Employee Onboarding For Startups

Successful employee onboarding plays a critical role in every startup’s journey. It’s the pivotal process that converts enthusiastic new hires into effective team members, setting the tone for their engagement, productivity and long-term retention.

By following the tips and examples provided in this document, startups can create a comprehensive onboarding plan that sets the employee up for success. Since each hire has specific needs, it’s important to work with startup counsel to draft Employee Offer Letters and Confidentiality and Inventions Assignment Agreements. If you’re looking for counsel, feel free to reach out to us here.

The Importance of a Well-Defined Onboarding Process

Onboarding starts prior to the employee’s start date with pre-onboarding activities and continues through the time period defined in the new hire’s onboarding plan and/or employment probation clause. Without a proper onboarding process, new hires may feel overwhelmed or confused about their role, which can lead to decreased productivity and engagement and increased turnover rates. On the other hand, a well-planned onboarding process can properly set expectations for both the employee and employer, leading to a more positive outcome.

It is not uncommon for early-stage startups to onboard new employees haphazardly. While it may feel like a low priority or a burdensome administrative task, investing in an onboarding process is actually key to helping new hires acclimate to their new role quickly. Onboarding ensures that new employees have access to the necessary resources to perform their job effectively.

Creating an Effective Onboarding Plan

Creating a successful onboarding plan starts with outlining the goals and expectations for the new hire. A well-designed plan should cover essential information such as:

  • Pre-Onboarding Activities. Ensure that the new hire has received and filled out all of their required paperwork, such as an offer letter and employment agreement, and will be ready with I9 documentation (for U.S.-based hires). Provide them with useful information prior to their first-day arrival such as office location details. This is the ideal time to request that they provide you with a picture to pre-order their office access badge. When onboarding a remote new hire, you’ll want to make sure the new hire will be able to log into the company’s systems at the intended start time. Prepare for your new hire’s first day by pre-ordering any necessary equipment or tools that will be required for their role.
  • Policy Review. New hires should understand company policies that are essential to follow for a well-functioning company. These policies should be enforceable and applicable to everyone. This typically includes a thorough review of the company employee handbook, completed independently or with a Human Resources representative. Once this review is complete, employers should request a signed acknowledgement from employees, confirming that they have read and agree to the policies in the Employee Manual and any other stand alone policies required. This can be done during pre-onboarding or on the employee’s first day of work.
  • Company Culture. Introducing new hires to your company’s culture is essential to ensure they understand the company’s work environment and how things are done. During this stage, you can provide them with information about the company’s core values and ethical standards. Some companies have “Culture Decks” that clearly explain the company mission and vision, and how aligning behavior with company values supports that mission.
  • Goals and Expectations. Setting clear goals and expectations is crucial for ensuring that new hires know what is expected of them from day one. Discussing their job responsibilities, performance metrics and milestones they need to achieve will help establish a sense of direction from the outset.
  • Building Relationships within the Team. Introducing new hires to their coworkers is crucial for building relationships and fostering a positive work environment. Here are some tips to help make this process more comfortable and effective:
    • Organize a team lunch or happy hour. This can be an excellent opportunity for your new hires to get to know their colleagues in a relaxed and informal setting.
    • Assign a mentor. Pairing your new hires with a seasoned employee who can provide guidance and support can help them navigate the company culture and build relationships more easily.
    • Schedule regular check-ins between the new hire and their direct supervisor. Setting up regular one-on-one meetings between a manager and a new hire can encourage open communication and collaboration.
  • Connect to Support Service Points-of-Contact. Within the first week of hire, introduce your new hires to their support team point(s) of contact. Support services typically include a representative from the Human Resources team who can help answer any employment-related questions, representatives from the Information Technology Team who can help support with tech-related questions, and any other relevant representatives that will be supporting the new hire within the first few weeks at the company.
  • Formal Training Programs. Creating a formal training program for new hires can help them learn the necessary skills and knowledge needed for their role. This can include online courses, in-person workshops or shadowing experienced employees.
  • On-the-Job Training. Pairing new hires with experienced employees who can provide guidance and support as they work on real projects is an excellent way to facilitate on-the-job learning.
  • Access to Resources. Providing access to resources, such as manuals, guides, templates, standard operating procedures and software tools, is crucial for helping new hires perform their job effectively. Creating a centralized knowledge base with easily accessible resources can help streamline the process of finding what they need.
  • Extending Onboarding. Depending on the complexity of the role, consider extending the length of the onboarding period. Many new hires need time to fully understand their role, the organization and partners they may work with externally. One approach is to build a 30/60/90-day plan that will support onboarding during the first three months, ensuring the new hire gains the deeper knowledge needed to succeed.

By providing new hires with the information and tools that they need to do their job, you can help ensure that they succeed in their new role.

Examples of Successful Startup Onboarding

Here are some examples of startups that are known for their exceptional onboarding processes:

  • Zapier — Zapier’s onboarding process is a highly systemized process that gives new hires progressively more freedom.
  • Buffer — Buffer’s onboarding process includes a “culture buddy” program, where new hires are paired with a current employee who helps them get acclimated to the company culture. They also have a comprehensive training program, which includes a series of online courses and in-person workshops.
  • Slack — Slack’s onboarding process is designed to be fun and engaging. They have a virtual “Welcome Bot” that guides new hires through the onboarding process and provides them with helpful resources along the way. They also have a dedicated “Slack Coach” who provides ongoing support and training.
  • Square — Square’s onboarding process includes a two-day orientation program, where new hires learn about the company’s history, culture and values. They also have a comprehensive checklist for hiring remote and in-person employees, as well as a training program that includes on-the-job training and classroom-style workshops.
  • Netflix — Netflix’s onboarding process is highly focused on the company’s culture and values. They have a comprehensive training program that includes a “Netflix 101” course and regular one-on-one meetings with managers. They also have a dedicated, and now famous, “Culture Deck” that outlines the company’s core values and expectations for employees.
  • Warby Parker — Warby Parker likes to infuse its onboarding with puns, personality and executive priority. Their advice: Put together welcome packets that pop. Help new employees be the most approachable person in the office. Make training an executive priority.

These companies are known for their exceptional onboarding processes, which have helped them attract and retain top talent in their respective industries.

Creating a Positive First Impression with New Hires

Making a positive first impression is crucial for setting the tone for new hires’ experience in the company. By following these tips, managers can create a positive first impression with new hires that sets the stage for success while fostering an environment of inclusion and collaboration:

  • Welcome Them to the Company. Prior to their start date, send the employee a welcome letter welcoming them to the team. Include first-day start time details and a point of contact in case the employee runs into any issues finding or accessing their office location and/or login information if working virtually.
  • Make Sure Their Workspace Is Ready. Ensure that new hires have a clean, organized workspace with all necessary supplies and equipment ready prior to their first-day arrival. Show that you value their presence in the company. This attention to detail can also help set expectations for how you want your team members to approach their work.
  • Provide a Tour. Greeting new hires at the door to walk them into the office can help ease any nerves. Giving new hires a tour of the office can help them get familiar with their surroundings and feel more comfortable in their new workspace. Show them where they will be working, where to find supplies or equipment they may need, where the restrooms are, and any other relevant areas of the office. For remote employees, setting up a virtual meeting at the start of the employee’s first work day can help them get acclimated.
  • Introduce them to Key People on their First Day. Introducing new hires to key people such as their manager, team members and mentors can help establish relationships from the start. This can also help new employees understand who they should turn to if they have questions or need support.

Investing in a comprehensive onboarding process is a critical step for startups looking to set their new hires up for success. A well-designed onboarding plan can help new employees acclimate to their roles quickly, understand the company culture and establish relationships with their coworkers. By providing access to necessary resources, setting clear expectations and creating a positive first impression, employers can help ensure that their new hires are engaged, productive and more likely to stay with the company long-term.

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