Have you ever started a new job and your first day goes something like this: You arrive, and no one was expecting you or realized you were starting that day; you didn’t have a workstation set up; no one knew how to get into your computer; there was no work for you to do; and no one knew which forms you needed to complete to get you enrolled in benefits, payroll, etc.?
I have. It’s a terrible feeling and a bad first impression. It left me feeling adrift, unwelcome, and like I didn’t belong.
That’s why several years ago, I pledged to do much better for our new hires at Cx Associates.
Start with a List
For smaller companies like Cx Associates, where the person who handles HR functions often juggles many other responsibilities apart from HR, it can be difficult to give the onboarding process its due – you have a million other things going on and new hires usually happen relatively infrequently, so it can be a challenge to reorient yourself to all that goes into it.
There are plenty of fancy human resource information systems (HRIS) out there that do a great job at automating the onboarding process for both the employee and the HR person. We’ve looked at a few of these but haven’t pulled the trigger on one yet. However, you don’t need a fancy, expensive system to make big improvements in your onboarding process and organization. All you need to get started is a to-do list. For a while, I was using Todoist, but when Cx Associates migrated many of our PM functions to a tool called ClickUp, I moved my onboarding list there, and it’s been great. The onboarding space for each new employee is setup similar to a kanban framework, with different time-defined statuses such as “To Do 1-2 Weeks Before Start Date” and “To Do First Day.” The various tasks can be assigned to staff involved in the onboarding process and to the new staff member.
This allows me to create a new board for each new hire, and I don’t need to spend time reorienting myself to all of the myriad things that need to be done – it’s all at my fingertips. When the new staff member starts on day 1, it’s all clearly laid out to them what they need to do and deliver to me. It also provides key bits of information – links to our employee handbook, a staff directory, and what to do if they have any technical issues.
Creating a Sense of Belonging
I’ve worked at Cx Associates for over 14 years, so my memories from my first days at jobs past are starting to fade. Despite that, I always approach the onboarding process with a new hire with a sense of empathy – I make myself remember what that disorganized first day was like for me all those years ago, and I try to put myself in the new staff member’s shoes. First days can be stressful and scary, and I want to mitigate those feelings for them as much as possible. On my end, this starts before the new staff member’s first day. After a new hire has accepted an offer, I’m in touch with them a few times to work out logistics – things like what day and time they’ll be starting, how to find our office, the expected hours, etc. (When you’ve worked at the same company for a while, it’s easy to take for granted that not everyone knows these things!) I also send them all the usual forms new hires need to complete ahead of time, so they don’t get buried in red tape on their first day. This allows plenty of time for any questions or clarifications and allows me time to get them all set up in a bunch of systems and tools we use ahead of time.
We also draft and share with new staff members a first day welcome letter. This letter is sent ahead of time and is in their in-box when they first log on to their laptop. It’s a short letter than simply welcomes them aboard, shares why we hired them, and lays out an outline of what to expect their first week at Cx Associates. This letter also has links to things like our mission and vision statements, the history of Cx Associates so they know where we came from, the employee handbook, and some key information about our culture like how we work and communicate. The goal with all of this is to make the new staff member feel at home, welcomed, valued, and to ensure any information they might be looking for is at their fingertips.
Know Your Team
As Cx Associates has grown over the years, we’ve added several completely remote employees. We now have four fully remote employees in four states outside of Vermont. Around the start of the pandemic, when we were all remote, we started using a tool called Know Your Team. The idea was to use this to foster some semblance of connection among us while all working remotely. We’ve found KYT to be a great tool, even post-pandemic, and it’s got some great features for new hires. One is that each new staff member is asked to complete some “icebreaker” questions – where they grew up, what their household looks like, what they’ve been watching or reading lately – as well as a few work preference questions – are they introverted or extroverted, how do they like to receive feedback, when are they most productive, etc. (None of these are required – staff members can answer as many or as few questions as they like.) Once the new staff member shares their answers, they can read everyone else's answers and vice versa. This allows all our staff members to essentially be on the same page – the remote employees can still absorb some details about their new coworker without having to be in the same office with them, greeting them in person.
Another practice we began instituting at Cx Associates was to assign each new staff member a “work buddy.” This is usually someone who has been at Cx Associates for more than a year or two and basically becomes the new hire’s go-to person for anything from where to find a good lunch place near the office to how to work the printer. We’ve found that having one assigned, go-to person mitigates feelings of confusion and makes it clear who to ask if they have a question about anything.
The Goal: Fostering a Sense of Belonging
I want Cx Associates to have a reputation as a great place to work. After all, in an industry like engineering consulting, competition for qualified workers is formidable. If this reputation helps sway a candidate our way between two job offers, fantastic. And while that’s obviously a great outcome, it’s not the end goal. The goal is to create a workplace – whether you work in our Burlington office or are a remote staff member – where you feel like you can be yourself, you feel like you belong, and are valued and respected. Staff members who feel this way will be happier, be more productive, stay longer, have a greater sense of fulfillment, be less stressed, and will do great work in line with our mission and vision.
We strive for continuous improvement and recognize that there are still opportunities to enhance our onboarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts, we are actively developing a technical training process map specifically tailored for new engineers, in addition to our existing HR-oriented onboarding process. Although ClickUp effectively fulfills our current needs, adopting a dedicated HR-specific tool has the potential to significantly enhance efficiency. However, for small businesses, I strongly urge you to implement the straightforward steps mentioned above, as they can yield significant improvements to your onboarding process. By prioritizing these measures, you can pave the way for a more seamless and effective onboarding experience.