Interior of Shaw offices in Calgary

Making Onboarding Meaningful

Shaw Communications

K2 Digital

Agency partner
Klick Learning Solutions

Account Directors
Eric Yu
Anuj Rastogi 

Project Managers
Brian Paddock
Jordan Beirnes

Director of User Experience
Ray Kanani

User Experience Designer
Maureen Honore

Creative Director
Simon Coyle

Art Director
Edward Phung

Technical Director
Darko Antic

Manager of Learning Strategy
Shveta Malhan

Learning Experience Designer
Ashton Cousineau

Onboarding is a fact of life. New hires need to be welcomed, shown where to save files, how to get to the washroom, who to speak to if they have an issue, encouraged to reach out and talk to their peers. 

It is only relatively recently that enterprise organizations have started paying serious attention to their onboarding experiences, and the employee rentention rates, loyalty and the benefits to the culture that can follow. 

Shaw Communications, Western Canada's telecommunications giant, enagaged K2 Digital and our sister agency, Klick Learning Solutions, to create an onboarding experience for their new hires that would leave participants with a sense of belonging, belief in the sincerity of Shaw's core values, and confidence in their new roles.

Responsive onboarding experience mobile design on tablet

We started by heading to Calgary, where we conducted interviews with the leadership and select employees, not only about the technicalities of the existing process, but also how they felt going through they own onboarding experiences, what had resonated with them, or felt superficial or dull. 

To be fair, talking to the people who will be using the thing you're designing is always the best place to start.

As well as the on-site interviews, the team ran 3 days of workshops involving employees from all levels of the organization to ensure we gathered a comprehensive cross-section of knowledge, ideas and aspirations for the new experience.

The most consistent thing we heard was that culture is a big deal at Shaw. All enterprise organizations talk about their corporate values, but Shaw means it. Despite the fact that they employ over 15,000 people, they are still a family business, and have been since being founded in 1966. Communicating the history and values of the company, ensuring new employees felt welcomed into the larger family and creating that tangible emotional connection was clearly going to be the cornerstone of this experience.

For the record, the Shaw Values are:

High Achieving

To begin, we translated these seven values into 4 guiding principles for the new onboarding experience, principles which we would use as a sanity check against which all ideas, directions and criticism could be measured going forward.


The four design principles - energized, engaged, helpful and fun

Are participants energized?

Are they engaged at every step?

Are they finding this experience helpful in starting their new role?

Most importantly, are they having fun?

In order to help us achieve these goals, new hires were given a short, light, personality test prior to their first day at Shaw. The results  of that test - what we called Social Style - would come in to play later.

User experience customer journey map

Ray Kanani, our Director of User Experience, put together this story map, which proved wonderfully useful throughout this long and complex process. With so many stakeholders, so many meetings, so many documents and revisions and mock-ups and hundreds of lines of copy going back and forth, this was a great tool to set a baseline at the beginning of every meeting or collaborative session, highlighting exactly where we were, what outcome we needed to achieve, and where that fit within the context of the project as a whole.

User experience wireframe sketches

To say we did a lot of sketching and wireframing would be an understatement. In close collaboration with the client, we refined the new onboarding experience down to 4 distinct modules.

Workshop screen designs

Module 1 had two parts.

In part 1, participants - supplied with iPads - were given two minutes to talk face-to-face with other new hires in their cohort. When those two minutes were up, they switched a new partner, and so on.

As the participants were preloaded into the system, the tablets they were carrying would inform them when their time was up, and matched them with their next partner. These pairings were determined by the previous discovered Social Styles. Participants would sometimes be paired with those were similar and sometimes with those who were very different.

We were conscious that for many people, this may be an uncomfortable experience, so we embraced that fact and had some fun with it. The system provided questions to get started, and when the conversation began to dry up, tapping  a button would produce another one. Bonding and laughing over a shared awkwardness is still bonding.

The second part of Module 1 concerned Shaw's values.

We decided that directly broadcasting those would be counterproductive. It's natural to be cycnical about corporate values, it's not a memorable way of conveying them, and at worst it could come off as lecturing.

Instead, we presented the participant with three cards. Each time they flip over a card, they're presented with the opportunity to tell Shaw something about themselves, their personality and their values.

The cards are flipped again to reveal three of the seven Shaw values which align most closely with what the participant told us about themselves. Another way of strengthening that personal connection. Not a one way street, but a relationship between your values and mine.

Shaw values interactive design - image of card detail

Module 2 was designed to familiarise new hires with their environment and the organization, simultaneously. An augmented reality experience, participants would split off into groups of four, and embark on a scavenger hunt around the Shaw offices to locate the images of the Shaw Bots which had been hidden in strategic locations.

Intro to the augmented reality section of the Shaw mobile design

Bot found, participants could experience an immersive retelling of Shaw's storied history, or explore an interactive map of Shaw's sprawling network across Canada.

Augmented reality app layouts

The goal of Module 3 was to encourage new hires to set up an action plan or personal and professional goals for the coming few months, and suggest others in the organization they could reach out to for advice or mentorship based on shared interests. 

Onboarding experience network plan screen designs

Finally, Module 4 offers a period of reflection, to consider the experience, note private thoughts, and leave feedback for the cohort leaders.

Finally, Module 4 offers a period of reflection, to consider the experience, note private thoughts, and leave feedback for the cohort leaders.


Interactive app screen detail

One of the most interesting aspects about this project was the opportunity to reconsider and reframe a tired process, and have it be driven by the desire for participant engagement. To their credit, Shaw embraced this wholeheartedly.

I think that digital agencies can suffer from the same kind of myopia that afflicts other industries. There is often the unconscious bias that we are different from them, and even though we wouldn't want to sit through this process, they will.

It's important to keep that bias in mind. I'm a huge proponent of research, of listening to the needs of an end user, and of designers putting their assumptions aside. But still, if there's a little voice inside saying "I wouldn't enjoy this," listen to it. It's a safe bet that they will probably feel the same way.

Shaw bot guy with his thumbs up

Simon P. Coyle

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