8 Tips For Startups Onboarding Employees

You can only onboard a new hire once so you need to get it right. Here are 8 tips to instantly improve remote employee onboarding at your startup.

Onboarding new hires as an early-stage startup can be difficult to get right. Today, it’s harder than ever, with many employees now working on a hybrid or fully remote basis.

We’ve all heard stories of people arriving for their first day at a new startup and having to build their own desk. Usually it’s followed by quick pep talk talk on always hustling and then to work, onboarding complete. Check!

It might make a good story but it's unlikely to set your new hire up for success.

As a startup Founder you have to deliver on the assurances you’ve made of your startup being a great place to work.  

Day one sets the tone and you’ll struggle to recover from a bad first impression.

Here are few tips on how to onboard remotely and get it right first time.

1. Create an onboarding plan

The number one warning sign of a bad onboarding process is when the Founder or Manager seems to be making it up as they go along.

We've all been there, it never gives a good impression and frankly it’s exhausting.

Before the new hire starts, make sure you have a checklist for their first day, week, month, quarter etc.

It sounds simple because it really is. Create a checklist and follow it.

2. Get the paperwork sorted before they start

There’s nothing to stop you having your new hire start without them having signed an employment contract but that doesn’t mean they should.

Make sure you have employment contracts, NDAs, NCAs, PAYE info all sorted before the candidate starts.

Some companies simply email an employment contract and expect the candidate to print, sign, scan and return. This just shows a lack of care – no thought for the fact most people don’t have access to a printer or scanner at home.

We use an e-signature tool (Adobe Sign) for everything – it’s so easy and currently your best option with your team working remote.  

If you insist on paper contracts, print two signed copies of everything and send to the candidate along with an addressed & stamped return envelope. Ask them to sign both, keeping one for their records and returning the other in the envelope supplied.

It sounds simple but doing this will make you instantly seem better than most other startups out there.

3. Get all equipment set up before the start date

If your startup team is working remotely for the foreseeable future you won’t need to be building a desk for your new hire anytime soon but you will need to get all their tech sorted.

We like to get phones and laptops set up for new hires rather than having them set them up themselves. It’s not that they’re not capable, our hardware is configured the same way for everyone in our business so it’s easier to have one person set it all up.

Agree on the hardware the new hire needs, order and send to whoever on your existing team will set it up and then send it to the new hire in plenty of time for them to start.

The best move is to send a welcome pack; hardware, branded t-shirts, coffee mug / water bottle, stickers, notepad, pens etc – whatever they’d usually have access to in the office.

Like paperwork, it’s boring but if done right it’ll give you a solid foundation to start onboarding.

4. Let the new hire manage their own onboarding

Most onboarding processes are one sided – the Founder or Manager tells the new hire what they need to do to become part of the team. Do this, do that, speak with her, meet with him.

The problem with this is it’s completely opposite to the autonomous environment your startup probably has.

You’ve hired someone who you think is smart, capable and able to add real value and then you’re telling them exactly what to do and when to do it.

A better way is to treat onboarding as the new hire’s first project in the business.

Sure, set out a Trello board with various objectives and delivery timelines but then let them manage it.

Rather than you booking meetings for them, let them reach out and find a time that works for everyone.

Rather than setting aside time for them to read your brand guidelines let them decide when to do it.

Providing specific onboarding milestones are reached, you really shouldn’t need to hold their hand throughout the process.

This shouldn’t change much whether you’re remote or not – just switch face to face meetings out for video calls etc.

5. Ensure everyone is involved

Onboarding is a team activity so everyone your startup should be involved. At scale there comes a point where this isn’t reasonable but if you’re reading this you’re probably not there yet.

Most first days are awkward. An intro and handshake with your immediate team followed by a few awkward smiles exchanged with others in the office, some introduce themselves, others don’t bother.

Yep, that’s really making the new hire feel like their new colleagues are excited to meet them.

Make this non-negotiable. Everyone in your startup should go above and beyond to make the new hire feel welcome, it’s up to them to introduce themselves, arrange lunches, coffee’s, drinks etc.

You need that new hire to leave on the first day thinking like they’re part of something special and that’s not happening unless everyone makes them feel that way.

This can be harder when you’re remote but Slack, or whatever internal comms tool you use, is your best friend here.

Direct messages, arranging quick hangout calls etc are all good substitutes. Just make sure your team is doing better than the obligatory ‘Hi’ on #general.

6. Make it objective orientated & results based

Onboarding can often be a bit fluffy; something to try and make new hires feel happy and welcome.

We don’t see it that way and neither should you.

Onboarding, like everything else in your startup, should be objective orientated and results based – not fluffy.

The objective of onboarding is to embed the new hire into the business as quickly as possible, reducing ramp time so they can become as efficient and productive as possible as fast as possible.

Sure, feeling happy and welcomed is a result of good onboarding but it’s not the objective.

When onboarding, set goals and track results.

For example, like most startups we have brand guidelines to help new hires understand how we communicate as a business, whether we’re speaking on the phone, writing an email, meeting in person or on a video interview.

Having new hires just read these didn’t produce results. They would skim through, eager to get on with real work and continue sounding completely off brand.

We decided to test for brand understanding. With an upcoming test, new hires immersed themselves far more in our brand guidelines and content.

The results were almost instant. In the same time period, new hires gained a far greater understanding of our brand, thus reducing ramp time.

7. Target ramp time

You want new hires to become as productive as possible as quickly as possible but some people’s timelines for this often differ.

Some candidates may start the role expecting to be 100% productive from day one and become disheartened when this doesn’t happen. Others may expect to be given a year and the surprised when results are questioned after their first month.

Set a timeline for your new hire to hit productivity for their role. E.g. If you’ve hired an SDR they should be hitting the SDR targets within 3 months.

Don’t get this confused with expecting more than 100% for their role. E.g. don’t expect an SDR to be closing deals within 3 months, that’s not the role you hired them to do.

Naturally this will differ depending on role complexity but you want it to be a short as possible.

If your new hire is coming from the same industry you may expect it to be shorter, if they’re new to the industry or selling a particularly complex or enterprise level product you might double it to 6 months, maybe longer.

Explain the targets they’ll be working to, e.g. 20 meetings booked per month and then work backwards. E.g. Month one; 40% of target (8 meetings booked), Month two; 70% of target (14 meetings booked). Month three 100% of target (20 meetings booked).

This approach not only makes the new hire accountable from day one it also gives everyone something to actually measure.

This is a much better approach than the new hire thinking they’ve settled in well during their first three months only to later find out they’re no where near what’s expected of them.

8. Create a buddy system

Every new hire should have two buddies – two people who, alongside the new hire’s Manager, are responsible for ensuring integration.

One should ideally be from the same team to help them get up to speed with the nuances of the role at your startup as fast as possible.

The other should be from another team and focused more on overall integration and culture fit.

Giving the new hire three points of contact immediately removes any pressure of appearing to ask for too much help. It also takes the pressure off the single Manager having to handle everything.

Bonus tip: start onboarding before day one

There’s no reason why you necessarily need to wait for your new hire to start before you begin onboarding.

Intro’s to key team members, welcome drinks (in person or virtually), key reading, market research etc. can all be done before the new hire starts to further shorten their ramp time.

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