Employee Onboarding: What You Need To Know

Chris Ronzio

June 22, 2020

Hiring top talent is only part of building a productive team. Once secured, you still need to take new hires through your employee onboarding process to get them up to speed and positioned to succeed in their new role.

So, how do you know if your onboarding will do all this?

Here is every need-to-know about employee onboarding from a comprehensive checklist to best practices to onboarding work from home (WFH) employees – straight from the team behind the world’s best onboarding software:

What is employee onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of equipping new employees with the tools and knowledge necessary to succeed, both in their role and at the company.

When your new hire arrives on Day 1, they are scared. And they are trying to figure out where they fit into it all. But your employee onboarding process shouldn’t just welcome them to your company, it should make them gungho about what you do and pumped to be a part of it.

By the end of their onboarding process, your new hire should not only know what’s expected of them but be adding real value to your company as a whole.

Depending on the company, this process is timed to take anywhere from a day to 2 years. But in most cases, a new hire is successfully onboarded in 6 months to a year. This depends primarily on how challenging the role is, how quickly your new hire learns, and the quality of your onboarding process.

With a strong employee onboarding software, you can get your new hires up to speed and fully productive faster.

That’s because most onboarding software should accommodate a range of learning styles while organizing all your tribal knowledge in one app. This makes inconsistent onboarding nearly impossible!

Employee Onboarding vs. New Employee Orientation

When you hire someone new, orientation is the one-time step welcoming them to your company. Meanwhile, onboarding is the process of getting your new hire up to speed and fully productive in their role (part of which includes orientation).

We know – it can be confusing and easy to use orientation and onboarding interchangeably. But they are not the same thing.

We like to think of this as employee onboarding’s very own Ketchup-Condiment Debate. Meaning, while every ketchup is a condiment, not every condiment is ketchup. Similarly, orientation is part of the onboarding process, but it is not the whole onboarding process.

Employee Onboarding vs. New Employee Orientation Timeline

As soon as your new hire accepts your extended offer, their onboarding process begins. This starts with signing any of the paperwork needed to legally get your new hires on your team.

Some companies will even sign paperwork in-person at the beginning of orientation on Day 1. That’s fine, too (as long as it gets done)!

As soon as the papers (or digital onboarding forms) are signed, the orientation process begins. This is when you officially welcome your new hires to your company and share how excited they are for them to start. You can think of this as the first day of class when the teacher goes over the syllabus.

You spend the day getting to know each other and giving them a hint at what working for the company will be like. But you don’t just jump right into the work.

Instead, you wait until after the orientation process, when everyone is acquainted, to really get into the training portion of onboarding. This is when you share all your company’s how-tos and need-to-knows. And when you get them fully up to speed they can contribute to the company.

Why employee onboarding is so important

Companies that have employee onboarding down are more likely to have a better company culture and retain top talent longer! Seriously – it is the difference between engaging employees for the long haul and constantly reinvesting resources toward filling your roster.

Every time you hire someone, your company spends an average of $3k and a hundred hours on the onboarding process. And those numbers don’t include the added costs if your onboarding process fails to bring your new hire fully up to speed.

Think about it just in the day-to-day. The average employee (one who is successfully onboarded) wastes 100+ minutes searching for the information they need to do their job every day. This costs your company hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per week. And for new hires, this number goes up exponentially! But that’s only if they stick with your company.

On top of that, 20% of all turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment and is credited to an awful employee onboarding experience. When this happens, your company is back at square one. And filling your roster becomes more and more costly.

But companies that leverage a strong employee onboarding software see lower onboarding costs, higher retention, and better results every time!

That’s because the key to a successful onboarding (and all the benefits that come with it) is consistency. If your company does not have a standardized process, chances are good that the results are inconsistent.

But by documenting all your processes, policies, and procedures in one employee onboarding software, every new hire learns the same things the same way!

Your go-to employee onboarding checklist

Employee Onboarding Checklist

Sign all the papers

Think about it this way – before a sports team can put their new player in the game, the contracts need to be signed. This is your company’s equivalent.

As soon as you get a verbal “yes” on your extended offer, send the candidate your next steps in an email, along with the documents they need to digitally sign. (We love HelloSign for this!)

You can also sign in-person, but that can make things a little hectic. So, we always like to file digital versions of the onboarding documents beforehand. That way, we can jump right in on Day 1!

Keep your new hires in the loop

You don’t want to be the company that waits until the day before (or worse, the day of) to loop your new hires in on what they should expect. That makes an already nerve-wracking situation all that much worse.

Instead, send one digestible email at least a week before their start date with everything they need to know.

Be sure to answer any questions your new hires could be asking! This includes when they should show up, who to ask for, and what they will be doing their first few days.

Employee Onboarding Email

Set up all things tech

Have the hardware and software your new hires need ready to go before they start their employee onboarding process. This should include their computer, any accessories, company email, and access to your tech stack.

When your new hire arrives on Day 1, have their computer and any other hardware waiting for them. (And if it is as simple as unwrapping it and turning it on, leave it in the packaging to make the experience a little more exciting!) Plan on this being one of their first tasks.

Otherwise, you can send login credentials before Day 1, so your new hire can set up their passwords ahead of time (we do this). Then, come the first day of onboarding, they show up ready to go.

Go through your onboarding training

This is the part where you take your new hires through your employee onboarding software and get them up to speed!

Don’t get us wrong – Google Docs works too… but it’s not as effective. (Feel free to fact check us on that.)

With videos, tons of helpful tips, and your company’s best practices, most onboarding software accommodates a range of learning styles, getting employees fully productive faster.

But remember – not all of them sit at the same level. So, it’s important to find the best one for your business.

Bare minimum, this is what your software needs to be able to do:

  • Organize all your business knowledge in one, centralized place
  • Assign content directly to each new hire
  • Automate your new hire training process
  • Quickly get people up to speed in their new role
  • Test for both retention and understanding
  • Track who knows what so you can keep people accountable

(If you just hired someone but don’t have your business knowledge documented yet – don’t worry! Take the 10-Day Playbook Challenge to build the onboarding content your new hire needs to succeed before they show up for Day 1!)

Share their scorecards

About half of employees worldwide don’t actually know what is expected of them in their role.

We know – how can that be? But a lot of companies equate a job description mixed with a completed employee onboarding process with clarity of expectations. That’s not the case!

For our new hires, we use job scorecards to provide our new hires a detailed understanding of what they will be doing. Plus, how that work will contribute to the team and our organization.

These scorecards should outline everything your new hire is responsible for as long as they remain in that role, including main focuses, key responsibilities, and quantifiable success metrics. This way, there is no room for surprises come review time.

Metrics can be anything from increasing organic traffic to response time to customer satisfaction. Just be sure that you have a process to accurately measure these numbers.

Employee Job Scorecard

Set 30-60-90 goals

Scorecards on their own can feel like going from zero to 100 in a matter of seconds. And without directions to help new hires know if they are on the right track, they can be left feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

30-60-90 goals provide directions for your new team members to keep themselves accountable. By providing clear expectations, your new hires should know what their focus is their first 30, 60, and 90 days – without needing to ask again and again.

These goals should range from one-day tasks on the front end to a project that will take a few weeks on the back end. This way, your new hires feel like they are instantly contributing – because they are. And they can track how far they have come in learning their new role.

These goals should be outlined by your existing teams before your new hire starts, and presented by their direct manager on their first day.

Don’t forget to continue checking in with your new hires every time they reach one of these milestones to talk about how it’s going, what’s working, and where something needs to pivot.

Break up the employee onboarding

Employee onboarding can be a lot! So, it’s best to break up the process with a few fun activities each day. Depending on your company culture, these fun activities might look a little different.

We have done everything from Jackbox.TV breaks to basketball games to team lunches that double as a cooking class. Basically, anything that breaks up the long hours while still introducing our new hires to their new teammates.

But whatever activities you choose, make sure it is fun and genuine to your company culture! (We also find that stepping away from your desk as a team doesn’t hurt, either!)

With that being said, there are a few in-office activities (fun or not) that should also break up the employee onboarding process. Don’t forget about the official office tour, an introduction to each department, and a Day 1 team lunch!

2 types of employee onboarding content

While employee onboarding should be fun for your new team members, the goal of it all is to get them ready for their new role. And this means a lot of learning!

So, how do humans learn best?

The simplest answer is: It depends on the person and the subject. Some people are naturally faster learners than others! But no matter how fast they learn, you can help your new hires by thinking about the best way to present your content.

While some lessons are better digested by reading about it for an hour (like benefits), others are better understood by seeing them in action (like how-tos).

The human brain processes video 60,000 times faster than text. That’s why the screenplay for a 2-hour movie takes almost a day to read.

But by speeding up how you intake the information, you also increase the number of details you miss.

Knowing whether or not to create employee onboarding content using words or video depends on the context. And sometimes, the right answer is to teach it both ways!

Employee onboarding videos save time and provide a more personal touch to the information. Plus, people are more likely to engage with a video from beginning to end, avoiding the constant struggle of “too long; didn’t read.”

But remember, not everything can easily be learned by watching a video. When this is the case, words should do the heavy lifting to provide further context and break down complicated ideas.

We like to think that video and words are the dynamic duo of employee onboarding, and never in competition with one another. By providing both, you empower your new hires to engage deeper with what they are learning. And you better prepare them for their new role.

How to create employee onboarding videos

You do not need an elaborate Hollywood shoot to create incredible employee onboarding videos! You just need a camera (your smartphone camera was made for this), your top team members, and your company knowledge.

Have your team members record step-by-step what they do. We like to make each step its own video, so it’s easier to get just the right take. Plus, this will help new hires follow along at their own speed, which leads to them getting up to speed faster!

When you have each step recorded, don’t worry about stitching the individual clips together, inserting fancy transitions, or even adding your company logo. That can just overcomplicate things!

Instead, post the raw footage, as is, into your employee onboarding software or upload them as a playlist to a video sharing site (like YouTube). Then, all that’s left to do is assign this content to your new hires moving forward (or your existing team members to give them a refresher).

Employee onboarding best practices

Onboard new hires in cohorts

We can’t stress how important it is to start your new hires in a cohort, rather than one at a time!

On an inclusivity level, cohorts provide an immediate sense of belonging. They also allow your new hires to foster friendships with team members who are just as nervous as they are. These friendships create cross-functional partnerships that last as long as these team members are with your company.

Plus, it drastically reduces the administrative burden that comes with planning and running an employee onboarding.

Rather than running the same onboarding process for each individual hire, do it once! This will save your company time and money (while simultaneously getting your new people up to speed more consistently).

Set clear expectations from Day 1

Don’t make your new hires guess what they are supposed to be doing – that just makes everyone involved frustrated! Instead, set clear expectations early.

Giving your new hires scorecard and 30-60-90 goals on Day 1 is a really great start for this. But make sure their direct manager talks to them about what they mean and what they entail.

Then, set a cadence for check-ins moving forward. (We find that weekly check-ins are the perfect cadence where you aren’t disrupting the workflow, but you are keeping everyone in the loop). That way, even if the expectations get lost or change, you can make sure your new hire is on track.

Dedicate points of contact

Your new hires are going to have questions and a lot of them! So rather than making them guess who the right person to ask is, assign go-to people to act as their onboarding points of contact.

Preferably, there will be 2 points of contact that your new hire can go to depending on their question and who they feel more comfortable asking. One is on their team to answer more department-specific questions. And the other is from your human resources team to ask company-wide questions.

Just be sure that whomever you assign for this role, your new hire has met them directly and knows how to get in contact with them!

We suggest setting this up in a Slack channel. This way, your new hire can focus on their question rather than finding their point of contact.

Don’t overschedule your employee onboarding

While this might seem self-explanatory, it’s not! It’s easy to try to squeeze as much as you can into the shortest amount of time possible.

But besides having their head explode from too much knowledge, your new hires will feel overwhelmed and burnt out before they even finish onboarding. And that is the last thing you want!

So, next time you are planning an employee onboarding, schedule enough that it is productive without being too much at once. It’s a balancing game. And setting aside extra time for lunch and plenty of fun activities to break up the day is a step in the right direction.

Keep in mind that these are just a few employee onboarding best practices – and the ones that have worked for us. But every company will develop its own employee best practices as they grow!

What about WFH employee onboarding?

As more and more companies embrace remote work, they are also pivoting their onboarding to accommodate these arrangements. After all, it doesn’t make sense to bring a new hire into the office for onboarding if they will ultimately be WFH!

But running remote onboardings isn’t a one to one with in-person onboardings. While the employee onboarding checklist and best practices stay the same, remote onboardings take more up-front planning to shift online and keep your new hires engaged.

But with all that being said, they are typically easier to manage once they get going – if you have the right tools in place.

Minimum, remote onboardings need a video conference tool (like Zoom), an internal messaging tool (like Slack), a project management tool (like Asana), and employee onboarding software (like Trainual).

Make employee onboarding easy

World's Leading Employee Onboarding Software

Trusted by over 50,000 users in 100+ countries, Trainual is the only employee onboarding software that allows you to document all of your tribal knowledge in one, searchable app. By seamlessly creating, editing, and rolling out content, your team stays aligned and accountable from anywhere.

You can even assign content directly to employees, track that they went through it, and test that they understood it all. That way there is no question of who knows what.

No – really!

Plus, remember how the average fully onboarded employee wastes over 100 minutes per day searching for the information to do their job and costing you hundreds of dollars every week?

With Trainual, finding this information takes seconds!

And that’s the ultimate employee onboarding goal, right? To have everyone know exactly what to do or where to find the information they don’t know – without wasting any time.

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