Employee Onboarding Best Practices

Becca Van Nederynen | May 31, 2017

When the search for your next talented teammate is done and you have the signed offer letter in hand, the hard work of keeping them engaged has just begun.

Creating a wonderful employee onboarding experience has been a priority for our People Ops team from the beginning because it affects every single new hire, and we continue improving our process to ensure that each person is set up for success from day one.

We’ve seen that the effort we put into employee onboarding pays incredible dividends on new hire productivity, employee retention, and creating a great team culture.

Research and preparation

Start with first-hand experience and qualitative research. Ask yourself “What was my first week at the company like?” and think through what went smoothly and what could use some adjusting.

Next, gather data. I check in with new employees several times within their first 90 days to ask things like, “What do you know about Help Scout now that you wish you knew your first week?” Answering these types of questions and keeping the employee experience front and center has helped us make a few meaningful improvements here at Help Scout.

How to craft a great employee onboarding experience

1. Introduce the new employee to the team

Team, meet the newbie. We ask new hires to send us a quick bio that we share with the team in an internal blog post prior to their first day so people can welcome them properly. On their first day, new members fill out a five-question “icebreaker” survey to share a little more about themselves. This is sent to the entire company and then the newbie gets to also read how everyone else answered the same questions on their first day. This helps break the ice and get conversations started.

2. Share company history and vision

Each new member meets with Nick Francis, our CEO, for a talk on Help Scout’s history, team values and organizational structure. This meeting is a favorite among new hires because it grounds them in our mission and connects what they do to the bigger Help Scout picture.

3. Review team structure

We schedule time with new hires to meet with leaders from each of our six teams to get an idea of what everyone does. This gives insight into how each team is working toward the company vision — an important first step to preventing team silos. As a bonus, they quickly begin to learn whom they can go to for what.

4. Schedule casual conversation

When we bring new employees into the Boston office during their first week, we make a point to take them out for dinner or have a team lunch. It’s nice eating with new colleagues, and getting out of the office encourages you to chat about things outside of work. What works best is when you make a dedicated effort to engage the new team member and make them the star of the show.

Employee onboarding logistics

Onboarding is an exciting (and crucial) time for you and your new hire, but it also comes with an extended to-do list. When we were onboarding a single person per month, a checklist in Evernote was all we needed. Once we began welcoming multiple new people within a month, we started shopping around for a better system. There are tools aplenty, and I’d suggest taking a couple for a trial run (our team uses Trello).

We also use Trello to manage benefits onboarding. Gusto is our payroll tool that makes gathering employment paperwork a breeze. We round out our onboarding tools stack with good ol’ email to give people important logistics information as well as some general “what to expect” info.

Employee onboarding checklist

Paperwork

For remote teams with employees in multiple countries, tailor this list to fit the countries where your employees reside:

First week schedule + information

We use an email template that is customized depending on if the employee is working the first week in Boston or not. Here’s a sample:

Subject: Next week - Onboarding Information

Lauren,

We are PUMPED to have you in the office next week! Here's everything you need to know about employee onboarding at Help Scout.

Your first day & how to find the office

When you arrive on Monday (please come around 9:30 AM), I will be there to get you settled. You and I will dive right into onboarding you to some of the fundamentals of “getting around” at Help Scout: how we get to know each other as a remote team, how we communicate, the tools we use, etc. Here are the details on how to find the office. Or feel free to call me at 555-555-5555 with any questions.

Your new computer

When you come in on Monday you'll be able to set up your Macbook Pro and go through the security checklist. When you open up your computer, you'll want to get 1pw set up first so you can start storing all your Help Scout passwords. Let me know if you need help!

Office culture

We're pretty casual in the office so feel free to wear whatever you feel comfortable in. A lot of us wear headphones in the office so if that's your style, please bring some with you. We try to have lunch together as a team around 1-1:30 PM and there are snacks in the office if you get peckish before then.

Dinner with the Boston crew

We want to take you out for dinner on Monday night! Look for a calendar invite from Leah for details.

Receipts

Please hold on to receipts for food and travel while you're here so we can reimburse you. Mel on our finance team will walk you through what to do there.

Meeting the team

In your first week you'll have onboarding meetings with team leads and meet with Mel from our finance team to talk about payroll and benefits. And, of course, you'll spend quite a bit of time with DIRECT REPORT NAME.

Customer support at Help Scout

Customer support is important to us regardless of your role here, so expect to spend some time learning our products with Abigail and the support team starting on 3/6. I'll send you a separate email with more information on that. :)

Any questions between now and then, please let me know!

Cheers,

Becca

The most important information to include in your onboarding email:

You’ll be spending plenty of time with each new person, but having the complete “getting started” process all in one place makes things easier for both of you.

Making new teammates feel welcome

Equally important to grounding your teammate in your company culture is helping them feel comfortable from day one. This means letting them know what to expect and introducing them to people. Here are a couple practices we’ve found helpful.

Set the scene for day 1

When a new employee walks into our Boston office, we have a place ready for them to sit, the wi-fi password on hand, a Help Scout t-shirt, and a map of the area. These things seem simple, but a warm welcome and practical information on your first day can really help ease first day jitters.

We also took inspiration from Campaign Monitor and began sending out extra details like a suggested time to arrive (9:30 a.m.), what we normally wear to work (Converse and jeans), and what to expect for lunch (eat with all of us at 1:30 p.m.!). Removing first day anxieties lets people focus on getting to know the team and the product.

Pair them up with a “work best friend”

Being new at work isn’t so different from being the new kid at school. Wouldn’t it be nice to make a friend on the first day?

For every new teammate, we ask someone who’s been here for a while to become their go-to person and show them the ropes. Here’s an example introduction I sent over email for Jordyn and Q:

Work friends matter, and although friendships naturally form over time, feeling settled in shouldn’t wait. Here are a few things your appointed pal can do:

Having a new buddy to consult the first few weeks makes it easier to ask questions, and asking questions will lead to less confusion and a better learning experience.

Onboarding remote teams

Onboarding remote teammates isn’t all that different from onboarding people in person — give them the tools they need to succeed plus plenty of face time with their new teammates.

Meeting face-to-face is the foundation for effective teamwork, remote or otherwise. We schedule in-person time with new folks by flying them to our small Boston HQ for a few days. We manage the travel details, outline where to go and when, and share a little info about Boston so they feel comfortable arriving in a new city.

If you don’t have an HQ, you might consider flying the newbie to a city where you have a cluster of employees so they can meet people in person and work remotely together from a coffee shop and grab dinner. If you don’t have this kind of flexibility or structure, my recommendation is to simply be extra thoughtful about arranging plenty of opportunities for face time via video.

And a new buddy is especially important for remote workers when you’re not meeting a ton of people face-to-face your first few weeks. With so much to take in, now is not the time to let things get quiet.

Instead of awkwardness and uncertainty, you’ll have camaraderie, connection, and a warm welcome, making this a helpful practice for any company to put into place.

Welcome to the company

Employee onboarding done wrong is handing someone a computer and showing them where to sit. Done well, it leaves a lasting first impression and becomes the first step in keeping talented people excited, happy and engaged for the long haul. Setting up someone for success takes thought and time, but it’s always worth the effort.


About the author: Becca Van Nederynen is on the People Ops Team at Help Scout and is obsessed with crafting a delightful employee experience.