REMEMBER THE FIRST DAY you came to work? For some people, first days are overwhelming--with new rules, processes, and software programs to learn, new coworkers to meet, and myriad choices to make, from which health plan to choose to the amount of taxes you want deducted.
To help new staff ease into the onboarding process, many higher ed institutions are now offering online orientation. New hires can view these self-paced tutorials even before setting foot on campus. Employees may learn about their new employer's mission and goals, required training programs they must complete, how to perform routine administrative tasks, and what optional benefits are available.
The upside is that many of these orientation programs are fairly robust. The downside? They're often bland and can even produce a few yawns. But that may be changing. Some schools are taking advantage of technology to deliver the same information in more creative and interactive formats. Consider an online video of a school's president or department chair welcoming new staff or faculty. Or how about a GPS-guided campus tour? Schools can now unleash their imagination and implement features that were considered futuristic just a few years ago.
During the past year, The Catholic University of America (D.C.) began taking and posting online group photos of new hires as part of the orientation process. Any of the university's 2,500 faculty or staff can click on the group photo, linked to an online weekly newsletter, to learn the names, positions, and departments of any new hire in the photo.
"We've gotten a lot of feedback, saying, 'It's cool--this is really nice and it's helpful when we meet people on campus,'" explains Christine Peterson, associate VP and chief HR officer. "We [offer] a very community-oriented environment. The photos have raised other types of interest that we're now considering." One is a photo gallery of all faculty and staff, which will help build camaraderie among the institution's workforce and make it easier for employees to actually find each other on campus when meeting or working together for the first time.
CUA's orientation program also includes a half-day, face-to-face session with various university administrators addressing topics such as benefits, policies, and public safety. But in between speakers, Peterson says the focus shifts back to information offered in the online program so "you don't sit there for hours listening to talking heads."
In the future, Peterson hopes the online program will also include other components, such as a mission statement and videos of a campus tour and president's message. That would allow HR staff to have more time to focus on sensitive personnel issues which even the most sophisticated software can't address.
"I believe that is the ultimate balance in an HR practice," she says, adding that at least half of the employees who responded to a recent survey stated that they noticed and appreciated HR's ability to deliver more personal services when serious issues were involved. "People become frustrated and aren't excited about paper-pushing. They want to be able to truly solve problems and work with people. That's why they go into HR."
MIX IT UP
While a high-tech approach certainly has value, not all employees prefer learning online. That's why more schools have introduced a blended orientation program.
Take the University of Washington, which supports about 70,000 employees who work on campus and in its medical facilities. Although its comprehensive online program is almost 10 years old, the university recently introduced an in-person orientation covering topics like the school's values and vision. "We're making a shift for individuals who need that connectivity," says Ujima Donalson, director of professional organizational development at UW. "We recognize some people do much better with an online orientation, but others may want that face-to-face. …