New Employee Onboarding for Your Small Business

October 22, 2019
Posted in: Other

Table of Contents


You’ve just hired someone that will help your small business soar to new heights. Hiring this ace employee was a brilliant move but it’s only the first step. To ensure that the new hire will be a productive and contented member of your team, there are certain tools that you must provide him or her with. The employee onboarding process is the most effective method of providing those tools.  



What is Onboarding?

Onboarding, also referred to as organizational socialization, is a term that was created in the 1970s to describe the process by which new employees acquire the knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to be effective members of an organization. The term is widely used in the United States, but in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and parts of Europe, the process is referred to as induction. In other parts of the world, the process is simply called training.

Onboarding is often confused with orientation and while orientation may be a part of the onboarding process, there are other tasks that must also be completed. Onboarding is a comprehensive process that, ideally, lasts at least one year. 

During the onboarding process, new employees are integrated into the organization and its culture using formal meetings, videos, printed materials or orientation via computer-based modules. Research has shown that these tools lead to positive experiences for new employees:  greater job satisfaction, better job performance, and reduced job stress. Organizations also benefit; they experience greater commitment to the company and a reduction in employee turnover.  

Considering that 20% of employee turnover occurs within the first 90 days of employment and that the costs of replacing a highly-trained, highly-educated employee can be greater than 20% of the employee’s salary, this is significant. This benefit alone should be enough to convince business owners that the merits of a well-structured onboarding process are worth the effort. In an increasingly globalized workforce, these outcomes are especially important for companies seeking to maintain a competitive advantage. 

Common Onboarding Mistakes

Although some companies are aware of the benefits to be derived from a well-structured onboarding process, they don’t always get it right. An ineffective process can take an employee longer to get up to speed, give them an unfavorable impression of the company and, unfortunately, compel them to quit.  To ensure the success of your onboarding process, don’t make these mistakes:

No Interaction Before Day One

Before a new employee’s first day of work, assuage their anxiety by emailing more information about their new role, company history, or links to helpful information. Make them feel welcome by letting them know how happy you are that they’re joining the company.

Unclear Expectations

There should be no confusion about what’s expected of an employee. How can an employee know if they’re on the right track if they weren’t told what the right track is? Copious amounts of time and energy will be wasted if an employee has to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing. A confused, disengaged employee is likely to seek employment elsewhere before the probationary period ends. 

Rushing the Process

As a business owner, you’re eager to get your new employees up and running quickly. That’s understandable; after all, you’ve got goals to reach. To make the most of the onboarding process, you have to allow enough time for employees to get acclimated to your company and to their new roles. If you invest the time and resources now to develop employees, it’ll pay off handsomely later.

Having No Process

The importance of a formal onboarding process can’t be stressed enough. For your company to enjoy long-term success, you need to have team members who are knowledgeable, well-prepared, and engaged. An effective onboarding process will help by providing employees with the tools they’ll need to perform their jobs well. Having no process at all will leave new hires to flounder.

Imagine a new hire showing up for the first day of work. Her workspace hasn’t been set up and no direction or expectations have been provided. She tries to find something to do to feel useful. After a couple of weeks, she figures out the expectations and company policies on her own. 

Don’t let this scenario unfold in your company; create a structured onboarding program. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states that companies that implement formal step-by-step onboarding plans to teach new employees about their roles, company culture, and acceptable practices are more effective than those that don’t.  

Process is Too Rigid

A structured onboarding process is important but it shouldn’t be so structured that it doesn’t allow for adjusting when necessary. An effective process will leave room for considering the individual learning style of new employees. It will allow them to receive the information in a way that best suits them.

Not Soliciting Feedback

To know if your onboarding program is of value to new employees, you have to ask them. In the beginning, frequently ask how things are going. You can check in less often as they move through the program. Collecting feedback from employees will help you improve the process so that future new hires have a better experience. 



Creating an Onboarding Program

Now that you know what not to do, let’s discuss what you should do to create an effective onboarding program. Before executing the program, you should consider the following:  

  • When will onboarding begin? Will you send information to new hires before their first day of work?
  • What is the expected duration of the onboarding program?
  • At the end of their first day, what impression do you want new hires to have of your company and their roles?
  • What do you want new hires to know about company culture?
  • Who will participate in the onboarding process? HR? Direct managers? Co-workers? Mentors?
  • What do you want new hires to accomplish during the onboarding period?
  • How will you measure the success of the onboarding program? Will you solicit feedback from new hires? How will you collect feedback?

Once these questions have received careful consideration, it’s time to devise a plan of action to help new employees get fully acclimated to the company’s policies, procedures, and culture. 

Understand What New Hires Need

To devise an effective onboarding plan, one that provides new employees with the tools and information they need to be successful, you must have a clear understanding of what it is they need from you. 

According to Talya Bauer, Professor of Management at Portland State University, there are four need areas that your onboarding plan should address:

  • Compliance – Compliance covers the most basic aspects of the new hire’s job. It includes company policies, government policies, legal procedures, dress code, and clock-in/sign-in procedures.
  • Clarification – The Clarification process lets employees know exactly what’s expected of them. It provides a specific breakdown of their job requirements. This process should include who is in charge of certain areas or projects and to whom the new hire will be reporting.
  • Culture – Let new employees know what your company culture is. What is the management style of their direct managers? What are the workplace norms?
  • Connection – New employees need to be able to network with team members for information and support. There is an innate need to connect with other humans and form relationships.

Compliance and Clarification are the most basic of the needs and make up the onboarding plans of around 30% of all companies, according to SHRM. This process is referred to as Passive Onboarding.

If a company covers Compliance and Clarification and is somewhat effective at Culture and Connection, the company is said to have achieved High Potential Onboarding. Around 50% of all companies fall into this category.

If a company effectively covers all of the need areas, Proactive Onboarding has been achieved. Around 20% of all companies reach this level. At this level, new employees are likely to be more productive and engaged than employees of companies who’ve achieved Passive or High Potential onboarding.



The Onboarding Program Timeline

Here’s a suggested timeline for moving new employees through the onboarding process.

Start Before the Employee Starts

To reach the Proactive Onboarding level, start your onboarding program before the new employee’s first day of work. If you want your program to be effective, you can’t go straight from the job offer to the new hire’s first day without preparation. Once a start date is established, begin coordinating with the staff members that will take part in the employee’s onboarding (HR rep, team members, IT, etc.) to ensure that all necessary meetings are scheduled and that the new employee will have needed supplies and access.

All paperwork requiring a signature (including tax and payroll forms, nondisclosure agreements, and employee handbooks) can be emailed to new employees beforehand to obtain an electronic signature. This will keep them from being inundated with paperwork on their first day. If fingerprinting and/or drug screens will be administered, schedule these for prior to the first day. If you’re offering benefits, provide employees with their options so they can make their selections online or be prepared to provide HR with the information on day one. Automate as much of the process as possible.

You can start to acclimate new hires to company culture as soon as a job offer is made. Provide access to an internal company microsite where the company’s vision, history, policies, and guidelines are shared. This will help new hires understand what your company’s goals are and what’s expected of them as employees. This information can also be shared via cloud-based tools like Google Docs or Dropbox Paper

The microsite or cloud-based tools can also provide information that’s meant to engage new hires. A friendly note from you or their direct manager, as well as welcome messages and photos from co-workers, can make new employees feel like a part of the team before they officially start. An informal organization chart of employees’ departments will also introduce them to their team members. Let new hires know what the dress code is and who to ask for when arriving for their first day of work. 

To keep new employees from being frustrated on the first day, make sure their workspace is properly set up before they arrive. They should have a designated desk and a working phone and computer. Their email account(s) should be set up. Either provide their login credentials before day one or have them ready as soon as they arrive. If they’ll need business cards, have them printed beforehand.



On Day One

Because first impressions are lasting, an employee’s first day is an important one. The new hire should be greeted properly upon arrival and directed to a fully functioning workspace. A new employee welcome kit containing both fun and useful items will make them feel like an appreciated part of the team. 

The main focus of day one should be on reinforcing expectations and objectives (assuming they were set prior to the first day). There should be no confusion about what the new employee’s role and responsibilities entail. The responsibilities of team members should also be clarified so there’s no confusion about who is responsible for what tasks. This is especially important when roles are closely related. Let the new hire know how they’ll interact with team members and how work will be performed within the team.

To keep new hires from becoming overwhelmed, assign a mentor to help them throughout the early stages of the onboarding process. This mentor can help them with everything from the proper operation of office equipment to departmental procedures. Having someone new hires can turn to with questions or that they can shadow will help them get up to speed faster. 

While you’ll need to communicate company policies and procedures, be sure to also communicate company goals. Inform new hires of projects the company is working on and how they fit into the company’s overall vision.  Remind new employees why you hired them and how their skill set makes them well-suited for the tasks they’ll undertake. This will give them a sense of confidence and belonging.

To build rapport with new hires and as a way of welcoming them to the company, it’s a good idea for you as the business owner (or direct managers) and team members to take them out to lunch on the first day. This is another way for new hires to learn the details of each team member’s role.

At the end of day one, you want to have made a great first impression and built up the employee’s confidence. You want new hires to be excited about returning the next day.



During the First Few Months

Again, it’s understandable that you want to get your new employees productive quickly but you don’t want to overwhelm them with too much information. Take the time to provide on-the-job training at a manageable pace. Keep in mind that 20% of employee turnover occurs within the first 90 days of employment, so you want to make sure you’re providing the information and support new hires need in a way that makes them feel productive and engaged.  

According to a BambooHR survey, 75% of new hires stated that the first week of training was most important to them. Your onboarding program should take this statistic into consideration and during week one, clearly communicate to new hires what they’re expected to accomplish in their roles and provide the tools to successfully complete those tasks.

At the one-month mark, you or your HR rep should check-in with new hires to ensure that they’re comfortable in their new roles and that the tools and information provided during week one were sufficient. This is also a good time to review new hires’ early accomplishments and provide them with feedback. 

In the BambooHR survey, 56% of respondents said having a mentor at the start of employment was very helpful. If a mentor wasn’t assigned when the new hire joined the company, one should be assigned by the end of the first month. This mentor could be a co-worker who is familiar with the details of the new hire’s role. Research has shown that highly successful companies are nearly two and a half times more likely than less successful companies to assign a mentor during the onboarding process. 

From Months Three to Six 

Between three and six months, you or HR should conduct another check-in with new employees. This will demonstrate that you’re committed to helping them be successful in their roles. The BambooHR survey also showed that only 15% of companies continue their onboarding programs beyond six months. For new hires to fully acclimate to a company, it’s recommended that an onboarding program last at least one year.

End of the First Year

At the end of the first year, you should be able to determine if an employee’s performance justifies keeping them on board. If the employee has proven to be a productive team member, onboarding then transitions into ongoing development. If performance wasn’t up to par, now’s the time to let the employee know they aren’t a good fit for your company.

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Onboarding Remote Employees

A formal employee onboarding process is mostly implemented in larger organizations and some traditional small businesses. If your company is comprised only of remote employees, how should the onboarding process work? 

Even if all employees work remotely, there may still be someone who handles HR functions. That person or you, the business owner, can develop and oversee the process. Just as with on-site employees, an onboarding program can result in increased productivity and contentment in remote employees. 

You don’t need a complicated, comprehensive onboarding program. You only need something suited to the size and flow of your business. You don’t need to create pamphlets or presentations. Days or weeks of training sessions generally aren’t necessary.  

Here are steps for successfully onboarding remote employees

Introduce New Hires to the Team

In a traditional office, new hires get to meet and interact with their co-workers in person. Remote employees don’t have the same opportunities for socialization. To introduce new hires to the team and establish a connection between employees, use Slack or a similar communication tool to make a simple introduction. For a more personal touch, have employees share a photo so that the new hire can put a face to each name. 

Provide a Company Overview

To give new remote employees a sense of belonging, share your company culture, values, standard practices, and company history with them. If you have an employee handbook that covers this information, mail a hard copy or even better, direct the employee to a digital version. Have current team members contribute to the handbook by providing an explanation of something they wish they’d known when starting with the company.

The overview should also cover what you expect of new hires. If you want optimal performance, employees have to know what they’re striving for. Let them know what you want them to achieve at certain milestones, say at 30, 60, and 90 days. Ask for their input regarding the feasibility of the expectations and if they’ll need anything from you or other team members to meet them.

Assign a Mentor or “Buddy”

As a new remote employee becomes immersed in your company culture and assigned projects, they’re bound to have questions. Assign a mentor or buddy (more experienced team member) to answer questions and provide additional support. 



Automating the Onboarding Process

The importance of employee onboarding has been well-documented in studies such as that conducted by SHRM. In the SHRM study, 69% of respondents said they would likely stay with a company for three or more years if they had a favorable onboarding experience. Statistics like these have lead to greater interest in onboarding software to help companies execute successful programs and gain greater insight into how onboarding affects engagement and retention.

 As a small business owner or owner of a startup, you may not have the resources to purchase a robust onboarding software package. Fortunately, there are free tools to help you perform basic functions and increase engagement and retention.  After all, a simple onboarding program is better than no program at all. Once resources permit, you can invest in a more advanced tool.  

Here are three free tools to consider:


Created by HR tech leader, Freshworks, Freshteam is a web-based employee onboarding system with a free version that’s adequate for most small businesses. It includes applicant tracking system (ATS) functionalities. Unlike with most vendors, users aren’t limited to a free trial but you will need to create a company profile. You can use the free version for as long as you want, but there are limitations. At the free level, customer support isn’t included so you’ll have to rely on their FAQ page for guidance.


Boardon is employee onboarding software that allows you to create your own onboarding content. Users can create interactive quizzes, enlightening articles, and videos. Once all content has been added, you can add the new hire’s details and send an invite. This is a great way to engage new hires.

The free version allows one user to work with one new hire at a time. You’re also limited to sending a maximum of five invites per month and only 10 MB of storage. This shouldn’t present a problem if you hire twenty employees or less per year. Like Freshteam, Boardon is a web-based system so you’ll have to create an account and use a dedicated domain for your company.


Sentrifugo is an open-source human resource management system platform that features onboarding capabilities. Unlike Freshteam and Boardon, it isn’t a web-based solution. Once the software is installed and set up, users have lifetime access to the platform.

Besides onboarding, Sentrifugo provides support for many basic HR tasks like performing background checks and includes an analytics module. For being a free solution, it’s likely to meet all of your onboarding needs now and in the future. 



Onboarding is a Continuous Process

Successful onboarding is a continuous process that requires frequent check-ins at certain milestones. Here are other ways to ensure that your employees continue to be productive and engaged:

  • Encourage employees to hone their skills If, at the end of year one, employees are found to be productive team members, it’s highly likely that they’re interested in growing in their roles. Continue to provide information that’ll help them hone their skills. Periodically share a list of articles or books related to their positions or concerning productivity, time management, goal-setting, etc. If you’ll act as your employee’s mentor, this is a great way to continue to provide support, direction, and encouragement.
  • Continue to ask for feedback In an ongoing effort to improve your onboarding program and build rapport, ask employees how they feel about the process as they’re going through it. 
  • Invest in tools that streamline processes Take advantage of technology whenever possible. When soliciting feedback from employees, make it easy for them to respond. Provide tools that help them complete projects in an efficient manner. This shows employees that you’re respectful of their time and committed to creating a state-of-the-art work environment.


Final Thoughts

Companies that don’t take the time to acclimate new employees to their culture are at a considerable disadvantage. When employees know what to expect from their employer’s culture and work environment, they’re prone to operate in a manner that’s congruent with the accepted practices and goals of the company. An effectively orchestrated onboarding program might mean the difference between unmanageable turnover and a productive, satisfied workforce. So, to quote a company that has mastered welcoming new employees, “Just Do It”. 

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