How We Stepped Up Our Employee Onboarding

Becca Van Nederynen | September 29, 2015

It’s easy to rest on your laurels once you have a signed offer letter from your next talented teammate. But while the hard work of finding that person is over, the hard work of keeping him or her engaged has just begun.

This year, the Help Scout team has welcomed 21 new faces. When hiring picks up momentum, it’s important to ensure that each person is set up for success from day one.

As soon as we realized we’d be more than doubling our team size in 2015, our top People Ops priority was to revamp our employee onboarding experience.

Although “employee onboarding” might not be the most titillating topic to cross your path, remember that the onboarding process you build affects every single new hire. Effort up front to get it right pays incredible dividends.

Getting Started

When you want to revamp your onboarding process, begin with first-hand experience and qualitative research. We spoke with Meredith Eves, Head of People Ops at video-hosting company Wistia, who said it’s smart to start with what you know: what was your first week at the company like?

Meredith interviewed everyone on her team about why they worked at Wisita and what their first few days were like after they were hired. From there, she could craft an onboarding experience that reflected those responses.

Keeping the employee experience front and center helped us make a few meaningful improvements here at Help Scout:

Getting Organized

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.

We’ve been using KinHR to manage an onboarding to-do list. We’re able to assign reminders, set up new folks with the logins they need, and send them quick tasks like completing their payment details in ZenPayroll (now Gusto) or writing a short bio to share with the team.

We break it up into tasks that can be completed before they start or in the first week:


We can tailor this list to fit both U.S. and international employees.

First week information

We have a template that is customized depending on if the employee is working the first week in Boston or not.

Getting started

This is also customizable—just check off the tools and teammates for the new hire so they know who’s who and what tools to use.

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.

Lastly, don’t forget that new people bring fresh eyes: they may see something you don’t. We schedule 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins to talk about what changes they might make or what they’d wish they known on day one that they didn’t learn until day 30.

Onboarding Remote Teammates

Onboarding remote teammates isn’t all that different from onboarding people in your office. You’ll want to be extra thoughtful when planning in-person time together so you can make the most of it. Otherwise, your end goal is the same: to set people up for success.

Here are a few practices we’ve found helpful.

Meeting People in Person

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 Boston 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.

We took inspiration from Campaign Monitor and began sending out extra details like a suggested time to arrive (10 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.

Sometimes you just can’t get someone to your company HQ for his first day and that’s okay—you can bring the party to him. When we hired a new engineer from Portugal this summer, we found out he wasn’t able to travel for the rest of the year due to family obligations. We instead spent time over video chat and sent a teammate to work side-by-side with him at a co-working space near his home.

Your New Work Best Friend

Alacrity fills the air in growing companies because everyone is moving with purpose. New hires will often view others as “in a hurry,” and they’ll want to keep pace. Speed is good, but be careful, because they might not slow down and get to know people.

Also, 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 Help Scout teammate, someone who’s been on board for a while steps up and becomes their go-to guy/gal who shows them the ropes. Here’s an example introduction I sent over email for Beenish and Merrill Beth:

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:

A new buddy is especially important for remote workers because 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.

This practice isn’t for remote teams only, though; in-office employees retain the benefit of having a go-to person to consult the first few weeks. When it’s easy to ask questions, it will lead to less confusion and a better learning experience.

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.

Employee onboarding done wrong is handing someone a computer and showing him or her 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.