Mastering Pre-Boarding for Deskless Employees: Everything You Need to Know

Jascha Zittel

Many employers have yet to master the art of proper onboarding — let alone pre-boarding new hires.

At its core, pre-boarding means setting your staff up for success, even with fairly low effort and financial investment. It helps you create a highly motivating workplace staffed with loyal employees, ready to work from day one.

Pre-boarding is especially important for the frontline workforce. 

Office workers can quickly mitigate errors by messaging a coworker, looking up info in the internal documentation, or searching online. Deskless employees often need to respond and act without delay, and there’s rarely time to ask around for help. 

Just imagine a first responder not knowing where to find a resuscitation kit — not a good look!

Pre-boarding prevents these situations, making it next to impossible for deskless employees to fail.

In this blog, we will explain everything related to pre-boarding for frontline workers:

  • What is pre-boarding;
  • The differences between pre-boarding, onboarding, and post-boarding;
  • The many benefits of pre-boarding;
  • What should pre-boarding entail;
  • How to make pre-boarding successful.

What is pre-boarding?

Pre-boarding is a process that prepares new employees for their roles and work in a new setting. It starts from the moment they officially accept the job offer and continues until they first show up at work. 

Pre-boarding includes a variety of activities:

  • Necessary admin work;
  • Welcoming gestures (messages, meetings, gestures, events, or packages);
  • Getting to know the company, coworkers, and more about the role;
  • Reading the FAQ and documentation/knowledge base;
  • Completing pre-boarding surveys;
  • and more!

The main purpose of pre-boarding is to prevent the ‘deer in headlights’ feeling the first time they face the intricacies of their role. 

After the pre-boarding is complete, employees will feel more comfortable on their first day. 

Diving into their workload won’t feel strange, as they’ll know what to expect and how to provide the best output — for a newbie, of course. Experience can only be gained through work.

Another important purpose of pre-boarding is to keep the employee excited about their new job and improve the employee engagement stats. 

Employee engagement efforts start with pre-boarding. Employee engagement is on the decline, and keeping workers actively invested in their workplace gets more challenging, so it's important to get an early start.

What’s the difference between pre-boarding and onboarding? 

If you want to get finicky about onboarding, you could say there are three parts to it: pre-boarding, onboarding, and post-boarding.

Companies that do onboarding well include activities from all three phases but don’t always distinguish between them. The lines aren’t that clear, anyway.

You can safely call the whole process ‘onboarding’ and call it a day. However, the three phases do include different steps to prepare the employees for their new roles:

  • Pre-boarding consists of welcoming team members to the new company, introducing them to their coworkers, providing essential workplace information, and setting clear expectations. Pre-boarding prepares the workers for their first day.
  • Onboarding starts when team members begin on their first day. For onboarding best practices, let the employee gain practical experience and apply what they’ve learned during pre-boarding. It is critical to keep the feedback channels active during onboarding.
  • Post-boarding takes place when the onboarding is officially done. That’s when you should schedule your first employee performance review:

Once the three stages are complete, the manager will conclude whether the employee is onboarded properly and ready to take full responsibility for their work. New team members also receive the opportunity to voice their concerns and request additional help, if necessary, or confirm the onboarding was of good quality and sufficient.

Benefits of a pre-boarding process for deskless workers

Reduce new job anxiety.

Starting fresh is great but stressful, and the first few days at the new job are always a bit awkward. Employees are worried they won’t get everything right or embarrass themselves in front of new coworkers.

During pre-boarding, they’ll meet some of the people they’ll work with and learn the ins and outs of the workplace. This makes pre-boarding a nice icebreaker that helps to familiarise joiners with new surroundings and build confidence in what they’re doing.

Fewer workplace mistakes.

In times of high stress, marketing professionals can calm themselves down by remembering that nobody dies if they mess up a bit.

Well, that’s not always the case for frontline workers.

The unsung heroes of the pandemic need thorough preparation for their first day because their mistakes can be fatal to themselves and others.

That’s why pre-boarding is vital for frontline workers. Starting the preparations and learning as early as possible helps reduce the number of workplace mistakes. When a quick response is needed, there won’t always be time to look up what to do.

Reduced time to productivity.

In line with the previous point — employees can be effective and productive from day one, even if they’ve only started.

If you pre-board employees, you’ve already covered paperwork, work equipment, the chain of command, essential info, and everything else that wastes the working hours of the new employees. You can then proceed to onboarding with ease and focus on more in-depth learning and training in the process.

Increasing employee motivation.

A great deal of pre-boarding activities consists of showing the newcomers you’ll support them and that you care about them settling in fine.

Feeling secure and accomplished with the new job they scored will keep new staff motivated to do their best. Pre-boarding creates a calm, positive atmosphere where people are free to thrive, instead of doubting their new workplace and worrying about it.

Creating a better cultural fit.

Good workplace culture draws people in and helps you hold onto them.

Pre-boarding is the perfect time to showcase the values your company represents. Employees who are proud of their workplace tend to stay with their employers for years.

However, note that empty gestures and donations to communities won’t matter if you treat your own employees badly! That’s why pre-boarding acts as a testament to your dedication to your staff. Use this opportunity to show your new team members why people love to work there and gladly choose to go for a drink together after work.

Setting clear expectations.

One of the essential parts of employee pre-boarding is detailing their job description and letting them taste it in real life.

No letdowns, broken promises, uncomfortably crowded schedules, or workplace conflicts will occur if you set clear expectations from day one. Take time to explain their duties in advance and explain how their role and career may develop if things go right, or wrong.

Enhanced employee retention.

Here’s some food for thought:

High employee turnover is strenuous and expensive — and preventable.

Plenty of ill-fitting candidates will disperse during a well-made hiring process. Pre-boarding takes care of the ones that remain.

What to include in the pre-boarding process

Pre-boarding may or may not seep into the onboarding process — in any case, the following activities are best dealt with early on. 

Handle the admin tasks and paperwork.

“A man should swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting with anything more revolting in the day ahead.”

In other words: if you handle the most tedious work first, you get to spend the remaining time completing more fun tasks.

Prepare and send all the documents your new staff member needs to sign so they have plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the matter. They can sign everything once they stop by to have a welcome drink with the crew; on your end, make sure to get everything out of the way in time.

While at it, contact the IT crowd and create work accounts and log-ins for the new employee.

Wish them a warm welcome.

These are the most important elements of a welcome email:

  • A kind message about everyone’s excitement about them joining the company;
  • Company information;
  • A brief list of tasks they should complete in the next few days;
  • The agenda and directions for the first day at work;
  • Useful links, documents, passcodes, and PDFs;
  • Contact details of the person they should speak to if they have any questions (their pre-boarding buddy).

Friendly reminder: don’t forget the attachments!

Team introductions.

Pre-boarding meet-up is a great way to introduce staff members in a relaxed, slightly less formal manner. This can happen at a team-building event, or you can invite everyone for a cup of coffee on company premises or at a nearby place.

In addition to team bonding and enhanced employee engagement, team introduction helps new employees learn the names and roles of everyone in their team.

Company benefits and PTO arrangements.

Highlight the positives of working with you!

Benefits set you apart from the competition, help you negotiate with employees, and ultimately matter a lot to employees

Flaunt them by creating an extensive document about their benefits, PTO and how they can access them. This way, you will motivate and engage them from the start.

It’s also a good idea to find out whether they have time-off arrangements that predate signing the contract and cannot be rescheduled or canceled. In that case, Postponing their official day one or tweaking their schedule slightly would be best.

Job role and responsibilities.

To set clear expectations, circle back to the role you described when hiring, and go more in-depth this time around.

During pre-boarding, you should paint a detailed picture of their average workdays, the challenges they’ll face, and how they should work, act, and react when the unexpected occurs. 

Also, be sure they have a good amount of work on their plate: within the scope of their job descriptions, but enough to make things dynamic and encourage growth.

Training and development.

The first days of training happen during pre-boarding.

First, provide the new hires with reading materials they can easily access and learn on their terms:

  • Brochures;
  • E-books;
  • Internal knowledge base;
  • FAQ, help articles.

The next step is to arrange training sessions: settle on dates that work for mentors as well as the staff in training, and add the dates into calendars. 

Training and mentorship programs can take place online or in person. For both cases, you should prepare the necessary materials in advance:

  • Physical equipment;
  • Software;
  • Premises;

Preparation for day one.

They should start working any day now:

  • Have they signed everything they need to?
  • Were they provided with sufficient training and learning resources?
  • Are their workplace and equipment ready?
  • Is there a plan to follow for the next phase?

If the answers are positive, you can welcome them without worries!

Tips for a successful pre-boarding program

Personalize the experience.

Rare are the companies that provide personalized pre-boarding experiences.

The ones that do receive great praise on LinkedIn, and some good PR for free.

Personalized pre-boarding may look like a welcome video or care package with an extra something you remembered they liked when you last spoke. No grand gestures necessary — but a good first impression will last long.

Create a pre-boarding timeline.

Provide your new hire with a detailed timeline of the onboarding process — pre-boarding and post-boarding included. This will help you manage expectations on both sides and eliminate any doubts or worries.

A pre-boarding timeline should be highly specific and work as a day-by-day schedule. Create a timetable that includes:

  • Activity date and title;
  • An explanation of the said activity;
  • What goal should this activity accomplish;
  • Who will be present and mentor them;
  • Necessary links and resources.

Assign a pre-boarding buddy.

A Pre-boarding buddy is there to help new hires settle, answer their questions related to the role, and provide guidance in the first days of work.

A pre-boarding buddy can be someone from HR, their future manager, or someone experienced from the team they’ll work with. This role is not to be confused with a mentor: it can be the same person, but a mentor typically has a more hands-on approach and works with new hires during the onboarding process. 

Maintain momentum with engagement.

Don’t make the mistake of neglecting employee engagement once the pre-boarding is finished!

Once the honeymoon period is over, take the necessary steps to keep them invested and productive. 

Here are some foolproof ideas to try for continuously high employee engagement:

  • Create an internal feedback loop. If your employees complain about something, you need to provide an outlet for these complaints, learn about the problem, and solve it. Using Whatsapp for employee communication and gathering staff insights is the easiest way to keep employee engagement high.
  • Help them imagine their future at the workplace. Showcase career growth possibilities and what their path may look like in the future. This way, they’ll be more invested in performing better — but keep your promise and let them advance.
  • Provide additional perks for loyal staff. Some companies award company shares when enough time goes by and employees stay; others allow additional PTO. These perks and benefits keep staff satisfied by rewarding their hard work and loyalty.

Preparing Deskless Employees for Success with Pre-Boarding

Pre-boarding is an extremely useful process that prepares employees for their new roles on multiple levels. 

It makes them feel content, cared for, and provides plenty of knowledge and training that will make them productive early on. Pre-boarding also increases employee engagement and happiness.

For employers, pre-boarding helps with employment and employee retention and saves tons of money otherwise lost on bad hires, additional training, and replacing the employees that quit or made serious mistakes.

In short, it’s a win-win situation.

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