Anne Nynke Jansma
September 11, 2023
min read
People & Culture

Onboarding New Employees: a 5-Step Process (Free Checklists Included)

You've hired someone, great!

What now?

This article will help you develop an efficient and memorable onboarding experience.

We’ll go through the 5 different phases of the employee onboarding process:

  1. Pre-boarding
  2. Company general onboarding
  3. Team and role onboarding
  4. Ongoing development
  5. Off-boarding

We've included a free download of our onboarding checklists and welcome email template at the end of the article.

Why is Onboarding New Employees Important?

New employee onboarding is crucial because it contributes to a positive overall employee experience.

An effective onboarding will have a positive effect on your employer branding, employee engagement and employee turnover.

Less Employee Turnover

Now, with Millennials making up most of the newly recruited workforce, the demand for better Employee Experience is rising. Losing a Millennial employee can cost the company $15,000 to $25,000, according to research.

Recruitment and Onboarding play a vital role in battling high turnover rates.

Recruitment is not only about finding the best match for the job, it is also about setting the right expectations.

For an optimal onboarding experience, start by ensuring recruitment and onboarding roles collaborate and communicate well with each other.

More Employee Engagement

Onboarding your new hires is all about:

  • making them feel welcome,
  • landing in the company and the team, and
  • getting them up to speed and ready to start their role at your company.

The onboarding period is also what sets the tone.

If you work in a self-organized environment and value autonomy, this should be reflected during your onboarding process.

A good onboarding plan finds a balance between holding your newbies by the hand, and letting them immerse themselves in your company culture and swim on their own.

What Are the Different Phases of a Successful Onboarding?

In my experience, there are 5 key phases in every effective onboarding process.

You'll notice that I make a distinction between a general employee onboarding program at company level and a specific orientation program at team and role level.

This is because some information, skills and training are relevant for all employees whereas some skills and knowledge are role or team specific.

Both these parts of onboarding need to be addressed and I feel it's best done separately.

Phase 1: Pre-Boarding

You've found your match, they accepted an offer and there's a starting date. Your new employee onboarding starts now.

Don't be mistaken thinking it only starts when your new team member walks in the office or checks into Zoom for the first time.

An effective employee onboarding starts the moment your recruit signs their contract.

Oftentimes there's a month, maybe two or more between signing a contract and your hire's first day. What you will want to avoid is woo-ing these new team members in their recruitment phase - just to ghost them until their first day. Keep the contact alive!

This phase between signing a contract and your hire's first day is a great time to warm up and prepare for their start.

A great way to do that is for the HR manager to assign the hiring manager and/or an onboarding buddy to the new recruit in an onboarding tool.

Then, both the hiring manager and onboarding buddy can go through  a new employee onboarding checklist to ensure that the new team member feels welcome from the moment they agreed to join.

This new hire checklist could include items as varied as:

  • send a welcome email from the CEO
  • send a team photo with a welcoming message
  • give the new employee early access to our internal chat
  • send a welcome kit with goodies and documentation, and
  • ask the new hire to choose their preferred computer configuration

Pre-boarding is key because it gives the new hire the opportunity to immerse themselves in your company culture early on. This is especially important for new remote employees who may not have an opportunity to visit your offices.

Phase 2: Company General Onboarding

For the new hire, this part of new employee orientation is all about:      

  • understanding your company culture and history
  • going through your employee handbook,
  • getting acquainted with your company-wide tooling,
  • seeing your company structure and org chart, and
  • learning how you work.

For your organization, this part of the employee onboarding process is about:

  • arranging office keys, a desk and hardware,
  • creating accounts and giving access to the right tools,
  • filling out all the right forms for human resources and payroll.

I would advise these general onboarding accountabilities to be part of a circle like your HR team or People circle.

Although I recommend separating General onboarding and Team & Role onboarding, both programs should align. And I'd strongly suggest to start with general onboarding before your new hire starts in their role.

I know you probably can't wait for them to get started in their role because you hired them for a reason, you need their resources, and preferably ASAP.

However, if you jump too quickly into their role, my experience is that the general onboarding easily gets pushed aside. In the long run, this can negatively affect employee productivity and employee retention.

Indeed, without transparency and a strong company-wide formal onboarding, the new hire will struggle to find the information they need to do a great job at team level.

Before you ask new team members to get on with their new job, give them at least 3 days to a week  – some companies even give them a few weeks – to get to know the company, spend a day with other departments, absorb all the general knowledge they need.

Train them properly in your way of working, your tooling and your communication, before you start introducing them to their role. If you do choose to get them started in their role from the get-go, it will be harder to catch up their efficiency later on in the game.

Finding the Right Balance Between Company-Wide and Team Level Information

While optimizing the new employee onboarding program at Springest, I solved this tension by creating a role called 'Newbie'.

Newbie Role in Holaspirit
What the "Newbie" role could look like in Holaspirit

Whenever someone would start at Springest, they would immediately start with one role. This would be the only role they held in their first week.

Once they'd completed their onboarding program, I would notify the Lead Link, and they would assign them the Springeteer role.

(Springest worked as a Holacracy and, as such, the Lead Link was responsible for this action but you could decide to notify HR or their onboarding buddy instead)

This in itself already marked a progress as they were growing into their next role(s). It was a first small win for them early on (yay!).

The Springeteer role is the only role held by everyone in the company and the only role that is in your contract, that you cannot drop. Viisi has since implemented Viisionairs and I have seen other companies follow suit as well.

Phase 3: Team & Role Onboarding Plan

Team and role onboarding is done mostly with the new hire's onboarding buddy.

The number 1 advice I can give to increase the efficiency of the onboarding process is to assign one person – the onboarding buddy– to be their go-to person for questions. Because boy, new hires have LOTS of questions!

That's completely normal.

But it can also be extremely distracting and damaging to your organization if you're not careful.

According to a University of California Irvine study, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being interrupted.

Considering this and as nice and helpful as the team might be, you'll want to prevent newbies from pulling everyone out of their work asking questions to the general audience.

Assign One Person to Answer All Questions

Make sure your new hire sits next to their onboarding buddy during their first few weeks. This way only one person -who is actually accountable- gets distracted.

Use a similar logic for remote onboarding and internal communication tools: if a new hire posts a general question to no one in particular in a large group, everyone will get distracted by a notification. If they make it a habit to fire all questions to their assigned buddy in a DM, one person will get distracted.

It's easy to see what's best for the organization as a whole.

Indeed, helping others when it's not part of your role can have unintended, adverse consequences.

Inspire a Culture of Problem Solving

If you have worked at this company for quite some time already and know answers to most questions, it's very easy and quick for new hires to just ask you.

It is also very easy for you to just give them a straight answer.

However, what's an easy and quick solution now may not be the right approach in the long run. Especially in a self-organized environment that values autonomy.

Indeed, in a self-managed organization, training new hires to take ownership of their roles is one of the primary objectives of the employee onboarding process.

If you don't encourage autonomy during the onboarding process, don't be surprised if new hires take time to get up to speed and demonstrate entrepreneurial qualities.

Of course, in order for this to work, you'll need to make sure that the information is available and findable.

That's part of the reason we built Holaspirit actually: to help new hire orientation.

It's not an employee onboarding software built for HR professionals but it's definitely an employee onboarding solution!

It's perfect to:

Role accountabilities in Holaspirit
Document a role's purpose and accountabilities in Holaspirit

  • get acquainted with the organizational structure of the company,

Holaspirit's org chart
Visualizing Holaspirit's purpose and org chart in... Holaspirit !

  • understand who does what and how various teams work with each other.
role holaspirit

Making Holaspirit a part of the structured onboarding program is a great way to help new employees get up to speed quickly.

How to Protect Your Time and Stay Kind

You want to find the right balance between being available for urgent questions and being able to do your work uninterrupted.

A technique that works well is scheduling daily or weekly onboarding Q&A sessions where your new hire(s) can ask all of their non-urgent questions.

Pro-tip: if you have multiple people starting in your team at the same time, make these group Q&As to save yourself some time not having to answer the same questions for different people.

When a new hire interrupts you to ask a question outside of these regular onboarding check-ins, make it a habit to ask if they need help right away or if it can wait until the Q&A?

If they need help right away, ask them what they've tried so far, where they've looked for the information or where would they start to try to solve this.

Can't figure it out? Let me show you where to look!

Of course, the onboarding buddy should adapt to the situation.

If you notice someone is shy and they find it hard to ask for help you might want to check-in with them throughout the day to make sure they're not completely lost for hours on end.

During a remote onboarding, you'll want to make extra sure that the new hire feels supported and part of the team. Inviting 1 or 2 guests to join your virtual onboarding Q&As can be a great way for new hires to learn more about the company.

Phase 4: Ongoing Development

Collecting Feedback to Fine-Tune the Process

To optimize your onboarding process, schedule regular check-in times for at least 3 months to ask every new hire for feedback.

How are they feeling about their onboarding experience?

What do they like?

What can be improved?

Are they missing any information?

Do they wish some steps took place sooner?

A Fresh Set of Eyes = a Fresh Batch of Insights

New hires have new insights on all levels of your organization, not just the onboarding process.

They are not yet stuck into your way of doing things.

That's why I love asking the new hires for candid feedback on how we run things. I'll ask them for a list of improvements they would make if it was up to them.

It's incredible what you can learn about your own processes, but also about the ingenuity of these new gems you hired.

Keep doing check-ins with onboarding buddy throughout the first 3 months. Keep a dedicated weekly time slot available for Q&A, but assess the need for them with newbie every (other) week.

Phase 5: Off-Boarding

The way you treat team members who leave your organization says a lot about your company culture.

Take a second to reflect on current off-boarding processes:

  • Are they in line with your values?
  • Do they make the person who's leaving feel valued?
  • Do they reassure the people who are staying that you can be trusted?

It doesn't have to be anything fancy, as long as it's sincere and kind.

Depending on how long the employee has been working at the company, a simple coffee break where you gather people around and thank someone for their time is fine.

You don't want to be a phoney and pretend everything is ok when a difficult collaboration comes to an end but you also don't want to ignore someone completely.

Revolutionize your way of working now!