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Icon for 1. Designing a New Employee Onboarding Community - Part 1

Designing a New Employee Onboarding Community

Learning Module


This learning module addresses the basic elements to establish an online community for new employees and to support an organization's new employee onboarding program. This module was created for HRD 572


OnlineCommunities, CommunitiesOfPractice, NewEmployees

Introduction and Objectives

The following learning module addresses a portion of a longer course on how to create a new employee onboarding community. It leverages general principles that may need to be adapted for a specific organization and the platform and systems that they are using.

This course is intended for anyone involved in a corporate or departmental new employee onboarding program who may be considering the inclusion of an online community.

Learning Objectives
By the end of this module, learners (those designing the NEO community) will be able to:

  • Establish the role that the online community will play in the new employee onboarding experience
  • Determine those who will be involved in the community
  • Identify elements of a new employee onboarding community home page
  • Establish a content calendar

Course Format
​This is an asynchronous course that will be delivered within Scholar for those interested in establishing a new employee onboarding community. The course will have timelines in order to help you progress through the content in a reasonable period of time. But you may go at your own pace and collaborate with others who may be following a similar pace.

  • When you post comments or updates, be sure to include the context of your organization (i.e. size, industry, regulated vs. not, geographically dispersed vs. not, etc.)
  • You are encouraged to collaborate with current and past participants.
  • You may also contact the instructor outside of the community at anytime.

Lesson 1: New Employee Onboarding Programs and Online Communities

For the Learner

Section Learning Objective: Establish the role that the online community will play in the new employee onboarding experience


Online communities are a way to streamline how we connect, communicate, and collaborate with employees across an organization. An organization who has a social collaboration platform will most likely have multiple communities on that platform. Some may be established by specific authoritative departments while others will be started by employees with a particular interest or desire to improve in their current or future job function. Many of those communities may be something that can be incorporated into your new employee onboarding program and/or may be something that you encourage your new employees to research and discover on their own.

The following video provides an overview of Communities of Practice

Media embedded November 25, 2017

A New Employee Onboarding community is an opportunity to connect with new employees immediately and equip them with the information and tools that they need to be successful. But more importantly, it will connect them to others in the organization and enable them to begin establishing relationships that will be valuable to them as new employees and beyond.

Basic Terms

Before we get too far ahead, let's start by ensuring that we all understand the basic terms that will be used throughout the remaining lessons.

  • Social Collaboration: People coming together in a web-based environment to connect and collaborate and to get work done
  • Social Collaboration platform: The web-based software that enables the connection and collaboration to occur. These systems typically include features such as profiles, discussions, blogs, wikis, and video-sharing
  • Online community: A container within a social collaboration platform where users connect and collaborate on a specific topic and/or initiative. Most social collaboration platforms contain many communities.

Comment Request: If your organization already has a social collaboration platform, how are they using it today? And more specifically, how are you using it today.

​You will find that the more that you leverage the tool yourself, the more innovative you will be in finding ways that you can use it to enhance your New Employee Onboarding program as well as other learning and development-related initiatves. This is in addition to feeling more comfortable with the tool as well, thus being more equipped to use it with your new employees.

New Employee Onboarding Program

Your New Employee Onboarding Program most likely has been in place for many years and includes various HR-related information including employee benefits, new hire paperwork, and certifying the Code of Ethics. It may be meeting those objectives, but many organizations have found a way to accomplish more in a shorter period of time by leveraging an online community.

The following video demonstrates one way to use a community as a part of your onboarding process.

Media embedded November 25, 2017

Update Request: Share what your onboarding program looks like today and how you feel an online community will impact the experience that new employees have. What are some of your concerns that you hope to address by taking this course?

Update Request: Reflect on your own personal new employee onboarding experience - at your current organization or a previous one. What did you find to be the most valuable, the most enjoyable? What did you feel was lacking? What suggestions would you have for them?

For the Instructor

It is important that the learners understand what the following terms mean. If there is any uncertainty, it can influence their participation in the remainer of the lessons.

  • Social Collaboration
  • Social Collaboration Platform
  • Online Community


Lesson 2: Existing Employees as Champions

For the Learner

Section Learning Objective: Determine those who will be involved in the community


As you ponder how to incorporate the online community into your broader New Employee Onboarding program, it's important to consider the official and unofficial resources that you plan to leverage. Typically you will have a group of SMEs who are specifically tasked with being involved with New Employee Orientation, such as someone knowledgable with your employee benefits, someone who can deliver a session on diveristy and inclusion, and/or someone who can help employees set up their computer.

SMEs and Advocates or Champions (i.e. existing employees)

But some of your most valuable assets are going to be other employees who have been with the organization for a little or longer period of time. This video (unable to embed) is a presentation on how champions/advocates are really your "secret weapon". Hearing from "HR" is one thing, but hearing from your peers and those who have been through what you have is something else.

Your NEO Community strategy should consider how you want to leverage the following resources.

Member Description Benefits of their Participation
Types of Community Members
Subject Matter Experts Those whose job function is related to a specific subject area, such as employee benefits or compensation
  • They have the most up-to-date knowledge on their area of experties
  • ​They have the authority to respond to specific questions related to their area of expertise
  • They are responding to similar questions through other channels
Recently-new Employees Employees who have been with the organization for less than a year
  • They have recently gone through the experience themselves and can provide unique insights
  • They have a desire to feel connected to the organization
Tenured Employees Employees who have been with the organization for more than a year
  • They have been around awhile and have discovered tips and tricks that a new employee may benefit from
  • They have experienced the value of collaboration within the organization

And for the existing employees, you'll want to determine if you'll have your community be completely open and have participation be natural and organization or if you want to select a specific group of new employee "mentors" who would be specifically asked to participate. It's important to consider the recognition that you might apply for either of these options and communicate that to contributors. But the best recognition is done in real-time and not just in a memo letting them know that they will be recognized. As individuals are recognized, others will notice that and have increased motivation to contribute themselves.

You will also discover that the brand new employees themselves will be helping one another. They are going to be your most active users when they are brand new. So not only will they be in there consuming information, but they will be asking and answering questions. It's important to recognize their contributions as well.

Contribution Request: Edit this wiki page to add your benefits of each of these resources. ​(note that in Scholar you can't do that, but including here for demonstration purposes of what this learning module will include)

Comment Request: Which resources do you anticipate including in your NEO community and why? What do you feel are the implications of your decision?​

For the Instructor

A New Employee Onboarding community will have subject matter experts, but the question is whether or not this will be open to the entire organization and/or a select group of "tenured" employees will be invited in to serve as new employee mentors.

Ensure that participants understand that the success of this decision will rely on how the overall community functions at their organization and whether or not they have a sufficient number of active champions.

However, this is also an opportunity to change/enhance the culture at their organization that empowers employees to be involved in another employee's experience.

Lesson 3: Cohorts vs. a Single Community

For the Learner

Section Learning Objective: Determine how your community will be used by multiple cohorts


Similar to the topic of who you plan to include in your New Employee Onboarding community, you'll want to determine the "duration" of your community and the specific "sub audience".

There are pros and cons to each option. We'll outline a few of those here, but we look forward to your contriibutions to this list.

Community Type Description Pros Cons
Cohort vs. Single Community
Cohorts One private community for each set of new employees (i.e. everyone who started in the month of November)
  • Intimate group of participants
  • Content can be tailored to their specific needs
  • More controlled discussions
  • Duplicated efforts and content
  • New employees are not able to learn from "previous new employees"
Single Community An open or private community for all new employees that adds new employees as they start*
  • Post content once; able to maintain a single library
  • More resources to contribute to the conversation
  • Added effort to highlight "old" content that is relevant to a current set of new employees
  • Certain content will only be relevant to a subset of employees

*It's important to note, however, that even with a single community you need to decide whether it will be:

  1. Private to only "new employees" or Open to all employees
  2. Time-bound, meaning that once someone is "not a new employee", they would be removed

Here is a video that demonstrates the beneft of the broader, single community, which takes advantage of existing employees' questions and knowledge.

Media embedded November 25, 2017

Contribution Request: Edit this wiki and add your additional pros and cons of each option or an alternative option that you might be considering, along with details and/or an explanation.

Comment Request: Share your anticipated approach, which we recognize may change. Share your thoughts on why you may select that approach.

For the Instructor

Encourage participants to think about this very carefully. It can be challenging to go back, although not impossible.

As participants respond on their tentative thoughts or decisions, ask them for an explanation. Encourage them to say more and engage in dialogue with their peers. Ask them to provide context about their organization that helps explain their rationale. (i.e. an organization of 30 will address this differently than an organization of 30,000). Encourage them to play out multiple scenarios - both for their team, their SMEs, existing employees (if included), and the new employees themselves.

Lesson 4: Homepages

For the Learner

Section Learning Objective: Identify elements of a new employee onboarding community home page


Your New Employee Onboarding community may be an employee's first impression of your organization. What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to think? How do you want them to respond? What do you want them to do? Each of these questions will influence how you set up your home page. You want your home page to include "calls to action" and the most important information that you want them to see/know.

Consider your organization's corporate intranet or internet web site. What is there today? Is it static or does it change regularly? What are your impressions of it (for yourself)? And what are your impressions of it for a new employee? Here is an example of someone's intranet home page. What would you change if this was only for new employees?

Home page example

Home Page Elements

There are many ways that you could design your home page. The following is a list of considerations:

  • Detail: How much detail do you want?
  • Calls to Action: What calls to action should you include? (and note that these will change as an employee goes through their onboarding experience - we'll talk more about this in the Content Calendar section)
  • Media: What videos and graphics should you include?
  • Alignment with broader communiy: Are there any icons or terms that are used in the rest of the community that can help employees connect your community to the bigger picture?
  • Key Information and Dates: What time-sensitive dates and information do you want to include directly on the home page?
  • Helpful Links: Are there any helpful links that you want to provide, including links to more detailed instructions/pages

Watch this quick tips and tricks video on designing your home page in Jive.

Media embedded November 25, 2017

Update Request: Upload a copy of your company's intranet homepage (with any confidential information blurred out) and/or a description of what is on the home page. Provide an analysis of what you feel is helpful for new employees, confusing, too much information, too little, etc. Provide a justification for your analysis and what you would do the same or different in your New Employee Onboarding community.

Update Request​Provide a mock-up of what your New Employee Onboarding community home page might look like, including topics of information, graphical descriptions, videos you might include, etc.

For the Instructor

Ensure that participants know that we are not asking them to share any confidential information. If they can't share a screenshot, then ask them to share a description or a simplified mock-up.

Help them understand that this doesn't need to be a final product. The final product will be something that they do in concert with their communications team. But having an idea of what it might include helps to frame up those conversations.

Lesson 5: Content Calendar

For the Learner

Section Learning Objective: Establish a content calendar


A content calendar is a plan of what you might communicate and post within the community at a specific point in time along with who will post it and what you want users to do with that post (i.e. comment, etc.).

Although content is a core part of any online community, it is what users do as a result of the content that matters.

  • Were connections made?
  • Did they have an experience that compelled them to serve others?
  • Did they get the information that they need in order to make a good decision?
  • Did they know where to go to resolve an issue?
  • What, how, and when you post things will influence each of these. 

Below are a few considerations when mapping out your content. And it is important to create yourself a checklist, as the answers will vary for each piece of content.

  • What content type should be used?
  • How detailed should the content be? 
  • Should graphics be used? Where will we get them?
  • Should the content include or be a video?
  • Should the content link to other content?
  • Does the content need to be approved by a specific SME or senior leader?
  • Should the content be highlighted on the home page?
  • Do you want a new piece of content or reference something that has comments from past participants?
  • Do you want to allow comments?

Content Types

There are a variety of content types available including discussions, polls, blogs, wikis, and videos. And videos can be embedded into any of the other content types.

Think about the benefits of an in-person onboarding program and what technology can be leveraged to replicate those benefits. Videos are a way to bridge the gap between the in-person and virtual onboarding elements. Consider the following example from Missouri State University to its new faculty and staff.

Media embedded November 25, 2017

Content Calendar

Your content calendar is going to be based off of several decisions, including your audience and whether this will be cohort-based or a single community.

This sample content calendar demonstrates key elements that you would want to include. But you are not obligated to use this format. You may have a format that you use today for other initiatives. Or you may have additional variables that you need/want to consider.

Title Content Type Template? Timing Author Desired Action Homepage update?
Sample Content Calendar (based on a single community)
Welcome to our organization! Blog post and video Re-post Day 1 abc Comment Main header
Set up your HUB profile Home page update and link to Wiki and tutorial video Re-post Day 3 def Profile complete Reminder icon

Don't forget to sign up for benefits by [date]

Home page update and link to Benefits details New entry Day 5 ghi Non-personal Questions Reminder icon

Comment Request: What are some variables that you'd want to be sure to include on your content calendar and why? Be sure to provide context on how you intend to set up your community

Project Request: Create a tentative content calendar with at least 20 entries. Refer to the "project" for specific instructions and the peer review details.

For the Instructor

The content calendar will vary based on the decisions made regarding existing employees and whether or not this will be a cohort-approach or a single community that all new employees flow through. But regardless, a content calendar helps to ensure that regardless of who might be "new" at a given point in time, they wll have access to the content that is relevant to them. For example, if you use a single community - what will you do to surface content that was posted a year ago, but is relevant to the new employees who are starting today?

Be available to answer questions about the peer-reviewed project. Help them understand that their calendar is not set in stone, but is meant to give them a starting point and to get feedback from their peers.

Conclusion Poll Questions

For the Learner

(note that these would be in a poll-like system rather than a private survey)

Please respond/vote on the following questions. You are welcome to comment below each question.

  1. Do you plan to create a single community or a cohort-based approach?
  2. Do you plan to include only new employees and SMEs, all existing employees, new employees along with a selected group of "champions", or something else?
  3. When do you hope to implement your new employee community? Within the next 60 days, 61 to 120 days, more than 121 days, we probably won't implement one.

Update Request: As a follow-up to the poll questions, provide a written explanation of your responses, such as the reason you chose a particular option.

For the Instructor

These are poll questions where all participants would see eachother's responses and have the ability to comment and discuss.

The purpose of these poll questions is intended to encourage the participants to think about how they will move forward with their NEO community. Each quesiton aligns with a section within this module where they were provided with pros and cons and encouraged to critically analyze which approach was the most appropriate for their situation and organization. The poll question is meant to also lead to dialogue amongst peers.