, and your training might be top-quality in your industry, but there’s something powerful in making an intentional effort to improve an employee’s first impression. Preboarding may just be what your company needs to improve your employee experience.

The key is to take time to personalize your approach to each new employee. That initial feeling of belonging may carry an employee for several years at your company. As you gather insights and feedback from new hires, you’ll be able to make adjustments to provide a truly exceptional preboarding experience.

That said, improving any part of your onboarding means investing in the right resources. With Criterion HCM, you can streamline your preboarding process to allow your new employees a smooth transition to success. Our single-database platform provides both new and seasoned employees a central way to engage with your company and access the resources they need to perform at their best. We’ll even integrate with any existing third-party software to create a truly seamless experience.

Why wait? Book a demo of Criterion to see how our HCM can level up your onboarding and preboarding process today.

Richa Singla
HCM Implementation Manager
HCM Implementation Manager with 12+ years of experience across Professional services, Solutions and Business Strategy Consulting.

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