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12 Onboarding Best Practices – a 2023 guide for your business

The secret to good onboarding is simple: take the focus away from the business, and centre it on the new hire.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to have happy and high-performing team members, so how do you go about it? You follow best practices for onboarding.

In this blog post, I’ll share with you what I see as top-notch onboarding practices for your small business or startup, so have a look below and take notes.

Onboarding best practice 1: do pre-onboarding before the new hire starts

Leaving everything at the last minute can be tempting when you’re already swamped with work, but it will cause stress on both sides – yours and the new hire. The last thing you want is to give a bad first impression.

To avoid this, you should give new employees access to the right tools to succeed, which means preparing everything beforehand with some pre-onboarding steps.

Here’s what you can think about sorting out before the new hire even sets foot in the office (or online if remote):

  • Order a laptop and have it delivered to their home
  • Get their contract signed and returned
  • Set up their work email and different logins
  • Ask for a passport copy and P45
  • Gather all the relevant details you need from them: address, phone number, emergency contact, etc.

At Charlie, we do the last two by sending new hires an invitation to our HR software where they’re taken through a self-serve onboarding process. They can easily fill in their information and upload their documents – all without your help.

onboarding at CharlieHR best onboarding practices

You get all your records in one place and securely stored – nothing gets lost in email threads.

This invitation should be part of a welcome pack that you’ll put together for your new hire. Once you’ve shared their email credentials (and asked to change their password for security reasons), they’ll have a welcome email for new employees right in their inbox that contains all of what they need to know.

Most new hires look at this information a few days before they start at Charlie, especially since we’re all working remotely, but you can adapt this depending on how you operate as a business.

The important onboarding part to remember is that you need to be ready before they start. That’s where I’d suggest having an employee onboarding checklist somewhere in handy to make sure you don’t forget anything.

My way of doing it is going through the checklist template we’ve put together in CharlieHR – I can tag coworkers and set a due date to guarantee everything is done on time (without having to send chasers).

Checklist in CharlieHR - onboarding best practices

That also works if you want to offboard a team member with offboarding checklists.

Onboarding best practice 2: make new hires feel welcome and set them up for success

First days mean a lot of people to meet, and a lot of information to absorb – it can sometimes feel like a blur for your new hire.

Your role here, and the best practice for your onboarding, is making new hires feel welcome and at ease in their new environment.

Depending on whether you’re working remotely or in the office, you can schedule a welcome chat to set the tone for the day. This will be their introduction to a familiar face in the company, and you should stay on hand for any other questions they might have.

On their first day, your new hires will probably be making their way through a lot of documents, so take it easy with them and don’t rush anything.

Their line manager should be the second person responsible for making them feel welcome and providing context around the work they’re going to do. For someone working in marketing, for example, that might mean getting familiar with a tone of voice document and understanding the marketing strategy.

It can be completely different for someone who works in customer service. There’ll be a lot of learning to do around how the software works and how to answer people’s queries regarding their account or their billing for example.

Onboarding best practice 3: give easy access to essential information

This may seem like an obvious onboarding best practice, but that can sometimes be overlooked by HR people.

We sometimes get so wrapped up in our policies and documents, that we don’t actually realise we’re the only ones who know where they’re stored.

Your welcome package, which we mentioned earlier, should include links to any information needed by the new hire. It can include:

  • Company handbook and HR policies
  • Name and title of coworkers
  • Working locations and offices

This is just a set of examples, and there might be other elements to add to your list. At Charlie, I send an invite to sign into our onboarding software straight away when the new hire starts – all this information is available there.

Let them flick through your handbook and policies with ease.

onboarding best practices company handbook in CharlieHR

Give them access to essential information about the company, and your working locations as well as a directory to get to know their coworkers and where they’re located.

best onboarding practices set locations in charliehr

Onboarding best practice 4: have an onboarding plan ready

You need to know which tasks you need to take on when it comes to onboarding, but your new hire also needs a proper plan laid out for them.

An onboarding plan is essential on two levels:

  • An operational level – so you, the person responsible for HR at your business, can make sure onboarding is compliant and the new hire settles in easily
  • A training level – so new hires have a good idea of what’s going to happen in the weeks following their first days

When you’ve added your elements to the onboarding plan, it’s the line manager’s turn to do it. Needless to say, this should be done before your new starter’s first day.

Before they onboard, go through the plan together with their line manager and ask them to discuss it with the new hire upon their first week so everything is clear.

Onboarding best practice 5: set time-bound goals until the end of probation

Once the plan has been approved by both the new hire and their line manager, it’s time to set it in stone with concrete time-bound goals.

These goals will be the roadmap to the new hire’s probation period and will ensure they have an idea of whether they’re performing well or not.

What the line manager wants to keep in mind is to have achievements to show at the end of probation.

For example, a designer might have to put together three landing pages before the end of probation or an office manager needs to come up with new procedures to deal with remote working.

It's all dependent on the kind of role and the level you’ve hired at, but these goals have to be realistic and manageable in a limited time period as they will determine whether your new hire can perform well in their role or not.

For more transparency and clarity, we choose to include goals directly on our platform in CharlieHR. This is a great way to have easy access to them and iterate if needed.

Goals in Charliehr for best onboarding practices

Onboarding best practice 6: get them involved in the day-to-day

Goals can’t be the only aspect you care about when it comes to a new hire’s performance, and perhaps providing some guidelines on the subject for managers could be helpful.

As a best practice for onboarding, line managers should involve team members in day-to-day work, especially where there’ll be repetitive tasks to do on a regular basis.

Here’s one way to tackle this training:

  1. Organise shadowing with an experienced team member so the new employee can observe, learn and ask questions
  2. Get them to a semi-shadowing stage where they sit next to an experienced team member and review most of their work with them
  3. Once they feel confident enough and you think they’re ready, let them handle it with complete autonomy and let them come for questions if needed

Onboarding best practice 7: encourage connections with the rest of the team

Social connections are important when you work in an office, whether that’s remotely or in person.

It’s even more critical for new hires so they don’t feel left aside. Sometimes, however (especially in a remote environment), it takes more effort and can be a challenge to socialise.

An effective onboarding practice is to ensure you organise meetups between new hires around a casual virtual coffee or a lunch with their coworkers.

You can also ensure they have a buddy – someone outside of their own team – to have casual chats with.

If you can do it, always allocate a budget for social occasions whether they’re remote or online. This will improve engagement and retention for new hires and facilitate collaboration between people in the long run as they build strong relationships.

Onboarding best practice 8: catch up regularly with their line manager

The best onboarding practice you can have is to stay available whilst not becoming overbearing for the new hire.

A great way to keep an eye on them is to do it through their line manager. It’s also your role, as an HR person, to check if everything is going well and prevent any issues from arising.

I would recommend doing a monthly check-in with the new hire’s line manager until the end of probation.

Here’s what you can do in these meetings:

  • Check together the goals and progress of the new hire
  • Give advice if the line manager is struggling with the new hire’s training
  • Be a great listener – sometimes, people just need to vent

Onboarding best practice 9: … and do the same with the new hire

Of course, that goes without saying that you should do the same with the new hire. A monthly catchup is not too much, and it’s good to have both sides of the story, just in case the new hire and manager disagree.

For the new hire, you need to be their point of contact and the person they can ask difficult questions to if they don’t feel comfortable sharing it with their manager.

Ideally, however, as time goes by, this role should go to the manager as they’ll have a closer relationship with the new hire.

Maybe prepare a list of questions before you have your monthly catchup:

  • Do you need any extra equipment for your setup?
  • How are you getting on with the tasks you’re assigned?
  • Do you wish anything was different?
  • Do you have any feedback so far on anything?

Onboarding best practice 10: talk about progression early on

You don’t want your welcome pack to overwhelm your new hires with tons of information, but an onboarding best practice you should think about is talking about progression early on.

So perhaps you should start mentioning it in their first week and introduce them to how progression works at your business.

Managers, in particular, should be the ones to discuss this with their new hires. Whilst the focus remains on passing probation in the first few months, it’s good to get new hires excited about the prospect their new job can offer.

That’s where you should share relevant elements regarding progression:

  • Opportunities to progress and how to achieve them
  • Frequency of performance reviews and salary reviews

All of this can be encapsulated in the creation of a career progression framework, so perhaps have a look at creating your own.

Onboarding best practice 11: stay flexible in your approach

Best practices for onboarding are great, but that doesn’t mean you should stay super fixated on them.

A bit of flexibility is always good when it comes to new hires, and here’s what you should always keep in mind:

  • Every new hire will evolve at a different pace, so be patient if they’re not going as fast as you’d like them to and don’t hold them down if they’re faster than what you expected
  • Training methods don’t always work the same on different people, so that’s why you need to think about changing your approach if it’s not been working
  • Working with someone new can take some time to adjust, and that’s why you should be welcoming and approachable to make it smoother

All in all, always listen to what your new hire says and take their feedback into account to change the onboarding plan if needed. Maybe even think about providing leadership training at your business so managers can do the same.

Onboarding best practice 12: collect feedback from the new hire and improve the onboarding experience

The day has finally come: your new hire passed probation and they’re ready to contribute to business goals and be fully integrated.

So what now? Work is not over for you, and the last onboarding best practice you can put into action is to collect feedback from your new employee.

It’s good practice to give them a useful way to do it. At Charlie, we use our Polls with a set of questions such as:

  • How did you rate the level of communication in the lead up to you joining?
  • Do you feel you had enough access to tools and context around the business shared prior to your first day?
  • How was your first week and did you think you had enough information to absorb?
  • Is there anything in the onboarding process you think we could improve?

This is just a sample, but perhaps you can templatise your own as well – simply pick the right template and send it off to the new hire for feedback.

polls for charliehr best onboarding practices

Once you’ve got the answers, analyse them through insightful graphs and see if there’s anything that can be improved upon, especially if it’s come up several times in your feedback.

You can also have a look at the best onboarding experiences from small businesses and startups to get some inspiration on how to build your own.  

That’s it for today. We hope that these best onboarding practice examples will help you along the way, and if you want to find out more about onboarding, give a go at our guide on what is onboarding.

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