Employee Onboarding

Simplifying the Online Employee Onboarding Process in Park Agencies

Written By: 

Becky Dunlap, CPRP

I ran into a problem during the first few months of my new job as facility coordinator. I needed to quickly relay updates to all of our staff in real-time. The issue? Employees were scattered across town – pools, camps, parks, and recreation centers many miles away- and I didn’t want to send them another email that gets buried in their inbox. So, I created a solution that changed the way we did business.

My goal in this article to share with you that creating an employee onboarding system, while hard work now, can pay off dividends in the future – and that your employee intranet system is the foundation of doing so.

In this article, we’ll talk about the five steps to creating your online employee portal.

1. Choose Your Online Onboarding Portal Platform
2. Take Inventory of your current policies
3. Organize Your Policies & Procedures Using Mind Maps
4. Choose the Medium For Your Training Content
5. Importing Policies into your Employee Portal

Employee portal vs. Intranet: What’s the difference?

Note: On the word “Intranet” – which by the way is defined by Wikipedia as:

“An intranet is a computer network for sharing information, collaboration tools, operational systems, and other computing services within an organization, usually to the exclusion of access by outsiders.”

When I say intranet, I’m using the term loosely. However, throughout this article, I will try – whenever possible – to use the word employee portal.

An employee onboarding portal can be defined a little differently:

“An employee portal is a secure site where you can easily share and discuss information within your company or organization, and keep all your staff on the same page.”

Why does the terminology matter? If you work in local government or in a special district, you probably already have an intranet, but you may not have any control over this at all. In fact, in the story that I mentioned above, I had to be granted special permissions to customize our department website (which was built by people wayyyy smarter than me) with code. While I’m a certified park nerd (trademark pending), I wouldn’t recommend learning code for developing your intranet. It makes updating your policies a total pain – take it from my experience.  The key is to find a method that is sustainable over the long term – meaning it is easy to update and make changes.

Choosing Your Employee Onboarding Portal Platform

The system that you choose to deploy for your intranet is critical. Employee onboarding is dependent on it!  For better or worse, especially for departments in Parks and Recreation, this may not even be a decision at all. Your IT department may designate specific platforms – and you will have to work within the constraints that they determine. Despite these limitations, you do have choices within each platform to customize the training content – which, if I haven’t mentioned yet – is actually the most important piece here. We’ll get to that in a minute.

If you do have a choice for onboarding your employees, let’s go over some platforms when it comes to different software and tools.  This list below contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission. Transparency!

Types of Platforms for Employee Onboarding

  • Google Sites: This is probably the most straight-forward, user-friendly way of creating an intranet site for your department. This biggest hurdle is typically allowing the correct sharing permissions – but if you are already using Google Workspace, it might be the perfect fit for you!
  • Microsoft Teams: The most common tool that parks and recreation agencies typically use is Microsoft Teams. Built into the Office 365 suite, it may make sense to utilize a tool that is familiar with your staff.
  • Trello: Although not nearly as robust, setting up an employee onboarding site in Trello is one of the simplest ways to document your policies in an online format.
  • Process Street: Process Street is literally made for documenting your policies and procedures. If you want a streamlined approach to manage your recurring checklists and procedures, this might just be right for you.
  • Trainual: Similar to Process Street, Trainual is an online portal that takes new employees through a series of checklists, videos, and links that help guide them in their first days on the job.

There are so many more options, but these are the ones that I’ve either worked with or have heard about from first-hand experiences.

Taking Inventory of Your Policies

Once you have chosen your online employee onboarding portal, it’s time to dive into the details! This is where you will gather all of your existing policies and procedures and put them into one place. Easier said than done, right?

I’ve been there, so no judgement from me! But this part is important. So gather everything you have: Post-it notes, half-erased scribbles on a white board, an employee manual from 1993 – get it all in front of you and prepare to organize.

At this point, we need to address the elephant in the room: This is where you will want to give up. You will want to put everything you just collected into the recycling bin behind the building. But don’t do it! Just stick with me, ok?

Here’s a handy plan for taking inventory of your policies:

1. Enlist the help of 1 – 3 of your colleagues. Inform them of your mission to revamp your employee portal and ask for their assistance. You will need to set aside at least two hours, maybe more for this activity.

Like any point of strategic adoption of technology, advocacy and support from your colleagues is often the missing link with adoption. You might think that getting more people involved will stall the process, but this is only true if you get the wrong people in the mix. Instead, find a trusted colleague or two who are onboard with your digital transformation. Attempting to do this activity, let alone building out your portal by yourself is a really bad idea – *trust me*. You will NEED the support of your work team to adopt new technology.

2. Next, you will start to sort through the papers, using the following categories as a starting point:

Organizing Categories for Employee Onboarding Materials

  • Recycle = Policies that are no longer relevant to the department. You may still want to keep a copy of these items, you never know if it’s the last copy in existence
  • Update = These are the policies that are still relevant to the department, but need updating. You don’t know whose going to update the policies but that’s not important now. Just put them in a separate pile and watch them add up – this category is probably much bigger than you would ever want to admit… Go ahead and star or highlight any that may be high priority.
  • Good to Go = Put the remaining policies and procedures that are relevant and updated into this pile
  • Wish List = Are there policies that you know you *should* have, but you haven’t quite gotten around to developing it? Make a list of all the policies that you need to have – and star or highlight the ones that are a priority.

A couple of notes for this activity! Depending on where these policies “live”, you can do this a number of different ways.

Digital VS. Paper

  • Digital: If these policies are already online, lucky you! It’s just a matter of turning PDFs into word documents and copying/pasting them over.
  • Paper: If you have a BUNCH of random paper, with lots of different categories for each page – then you can either physically cut the paper or you can use a different colored highlighter to organize the information.

The next step in setting up your employee onboarding system is to then type up a list of all the headings of the policies into an excel doc.  You will eventually need to type, scan, or transfer any policies that do not exist online yet.  If you have Adobe PDF, this can be a handy way of turning a scan into a word document for easy editing.

What about those pesky policies that need updating? When it comes up updating policies, I recommend finding someone seeking a new learning opportunity (we can call it that, right?) to lead a small work group to update those policies. This work group should go through each of those *must-update* policies and develop recommendations for approval at the next city/park board meeting (or however your agency goes about updating various policies – it varies!) Again, this task should not be on your list. YOUR priority is to organize, consolidate, and develop your portal – that’s enough, don’t you think?

Organize Your Policies & Procedures Using Mind Maps

Now that you’ve taken inventory of your existing policies, you know that you have some work to do. This next exercise is something I do all the time when I have too much in my head – Mind Mapping! You can use a tool like Miro, Coggle, Whimsical, Canva, or just a good old fashioned whiteboard to create a mind map diagram. Use each bubble as categories and start to organize your policies and procedures. You can usually print out these documents – great for getting feedback from front desk staff, upper level management, and everyone on your team.

Choose the Medium For Your Training Content

You have your portal. You have your policies. What now? The next step is to look at and brainstorm different types of content to best supplement the material. Not everyone learns strictly by reading (that’s why I created my video course, Onboarding Made Easy – coming soon!) Sometimes, video might be the best way to explain your topic at hand.

Having a mix of video, audio, and written content will allow your employees to consume information in their own way.

If you choose to do video or audio, either be prepared to update the content regularly – or choose topics that seem timeless. If you work in local government, you know that much of what you do is relatively consistent throughout the years – so don’t be afraid to make a few high quality videos! Plus, videos are great for staff introductions, technical walkthroughs, and giving park tours!

If you were around in 2020, then you know that certain policies and procedures can change FAST. In that case, written guidelines are typically the best as they are the quickest to update. The goal here is to make your portal easy to update and to use. If it has outdated policies, employees will learn *not* to trust your system (yikes!) which will limit your recruiting and retention efforts.

Track the types of supplementary content on an excel doc for each policy, if there is any, and mark if there are any items that should take priority – those that must happen before your portal launches!

Your next step is to actually film and or edit the content for your employee onboarding. In the future, I will write another article with my favorite resources in the future to help you create those training videos.

Importing Policies into your Employee Onboarding Portal

The key during this process is to be intentional. If you can, try to use distinct categories based on your own agency to organize the material. And just depending on your agency, it may make sense to separate policies by facility or by division. Play around with it, and use the mind-mapper exercise above to move policies around before you start importing the information to your portal.

There will always be a list of questionable policies (i.e. “What to do when geese enter the building?!”) and lots of general questions. I’ve found that a robust “FAQ” or “Start Here” section can help house some of those policies, and then you can get more specific in other categories.

Communicating Values in Your Policies

One topic that is often overlooked is around mission and vision. But in reality, this should be the CORE of your training documents. Because when your employees truly believe in your mission, vision, and values, they will be more likely to follow your policies because your culture is aligned with their own personal values. I always recommend recording a video to emphasize the message. And as a bonus, you could even create a printable with your mission, vision, and values and allow staff to download it for their offices and work stations.

You’re Almost Done with Your Employee Onboarding Portal!

Great! You’re making real progress. You now have your policies, your training videos, and the platform – now comes the fun part (at least for me!!!) It’s time to put it all together.

I would run out of space if I tried to explain how to upload content to various platforms, that’s why I’m in the process of building a course that walks you through how to do this on Google Sites and Microsoft Teams so you can better understand and see examples for what this could look like.

Alas, sometimes you will get through the entire process of setting up your online employee onboarding system and realize that there was a *better* way to organize the information. *Scratch the whole thing – I’ll just try again next year!*

Better yet. Ask yourself: Is is worth the time it will take to revamp the site? OR – can you embrace experimentation and let your employees give you feedback on your current system – so that you can make better version 2 next year?

Final Thoughts on Employee Onboarding

The truth is that employee onboarding portals and intranets *should* be living, breathing things (well, not really – that would be weird!) but they should at least evolve and change overtime. That’s the wonderful thing about creating it online!

If you’re ready thought this article was helpful, join the waitlist for Onboarding Made Easy to see all of this in action!

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Becky Dunlap, CPRP
Becky Dunlap, CPRP