A guide to the employee onboarding process

In their book, The Power of Moments, authors Chip and Dan Heath describe the impact of an employee’s first day. It’s something that can either be a memorable experience and catalyst for ongoing loyalty, or a missed opportunity to make that new team member feel welcome and appreciated

With a well-defined, consistently executed onboarding process in place, companies can make sure that vital first day won’t go to waste. In addition to engaging new hires with the company culture, expectations and workload, and setting them up for success in their new role, a formalized onboarding process may actually increase retention rates.

According to the Wynhurst Group consulting firm, new employees who go through a structured onboarding program are 58 percent more likely to be with the organization after three years than those who did not.

So, how can an organization develop an effective onboarding plan? What should it include? And what are the timelines for execution? We’ve compiled some industry insights and best practices here to get you started.

What does a successful onboarding process look like?

A successful onboarding process helps your new employees adjust to the social and performance aspects of their job as quickly and seamlessly as possible. The goal is to clearly communicate expectations, provide the training and tools the employee needs to perform their job well, and make them feel welcomed as a valued part of the company.

The onboarding process should start before the new employee’s first day on the job by getting everything ready for their arrival internally: from informing colleagues that a new team member is coming, to making sure the tools and workspace for that new hire are ready to go.

On the employee’s first day, make sure the team goes out of their way to make their new colleague feel welcome. Some companies gift the employee with company swag, like logoed t-shirts, mugs or water bottles to punctuate the fact that they’re now part of the company. A prescheduled team lunch or happy hour on that crucial first day helps that new hire start forming relationships early on, and does wonders for morale.

Throughout the first few weeks, make sure that the employee is thoroughly trained, without throwing so much new material his or her way that it becomes overwhelming. Check in regularly to ensure that your new hire feels supported, confident, and has a chance to ask questions about ongoing projects or any other areas where he or she is feeling a disconnect.

It’s important to recognize that an employee only completely moves from the onboarding phase to the retention phase after a full year. So, schedule your check-ins accordingly. Don’t stop too early, or you might not achieve the results or retention you want.

The four phases of an onboarding process

A strong onboarding process has four distinct phases: Pre-onboarding, Orientation/Welcome, Training, and Engagement.

1. Pre-onboarding: The pre-onboarding phase starts the moment the employee accepts the offer through their first day on the job. In this phase, the goal is to ensure your employee that they made the right decision, ease their pre-first-day jitters and let them know what’s ahead. Send all the paperwork they need to sign beforehand, and give them adequate time to complete it. Some companies even send a video or a document that gives them an example of the company culture, or details what their first day will be like.

2. Orientation/Welcome: This phase begins on the employee’s first day, which you should try to keep as simple as possible, to give the new hire time to acclimate to his or her colleagues and new surroundings. This phase is also the time to help your new hire understand your organizational culture, policies around time off, attendance, and holidays, as well as where to park, how to sign up for insurance, and other basics. Let them know about the communication tools your organization uses, like Slack, a company intranet, specific project management software, and other systems they’ll be using.

At the end of this phase, schedule a meeting with your new hire to ensure he or she is adjusting to these new processes and the new work environment.

3. Training: The training phase is where you begin to get into the nitty-gritty of the new hire’s specific role. This is one of the most important phases, because it has a direct impact on how successful your new employee will be at their job. Make sure your training is thorough, well organized and that the materials they need are easily accessible.

Experts recommend assigning a peer mentor to your new hire as a go-to for questions and help.

4. Engagement: The last phase of onboarding provides ongoing support throughout the new hires’ first year as they transition into seasoned employees. Managers should set clear expectations and goals, and monitor progress. During this phase, it is particularly important for new employees to have a series of “wins,” so they feel encouraged in their new role. After a few months, the new hire’s manager should conduct a performance review to recognize achievements, discuss any improvements that are needed, and get a sense of how that employee is feeling about his or her new job

Adjusting onboarding to an online environment

Easing a person into a new job is one thing if that person is working on site. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, an ever-increasing amount of the workforce are fully remote. While onboarding a new hire virtually requires an adjustment, the same basic principles apply.

Offer letter and set up. Rather than signing offer letters in person, email the new hires their offer letters with a way for them to sign electronically. Fill them in on whether they’re working on a fixed or flexible schedule fixed schedule, your PTO/sick day policy, what equipment they need or Internet requirements, as well as what hardware they’ll be receiving from you, and when to expect it. Confirm that all necessary hardware or equipment is ordered and delivered on time, and that set-up instructions are provided to remote employees before their first day.

Warm welcome. It’s important to make remote employees feel included and part of the team. A great way to do this is by sending some company swag in the mail, and planning a virtual happy hour. This is a good way to introduce the new hire to the rest of the team, explain the roles each colleague has in the company, as well as interacting with the new employee in a more casual setting.

Virtual training sessions. Most roles have training during the first week, be it around software platforms, requirements of the job, and team communication. In-person, these sessions are more naturally engaging; however, virtually, it can be hard to keep things interesting.

In SoftwareAdvice’s “Designing an Effective Virtual Onboarding Program,” Gartner recommends these four tips for engaging virtual training sessions:

  • Keep the class small
  • Assign a co-trainer to help answer questions
  • Schedule office hours for employees to ask questions
  • Opt for short sessions with frequent breaks to keep the focus

Schedule regular check-ins. Especially during the first week, and leading up until about week five of the new hire’s job, schedule regular check-ins to make sure the new hire feels supported, has any questions answered, and doesn’t get overwhelmed. After the first few weeks, these one-on-ones can be less frequent, but are still a great way to check-in on goals and ongoing projects.

Ask for feedback on the onboarding process. After your remote new hires are successfully onboarded, check-in on how it went, what they liked, didn’t like, and what they would suggest to improve the virtual onboarding process. We’re all adjusting to a more remote workforce, and getting feedback from the people who experience it firsthand is an excellent way to consistently improve your remote onboarding process.

Stay on Track with an Onboarding Checklist

As critical as onboarding is, the other demands of business can make it easy to miss a step or forget to cover everything with the new hire. This checklist, put together by Indeed, can help keep you on track.

  • Make it official with HR: (submit job requisition, HR may need to complete background check before official hiring.)
  • Close the open position: don’t forget to remove any job postings that are still live
  • Prepare new hire paperwork: tax documents, contracts, payroll information. Print off employee handbook and provide employee benefits information
  • Obtain devices and equipment: Make a request for all devices and equipment in advance so they are ready to go for new hire’s first day (or they arrive at their location by their first day, if remote)
  • Set up accounts and create logins: Contact IT, and ensure employee has a company email set up and login credentials to all the necessary platforms they will be using.
  • Set up the workspace: Make their workspace nice! Clean desk and chair, company swag on their desk, office supplies, welcome kit.
  • Schedule new hire orientation: Set aside time during their first day for orientation, time to sign paperwork, lunch with the team, meetings with peers they will be working with closely.
  • Send a welcome email to your new employee: Pre-onboarding welcome email to get them excited! Can include dress code, details about what to expect, parking, first day schedule, etc.
  • Tour of the building: Give your new employee a tour of the workplace, and provide them with a map of the building so they’ll feel comfortable finding their way around. Make sure to point out bathrooms, break rooms and other common areas!
  • Assign a peer mentor: their go-to guide for asking questions and acclimating to the role.
  • Send a new employee announcement: Welcome them to the team!
  • Schedule time for onboarding feedback
  • Set up a 30, 60 and 90-day check-in plan

The first day, the first impression, and the first step toward retention

An effective onboarding process is more than a nice-to-have option. It is a lasting impression that can be the difference between retention and attrition. Cover the basics outlined in this blog, and add extras that make your onboarding unique to your company, and you’ll soon see the positive impact it makes on employee satisfaction and retention.

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