Imagine you’ve just accepted a role with an up-and-coming tech company. Before your first day, you’re learning as much as you can about your new company, looking up teammates on LinkedIn (in incognito of course), reading press coverage about the company, and getting congratulatory messages from loved ones when they learn about your new role. You’re excited to start and you’re really looking forward to the work ahead.

On the first day of work, you arrive bright and early to the office and you’re not sure where to park. At the door, you realize you don’t have the code to the building and instructions to get in were not sent over. Now you’re just out there, waiting in the cold for someone to open the door and you awkwardly explain you’re the new hire.

Onboarding new hires is about taking this perspective into account and designing the best possible experience to get your new teammate assimilated and contributing as quickly as possible. It includes ironing out the paperwork, clarifying roles and responsibilities, aligning expectations and goals, and having your new hire feel like they belong and are excited to work towards your company’s vision.

Onboarding impacts retention, new hire productivity, and more!

Beyond making sure new hires feel welcomed and a part of the company, onboarding also reduces turnover, arguably one of the most costly expenses a business can incur.  

According to Gallup, the process of searching and applying to join a new team often involves hours of looking up ratings and reviews of the company, learning about the company’s culture, and buying into the company’s promises during recruitment. Deciding to join a new company is typically accompanied by leaving another and new hires are essentially betting that their new role will be better than the last. They’re hoping that the new employer (you) will be able to fulfill the needs their previous employer could not.

As soon as a decision has been made to join your firm, every single interaction moving forward shapes the new hire’s perception of what it’s like to be “on the inside”.

Bamboo HR reported that 31% of survey respondents quit their jobs in the first 6 months because their boss was a jerk, they changed their minds about the work type, or the work turned out to be different than expected. The report goes on to explain that a manager-led onboarding process can dramatically improve how new hires view the company and the work they’re doing.

In another study, it was reported that a well-planned onboarding process can retain 91% of new hires in their first year. It also impacts long-term retention with 69% of employees staying with the company for three years and increases retention rates by 58% after three years.

In terms of worker productivity, an onboarding program is also likely to increase new-hire productivity by 50%. In turn, manager satisfaction also increases by 20% when there’s a formal onboarding program in place.

Despite its importance, 88% of organizations don’t onboard well.

What should onboarding programs cover?

Maslow's hierarchy of human needs triangle
Source: Clear Company

A good way to frame the needs of new hires can be drawn from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It highlights the different forms of human needs, with the most fundamental need for survival at the bottom. Physiological needs include things like food and water followed by Security needs such as shelter and safety. As we progress upwards, we humans begin to crave a sense of belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

maslow’s hierarchy applied to new hire onboarding
Maslow’s hierarchy applied to new hire onboarding

When we apply this framework to new hires, it’s easier to spot the gaps required to successfully onboard them.

At the very bottom we have the basic administrative tasks to cover. Has the new hire signed all the contracts and filled out the necessary paperwork? Do they have a designated desk space in the office? Do they have access and user permissions to all the tools and shared files necessary for the role?

Moving up, we begin to look at activities that help assimilate new hires into new teams and work environments. It involves setting the groundwork for intangible outcomes like building relationships with teammates and managers, as well as more formal tasks like introducing the company’s culture, vision and mission. Don’t forget to go over any internal policies and workplace training that needs to be completed.

Finally, the acceleration stage of an onboarding program aims to have new hires become productive and contribute to the overall success of their teams and the larger organization. The ultimate goal of any onboarding program is to reduce time from administration to acceleration, and to ensure a smooth transition into long-term career development.

Who’s responsible for onboarding the new hire?

First and foremost, it is crucial that onboarding programs are manager-led. Bamboo HR found that 33% of respondents wanted their managers to show them the ropes, not HR.

In practice, this points to a more collaborative approach where HR offers overall guidance to help hiring managers set up their onboarding programs, but managers themselves take on most of the execution.

To get a better idea of how to onboard new developers in practice, I spoke to Ruben Grill, Lead Backend Developer at TeleClinic and former Head of Engineering at Pure Labs. According to Ruben, while both Engineering and HR are involved, C-Level managers should also be included in the onboarding process.

Ruben Grill, Lead Backend Developer at TeleClinic

Here’s a breakdown of roles and responsibilities:

Human Resources

In a nutshell, Ruben says HR ensures the new hire gets all the support they need to do a good job. This involves coordinating onboarding appointments with the engineering manager and C-Level managers, introducing the new hire to all the tools and equipment, and making sure the new hire feels welcomed by the team.

In reality, this starts by sharing a rough agenda with all the relevant people so they can schedule an onboarding meeting with the new hire. This often involves the engineering manager and C-Level managers. The agenda is then printed out for the new hire on their first day.

On the first day, HR is responsible for the first ever introduction meeting, introducing the new hire to company-wide tools, setting up user accounts, clarifying administrative things like salary and working hours, and so on. HR also sets the new hire up with all their new equipment like laptops, monitors, and so on.

HR tends to also take the lead when welcoming new hires on their first day, offering them a tour of the office, and organizing a get-together or lunch with other teammates.

Engineering Managers

An engineering manager is typically responsible for introducing the developer to the ins and outs of a team. This includes introducing the team structure, team meeting schedules, dev tools and ticket systems used, and so on.

The engineering manager will also be responsible for working with the new hire on their development goals, which happens during 1-1 check-ins, quarterly review meetings, and performance reviews.

C-Level Managers

C-Level managers play a crucial role in getting new hires to feel part of the company and getting them excited to work towards the company’s vision and goals for the future.

Ideally, the CEO introduces the company’s vision and history, the Head of Product introduces the product and its users, and the COO or CMO offers insights into current challenges. A session with the CTO is useful to understand the technical roadmap.

In the long run, Ruben highlights the importance of regular alignment meetings to help the new hire see how their work contributes to the company’s long-term goals. All-hands meetings can be a great way for teams to share their goals, progress and challenges.

“We [also] have a transparent roadmap that shows all upcoming projects of each team, and a bi-weekly roadmap alignment meeting where everyone can join. It’s optional but the result is an up-to-date and aligned team.”

Best Practices for Structuring Your Onboarding Program

When it comes to putting an onboarding plan together, Ruben stressed the importance of giving new developers enough time to get to know the team and to get comfortable in a new environment. It’s best not to rush into assigning tasks for them to work on.

“I think that expectations in the beginning need to be low because new hires are in the learning phase. [This should also] be communicated so new developers don’t feel pressured.”

In this section, we’ll go through the best practices for each stage of an onboarding program and include tips to take your program to the next level.

Pre-boarding

Pre-boarding is the time between the final interview and the first day of work. During this time, your candidate is sussing you out just as much as you’re sussing them out. You should also keep in mind that they might be interviewing at other companies.

Depending on your hiring process, your final application stage may include a “test day” in the office or a few more rounds of interviews with key people in your company. Take this opportunity to:

  • Introduce the candidate to future team members, team leads, or managers. For remote teams, you can arrange for different people to drop in at different times to meet the new candidate.
  • If you have an office and are conducting a remote interview, give them a virtual tour of the office.

As soon as your offer letter is accepted, your company should continue validating the candidate’s decision to join your team. In this webinar, the speakers recommend getting as much of the administrative work out of the way before their first day of work as well.

A week before starting, be sure to:

  • Send an itinerary for Day 1 along with any practical information that might be helpful. For instance, if your candidate has to go to the office, give them instructions about where and when to meet you. If you’re a remote company, make sure to send them all the login details for their new email and Slack accounts.
  • Complete all contracts and paperwork required
  • Have them complete their request for equipment if you provide equipment or allowances for remote work
  • Share more information about your company’s culture, vision, and mission.

For a more personal touch, you could also gather a few team members to create a short video or GIF to express how excited they are for the new hire to come on board. A less tech savvy option would be a simple handwritten note or card delivered (by mail!) to the new hire. For companies with larger budgets, feel free to send customized company swag to your new hire.

First day

First impressions count. Day one should be a red carpet experience for your new hire. Aim to make them feel welcomed and include opportunities for meaningful interactions with their new teammates.

Apart from an office tour to show them where the toilets are and the weird quirks to your coffee machine, here are some things you should also include:

  • A less formal coffee chat with the hiring manager to get to know each other and a more formal check-in later in the day to clarify roles and responsibilities and align expectations.
  • An introduction to the company and its different teams (whip out the org chart here)
  • Introduction to a buddy or mentor
  • Introduce your new hire to the company over Slack
  • Share manuals or provide training for role-critical tools
  • Share access to company wikis and technical documentation
  • Team lunch or a team call with an engaging ice breaker for remote teams.
  • Share the itinerary for the rest of the week, including regular team meetings.

To accelerate relationship building, engineering managers should take the opportunity to learn about a new hire. Here are some things you can ask your new teammate:

  • How do you do your best work? How can I support you?
  • What type of work energizes and excites you?
  • How do you like to schedule your days? Do you prefer having meetings earlier or later in the day?
  • How do you like to give and receive feedback?
  • How do you prefer to give and receive recognition?

First week

After a delightful first day, the rest of the first week should be spent learning about the company, its product, and its customers.

  • Introduction to the company culture and history, including its origin story, values, vision, mission, and key milestones.
  • Introduction to the product. If you’re selling a SaaS product, have your new hire create a dummy account to play around with.
  • Introduction to your customers and how they use the products. You could include product recordings or customer interviews.
  • Introduction to technical documentation (I cover this in detail further down)
  • Introduce the new hire at your next all-hands meeting
  • Schedule a buddy or mentor check-in
  • Get onboarding feedback to improve future onboarding programs. A simple survey should suffice. Learn how to structure your onboarding surveys here.
  • Check in at the end of the week to recognize wins and identify areas where the new hire needs more support. This is also a good time to review onboarding goals you might have set for the new hire in their first month.

To get the most out of your first kick-off meeting with your new hire, here are some important talking points to cover in your check-ins:

  • Role clarity: Go over responsibilities, review the job description, and set expectations. This is especially important as 1 in 4 new hires want a clear understanding of their responsibilities.
  • Development, compensation, and rewards: Discuss financial and non-financial incentives available at your company, and the different career paths your new hire can work towards. This conversation is important and should happen far ahead of their first performance review.
  • Motivators at work: Ask about a previous project that excited and energized your new hire. This can help managers understand the type of work they should assign to the new hire and the conditions to help them do their best work.

First 30 days

The first month often involves a lot of learning, more specifically, learning how things get done at your company. Be sure to cover the following:

  • Introduction to coding standards, programming process, workflow frameworks, and how your team sets up their local development environment.
  • Introduction to software development methodology
  • Share the team’s repository documentation
  • Let your new hire start off with smaller tasks like a common bug fix or updating an old feature. Having them tackle something easy to start with can give them a sense of achievement for contributing meaningfully to the team.
  • Schedule a buddy or mentor check-in, reducing frequency moving forward.
  • Weekly check-in with managers to ensure the new hire is getting all the support they need to excel at work
  • Pair-programming sessions are a great way to familiarize your new hire with the overall codebase and coding standards
  • Towards the end of the month, have a more in-depth check-in to recognize wins, review goals and identify areas where the new hire might need support.
  • Ask for additional onboarding feedback for future onboarding programs

Not sure if you should incorporate a buddy system to your onboarding programs? Read this article.

First 60 days

In the next 30 days, your new hires should feel more comfortable with their work environment and their new teammates. Managers should consider assigning some long-term responsibilities to new hires as well.

During check-ins, managers should continue to recognize wins and make sure new hires have all the relevant information and support they need to do a job well.

First 90 days

As they approach the third month, your new hires should be relatively comfortable participating in discussions and taking on tasks. Now is also the time to let them work more independently on tasks.

Towards the end of the month, engineering managers should consider fleshing out more long-term goals for new hires. This should be done during regular 1-1 check-ins.

Transitioning to long-term growth and management

An often overlooked aspect of onboarding is the transition from onboarding to long-term development. While the initial kick-off meeting with managers and other team members happens in the first 30 days, recurring 1-1 check-ins can be a great transition point from onboarding to long-term development.

In these check-ins, especially after the first 30 days, managers should begin setting long-term objectives and goals, and finding ways to support their development in the next three to six months.

According to Ruben, TeleClinic’s Lead Backend Developer, he uses weekly check-ins and quarterly review meetings to reflect on the past quarter and plan for the next quarter. These check-ins also include time for personal development conversations where they define or refine a scorecard for each developer.

“Developer scorecards can be viewed by anyone in the company to give a quick overview of the developer’s skills, plans for specialization and personal development, as well as assessment goals for the upcoming quarter.”

Apart from regular check-ins, the next goalpost is a formal performance review. Be sure to have development conversations early in the onboarding journey so new hires have clear goals and targets by the time they sit down for their first performance review.

Other Onboarding Considerations

Documentation

To help your new teammate hit the ground running, it’s important to have all your technical and project documentation in order. Your new hire, or anyone on the team for that matter, should have access to the information they need when they need it, so they don’t waste time digging through the digital clutter of old Slack messages or outdated handbooks.

Having an internal wiki is a great way to share job-critical information. Making it accessible to everyone on the team also means it’s easier to update when changes are made. Your wikis should include information like user stories, common bugs and workarounds, and SOPs for the company and team-wide processes.

Technical documentation

For developers, CTO of Relevant Ihor Feoktistov uses this checklist to remind hiring managers about the information they need to gather for new hires, remote or in-office:

  • Source code and ideally access to your team’s GIT-repository
  • Dependencies for your project, including the version number for each one
  • API keys and credentials for the tools used in the project
  • Sample data and the manual for its input
  • Design patterns and style guides (if relevant)
  • Test suites to make sure everything runs smoothly
  • Deployment credentials for staging and production servers
  • If available, deployment notes to help team members learn the application’s quirks from previous experiences and avoid past mistakes.

Project or feature documentation

It is also important to share details about the project or feature that is being developed, to provide important context about how the end-product will be used. Here are some things that come to mind:

  • What is the goal of this feature or project?
  • How is it supposed to work in relation to other features in the same SaaS product or ecosystem?
  • What are the design guidelines, user flows and coding standards?
  • How does your team work on a project or feature from start to finish? What are the different environments (dev, staging, production) and who’s responsible for production deployments?
  • What issues have you faced in the past when working on this (or a similar) project, and how were they solved?
  • What issues are you facing right now and what solutions are you working on?

Keeping your documentation up-to-date

Ruben acknowledges that keeping documentation updated is tricky. While monthly meetings to discuss and solve problems are a great way to create alignment in a team, writing it up in Confluence can be time-consuming. For Ruben’s team:

“We decided to provide at least one readme file for each high-level module we have. It allows us to quickly understand what a module is for, how it can be tested, and highlight less obvious caveats.”

Tips for remote companies

As more and more teams embrace remote work, managers and HR professionals are keen to know how to make new hires feel welcomed and get them integrated as soon as possible.

Here are some practical tips to ensure smooth communication and setting the right tone straight away:

  • Send your new hire a physical gift on their first day of work. You could also send them a cash voucher to treat themselves to a nice meal after their first day of work.
  • Managers and team leads should clarify communication expectations from the start. For example, if your team prefers to skip daily stand-ups in favor of a simple Slack update at the start of a workday, this should be highlighted to the new hire.
  • Agree on non-negotiables such as weekly check-ins, company all-hands, and so on.
  • Invest in the right tools and get buy-in from the entire company. There’s no point getting a Slack subscription if some team members still prefer long email chains for WhatsApp messaging.
  • If possible, provide employees with an allowance to make sure they can afford the equipment they need to do their best work. For example, the allowance can be used for working in cafes, upgrading home internet connection, or subscribing to a co-working space.
  • Help your new hires and employees set and uphold their boundaries. For instance, if your team has flexible working hours or you work in different timezones, it might be common to receive emails outside of working hours. Help your team balance work and life with reminders to only respond to emails during work hours or discourage emails over weekends.

Security and safety protocols

To learn more about security and safety protocols when onboarding new hires, I spoke to Craig Thomson, an information security consultant based in Cambridge, UK.

Craig Thomson, security consultant
“I assess and advise on anything that may present a risk to a business's critical information. That could include malicious and targeted cyber-related threats, simple mistakes that accidentally expose sensitive information, or assurances that payroll goes through each month. It's a very broad spectrum.

People have the potential to be your strongest asset and your weakest link. Having the right people on your team can be the difference between sustained prosperity and total collapse. Therefore it is important that you are diligent about how you approach the entire employee lifecycle, from hiring through to their last day.”

For companies looking to improve their security protocols, Craig says it starts with hiring the right people.

“Firstly, make the responsibilities clear. Write a good job description [and] communicate clearly what you are looking to bring into your business (along with fair compensation). It also provides you with the boundaries in which your employees can be held accountable fairly. This can prevent potential discipline and legal issues from the outset. A disgruntled employee is capable of plenty of damage.”

Read more: How to Hire Remote Developers in 2021

The next step is to vet your candidates and do a background check on them.

“Whether this is a simple reference check, or more in-depth ID verification and criminal records checks completely depends on the business's appetite for risk. It is important to know who you are potentially bringing into your inner circle and giving access to your sensitive data. CVs and interviews only give you one viewpoint. Trust but verify.”

With all that in mind, Craig recommends covering the following when it comes to onboarding your developers:

  • Relevant policies and procedures
  • Access to necessary facilities and equipment only
  • Access to necessary information only
  • Relevant health and safety training
  • Relevant security training
  • An outline of the reporting chain and where to share questions or concerns

Measuring Onboarding Performance

If you don’t measure your onboarding programs, how do you know if it’s effective?

While HR experts recommend sending out surveys to new hires on day 7, day 30, day 60 and day 90, Ruben, TeleClinic’s Lead Backend Developer, encourages teams to send out at least one survey.

“We run a high-level assessment to find out how onboarding went, ask new hires if the process lacked any information, and ask them if they have ideas for improvement.

I really appreciate that kind of feedback because even small details can make a difference. Small details are typically not shared without surveys either because people only think about them when they’re asked to reflect on the process, or because most people don’t want to report minor problems when not asked for it.”

According to Culture Amp, here are some questions to ask:

  • I would recommend [Company] as a great place to work.
  • [Company] motivates me to go beyond what I would if I were in a similar role elsewhere.
  • I am confident in using the systems and tools I need in my role.
  • I have a good idea about what I still need to learn to do my job well.
  • I understand how my role contributes to the organizational goals of [Company].
  • My role so far matches the role description provided to me.

Get Started!

If you think it’s time to step up your onboarding program, here are some easy steps to get started.

Map out timelines and objectives

What are key milestones for the first day, first week, and the following 30, 60, and 90 days? For example, when will you schedule those crucial long-term development conversations?

Consider the support HR teams need to managers and anyone else involved

  • Think about everyone involved and create a checklist for each person
  • Offer training for managers and team leads to become better coaches who can drive long-term development for their teams.

Include documentation in your everyday workflow

Make it a habit to record changes and updates. The last thing you want is to hand over outdated documentation to your new hire.

Put yourself in their shoes.

Sometimes, starting a new job also means moving to a new city or country. Consider the support you can offer your new co-worker as they navigate a new environment.

It is important to remember that every single person is responsible for onboarding new team members, making them feel welcome and integrating them into the company. This may be in small ways such as showing them how to submit an expense report or showing them where the tea bags are kept.

In whatever way you help out your new co-workers, know that your bit of generosity, small or large, will be remembered in years to come.

References and Additional Resources