Job shadowing: how to use shadow shifts for onboarding

Job shadowing helps your new hires learn about their team, role, and the business, and should be a formal part that’s added to your onboarding process. Yes, you read that right: formal.

Although it might seem like one of the easier parts of hiring, job shadowing is so much more than sticking a new worker with a seasoned employee for a day. There are multiple steps involved, feedback to get, and communication that needs to happen throughout.

So, where to begin? What’s the first step?

Read on to learn about job shadowing and how to bring it into your onboarding process the right way. 

What is job shadowing?

Job shadowing is when a new hire follows another worker around during their shift as an opportunity to learn new skills.

Job shadowing can happen for any amount of time. Sometimes they cover just a shift or two, while other times—depending on the type of work—they’re a series of sessions that cover the ins-and-outs of different shifts. For instance, a new employee at a restaurant might shadow a host for one day, then a server the next, and, if applicable, the bartender, too.

The person who’s shadowing is sometimes called “a shadow”. While a shadow is normally a new hire, they also might be an employee who wants to grow into a new role. Job shadowing can be a simple and effective way to help them achieve their goals. 

What is a shadow shift?

A shadow shift is a shift that’s dedicated to the observation of another worker with the purpose of gaining a better understanding of their role and the tasks it involves.

A shadow shift overviews the jobs and duties that the shadower will eventually perform. It can show them how other employees go about their day and complete their tasks, along with providing a glimpse into real-life scenarios. These can include various customer interactions, dealing with vendors, or joining team meetings. 

Shadow shifts are a common element of onboarding, especially among shift workers. They allow for workers to learn a specific role, or a number of them. The latter is ideal for scheduling, because it means your employees will be cross trained, which equals more flexibility for you.

6 benefits of job shadowing

Speaking of benefits, there are lots when it comes to job shadowing. And not just for the person who’s doing the shadowing. Employers and employees can both experience the perks of this onboarding and training tool. 

For the employer

  • Enjoy better onboarding: Onboarding is a big process for small businesses. When you include job shadowing in the mix, it helps employees learn more about the work and the people they’ll be doing it with. Plus, it makes for a better overall experience. A recent article showed that only 12% of employees believe their employer does a good job with onboarding, so there’s always room for improvement. 
  • Show off your superstar team: You’ve done a spectacular job hiring. Now, it’s time to show it off. Shadowing is a great way to showcase the strengths of your team, especially to your new hires who are eager to learn from the best: their coworkers. 
  • Boost your employee experience: Workplace satisfaction can come from a variety of sources: better scheduling, better communication, and yes—even job shadowing. When your employees are able to flex their skills and collaborate with others at work through training, teaching, and sharing their experiences, they become more engaged with their team and your business. 

For the employee

  • Know their team: Ever walked into a new place, saw some new faces, and immediately felt intimated? That might be exactly how your employees are feeling during their first few shifts. That is, unless you’ve included job shadowing into their onboarding process.

    Job shadowing is a way to not only introduce team members to each other, but to have them get to know one another and their respective roles, too. It’s like a way to put a-face-to-a-name, and a-job-to-a-worker. Plus, job shadowing gives employees the opportunity to ask questions and really get to know their team. 
  • Better collaboration: Job shadowing gives employees a better understanding of what other coworkers may be going through on a daily basis. Along with fostering a sense of empathy and compassion for the hard work that may be involved on a normal shift, job shadowing also creates the opportunity for collaboration. It opens up the perspectives and paths toward ways to better work together and support other teams—even ones in different departments.
  • Faster development: Job shadowing isn’t just about watching—it’s about learning. Employees who have the chance to observe their fellow coworkers as they go about their day can look, listen, ask questions, and get an overall better understanding of different roles that they can explore in their career.

    This means that if your employees are looking for something new, they might not have to jump ship. Instead, they can learn from their coworkers and take on a new role at your business. Retention at its finest

What do new hires do during a shadow shift? 

A typical shadow shift can look very different depending on your industry. For example, shadowing a server at a busy restaurant would be a completely different experience than shadowing a receptionist at a boutique hotel. Nevertheless, there are a few commonalities  between different shadow shifts. Here are just a few.

1. Tour the workplace

One of the first things to do on a shadow shift is to tour the workplace: where do you clock in and out? Where do you grab that much-needed morning coffee? Where are the emergency exits? How do you navigate the busy breakroom? The list goes on. Thankfully, job shadowing will answer all of the above and then some, so new hires know where to go and who to ask for directions. 

2. Take notes

Job shadowing involves observing, which means actively watching, listening, and taking notes—literally. This is needed when a task has a lot of steps, or for things to remember, like passwords or codes. 

3. Assist their mentor with tasks

Do you learn by doing? Your new hire might, too. Which is why sometimes, job shadowing involves not just watching, but doing. Assisting a mentor with their tasks can be a great way for new hires to absorb what they’re learning, and get guided, on-the-job training for a new skill.

4. Attend staff meetings

If your workplace has regular staff meetings, it might be a good idea for a new hire to shadow a coworker to one of them. This will give them a sense of the team and environment, and give them the opportunity to meet the full team. 

5. Complete job-related tasks

Is your new hire is feeling confident with their proper training? Excellent! Now they might be able to complete some of their own work during their shift. For instance, if they’re shadowing a barista, after a few hours, they might have the skills to make their own Americano or take orders from some of the coffee-shop regulars. 

The best roles for job shadowing 

Wondering about the best roles of job shadowing? Well, that depends on your industry and the types of workers you employ.

Here’s a list of job types that commonly onboard and train using job shadowing: 

  • Trades: Workers in the trades, like carpentry, painting, or plumbing benefit from job shadowing because of the hands-on learning opportunity.
  • Restaurants: Servers, hosts, line cooks, bartenders, you name it. Restaurants are busy and bustling places that require a lot of on-the-job training, which makes job shadowing the perfect onboarding tool. 
  • Hospitality: There are many different shifts and roles to cover in the hospitality industry: cooks, cleaners, front desk clerks, valets, and more. And all of these come with their own unique set of skills required to do the job just right, which is where job shadowing can be effective.

How to implement a job shadowing program 

Ready to set up job shadowing as part of your onboarding process? Good call. Having a formal process in place is one of the first steps to training your employees. It gives them the chance to get to know your business and the people who work there.

Here are seven steps to get your employees from watching to doing quickly and safely. 

1. Know the why

Before you begin setting up Employee X with Employee Z, know “the why” behind the shadowing. For example, if you run a restaurant and your new hire has never served before, job shadowing with a seasoned employee who knows the regulars, the menus, and their way around the kitchen might be a good way to instill confidence and knowledge in your new hire. 

2. Communicate your plan

Once your “why” is set, it’s time to communicate. Let all parties know about the job shadowing, including those who are being shadowed, your new hire, and the teams who might be interacting with them. Share this info with your team using a team communication app, like Homebase offers, so that everyone’s in the know.

It’s good for everyone on the team to be introduced to both the idea of shadowing and the person who’s doing it, so there are no surprises during the shift. 

3.  Set goals and expectations

Prior to the shadow shift beginning, outline your expectations, set goals, and ask your new hire what they expect from their shadowing shift. It’s important to make sure everyone is aligned on each of these aspects before starting. 

4. Check in

Once the shift begins, make it a habit to periodically check-in on all parties. You’ll want to make sure everyone is comfortable, learning new things, and feels confident and safe throughout this part of their onboarding.

Job shadowing tip: Give employees the ability to check-in with you or their team. Using an app like Homebase’s free communication tool keeps messages organized and all in one place.  

5. Host a post mortem

Collect feedback on job shadowing to learn more about how the shift went, what your new hire learned, and where they still need support. Get feedback from all parties involved. Talk to the employee who provided the training. Ask where they saw their new coworker excel and where they felt like more training was needed.

Hosting a post mortem shows that you value your team’s feedback and are making the necessary changes to ensure a smooth and effective onboarding process. 

Build a well-rounded onboarding program with Homebase

There’s a lot of work that goes into onboarding. Job shadowing is just one of the tools that make for a better experience for your new hires and team.

But there’s also more you can do to get your new workers up to speed. And that’s where Homebase comes in.

Homebase offloads the work by making the onboarding process simple, organized, and efficient. Start with a welcome kit for your new employees that includes an overview of your business, their job, handbooks and policies, training, and more. Want to include a special “glad you’re here” note? You can add that in, too.

Onboarding also includes gathering information: contact info, direct deposit forms, W-4, W-9, and I-9 forms, too. With Homebase, you don’t have to file it in that rusty filing cabinet. Keep it organized and secure in the cloud, so you can access it anytime.

Once you’ve brought everything into the cloud and your new hire is officially on board, it’s time to introduce them to the team. Homebase helps you welcome them with open arms—or in this case, open communication. Homebase’s communication app enables you to share important information with your whole team, including welcome messages, job shadowing notifications, along with shift reminders.

Homebase’s team messaging app lets coworkers stay in touch and give updates throughout their shift. This is great for new hires who might have questions, or need support during their first few weeks. It’s also ideal for you, the manager, to check in and see how everything is going. 

Bringing in new hires and need some onboarding support? Get Homebase for easy onboarding, scheduling, payroll, messaging, HR, and more—all in one app. Get started for free. 

Job shadowing FAQS 

What should employees expect during a shadow shift?

Employees should expect to observe and learn during their shadow shift. Before that, they should have a set of clear expectations and tasks outlined to them.

Once they’re in their shift, employees should practice active listening so they can truly understand the tasks that are being shown to them. Employees should feel confident enough to ask questions and seek clarification when needed. They should also take notes to keep track of key information that’s being presented. 

Do employees get paid for shadow shifts?

Yes, employees should get paid for shadow shifts. Shadow shifts are part of the onboarding process, which means the employee has been hired and therefore, should be getting paid. 

How long is a shadow shift?

A shadow shift can be any number of hours, but should be relevant to the work and shift that they’ll be in during future shifts. To ensure that the employee isn’t faced with information overload, it can be kept to a few hours, or broken up into multiple shifts over the course of a few weeks. 

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