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Feb 23, 2023 Daniel Broome

How to create the best onboarding experience for international hires

Onboarding is critical to your company's long-term success. Do it right, and you will likely have high employee retention and increased productivity. Do it wrong, and you will have high employee turnover, and those left will be unengaged and unmotivated. The problem is that only 12% of employers feel that their company did a great job onboarding them.

Of course, an onboarding programme that only involves a welcome email and a quick meeting with IT is unlikely to stir even the most enthusiastic employee. But even companies hiring in the same country, with a physical office, making a real effort to engage can still come up short. The problems for firms hiring internationally are amplified and include sundry legal and compliance issues. 

Here are some of the most important considerations to create the best onboarding experiences for international employees.

Start before they start

Starting a new job is an anxious time, regardless of whether you are a junior programmer or the new CEO. New hires are inquisitive about their new team—especially if they are overseas—so why not acquaint them before they start?

Of course, a physical meeting is the best option, but often this is not possible. Connecting the existing team with the new hire via LinkedIn and arranging an informal call on Zoom or Slack will sow the seeds for a relaxed working environment. Even something as simple as a text message from new colleagues will make the new hire feel welcome.

As an employer, you want your employees to start their new role as relaxed as possible. One tech company, SevenRooms, reported by Business Insider, is offering new hires two weeks of paid holiday before beginning the new role, so they start work feeling relaxed and refreshed.  

This benefit might not be suitable for every company, but giving employees a welcome gift is always a good idea. Google has historically given new employees a smartwatch, but the gift could be anything—a meal with their partner, for example. 

Give them a memorable first few days

The first day should be about getting to know colleagues and the organisation. The idea is to give the new hire a positive first impression and to start creating a connection with the new company. Showing you care about the employee will be repaid by them caring about you. 

There is a time and a place for PowerPoint presentations on the company funding structure, but day one is not it. Doing something unusual is a great way to start a new relationship: go for lunch (if possible), do a group activity, or turn your new employee into the customer for the day. 

The idea is to give your new hire a lasting memory and use the onboarding experience to show them the company culture. If you offer innovative and creative solutions, be innovative and creative. 

Provide them with legally required HR documentation

During onboarding, new hires should be provided with formal employment documentation in a process known as orientation. International employees must be given orientation paperwork covering topics including background verification, contracts that adhere to local employment law, equal employment opportunities, benefits packages, Intellectual Property, and payroll.

Some companies choose to carry out this procedure themselves, whilst others rely on PEO or EoR-style solutions. Whilst the most important consideration is to find a solution that removes every conceivable risk and ensures legal compliance, understanding local norms and market expectations are also vital. Knowing what benefits package to provide, for example, is often unsolvable without specialised local knowledge. Get this wrong, and you won’t have to worry about onboarding, as it will be impossible to attract talent to begin with.

Create deliberate connections

The new hire should be introduced to their key team members during the first few days; however, it doesn’t stop there. Networking is not just external; you should ensure the individual connects with all relevant members of the firm.

As far as possible, promote one-to-one meetings or establish a schedule for meetings with members of the wider team. Connecting new employees with the company's top leaders is also an excellent way to receive direction and key insights—it will give them a sense of belonging. There is also good reason to advocate for going one step further and implementing a complete mentor programme, allowing employees to develop relationships that will help them succeed in their new working environment.

New employees are sometimes reluctant to make these connections—especially if they are based in a different country—so deliberately nurturing them is vital. Today’s business environment calls for everyone to be more purposeful and deliberate about communication. 

Plan the first quarter

Onboarding doesn't stop after the first day; the company and the employee must plan their objectives for the first quarter. During these three months, both parties should talk openly about progress and how well the employee is developing into a critical member of the organisation.

Managers need to provide feedback on performance and check if the employee’s expectations are being met as well as if they have any concerns. Take the time to discuss career progression, talk about the onboarding process, and identify if any additional training is required.

Promote company culture

What’s one way of promoting company culture? By asking employees to leave. In fact, offer them money to leave. This might seem extreme, but US company Zappos offered their new employees $2000 to leave the company as part of the onboarding process. 

The tactic might not be for every firm, but the message is sound. Employees who are not engaged or on board with the company culture should be offered a way out—you only want employees who want to be there.

Ensuring employees don't want to leave depends on the company culture. No employee will want to leave if the company offers opportunities, security, career development, and a great working environment. 

However, there are some essential considerations when hiring international employees. A company's culture is, of course, affected by the country where it is based. And something culturally acceptable in one country is not necessarily acceptable in another—organisations hiring abroad can benefit from having some local cultural knowledge and insight. 

Design a 365 onboarding experience

Imagine a beautifully crafted and thoughtful process in which employees meet people across the organisation and have a genuinely productive onboarding experience. If this does not last until the new hire is completely integrated, Forbes warns that they could be gone within the year. 

According to the US management consultancy Gallop, “New employees typically take

around 12 months to reach their full performance potential within a role”—so the best onboarding experience is the one that lasts as long as necessary for the employee to be fully incubated into the company

The same Gallop study states that employees who feel they have had an exceptional onboarding experience are 2.6 times as likely to be extremely satisfied with their place of work. 

The three keys to onboarding success

Viewing the onboarding experience as a year-long journey rather than a single-day event is one of the most important takeaways for a successful onboarding process—which should be carefully planned and managed. The Harvard Business Review also has three keys to onboarding success:

  • Set clear goals and measures for success

Review your objectives, before designing your onboarding program. And ensure they embrace the four Cs: compliance, clarification, culture, and connection. 

  • Create a multi-departmental onboarding team

Guarantee a positive employee experience by going beyond HR and involving all relevant teams, key stakeholders, and the CEO.

  • Provide support throughout the onboarding journey

Focus on maximising training, mentoring, and creating connections. Ensure HR takes care of all administrative duties, not the employee.

Special considerations for onboarding international employees

Onboarding helps to satisfy pledges made during the recruitment process and constructs solid foundations for the rest of the employees' tenure.

However, onboarding international employees can come with potential legal risks. Employment law is complex, different in every country, and must be complied with during the onboarding and employment process. A trusted partner with experience helping overseas companies expand overseas and hire internationally can be the difference between success and failure.

Conclusion: onboarding defines success

The objective of onboarding should be to set up new hires for success. This, in turn, ensures the long-term success of your company. Onboarding processes should be strategically designed and implemented until the employee is fully integrated and proficient. 

Onboarding is complex for local companies, but overseas companies without a physical office can find it even more exacting. Having an expert local partner—an extension of your business abroad—can help create the best onboarding experience to engage and retain top talent.

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Published by Daniel Broome February 23, 2023
Daniel Broome

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