Whenever you hire a new employee, you need them to hit the ground running as soon as possible. But successful onboarding has never been an easy process, and with remote work becoming the norm, virtual onboarding poses an even greater challenge. 

Every day spent getting your new hire up to speed and acclimated to your company is a strain on your bottom line and their confidence. Your new team member is eager to learn the specific knowledge, skills, values, and expectations required to become an effective contributor and ease their anxiety about being in a new role and environment. They want to feel welcome and know what it takes to do a good job.

But all too often managers skip crucial steps because they’re pressed for time and the company doesn’t have a solid process in place. Employees find themselves needing to fill in the gaps by observing their co-workers, asking a lot of questions, looking around for guidance, and picking up on company culture cues. This piecemeal approach to settling into a new job has never been ideal; with distributed teams in remote workplaces, it’s even worse.

Here’s what’s at stake when employers drop the ball with onboarding and how you can set your new teammates up for success from day one, even when virtual onboarding is the only option.  

The Cost of Poor Onboarding

When uncertainty and chaos is the first impression, employees are off to a rocky start. The missing pieces lead to frustration, productivity problems, and low job satisfaction. Enthusiasm for the new position quickly wanes, and what could have been a solid team member turns out to be a lackluster performer.

Studies have shown that poor onboarding leads to lower engagement and higher turnover. On the other hand, a strong, standardized onboarding process fosters better productivity, greater loyalty, and more overall job satisfaction. 

In other words, successful onboarding is an investment in the future of your small business that’s going to pay off. If you neglect to make it a priority, it will likely cost you both in the short term and over time. 

Making New Team Members Feel Welcome

It’s important to note that onboarding is about more than “new hire orientation.” It isn’t just training employees about the company; it’s about helping them feel welcome.

The team at HR Answers has extensive experience helping companies welcome new employees and they’ve all been the new hire at some point in the past. So Founder & Principal Consultant Niki Ramirez asked them to share some helpful ideas.

Heres’s what Senior HR Consultant, Hillary Gaylord, MBA, SPHR has to say about onboarding:

Picture of woman smiling in front of a treeThe feedback that I hear time and time again when employees reflect on positive work experiences is that the company treats them like an individual, that they feel seen and heard, their co-workers and leaders know them, and that they are cared about. 

One simple way that employers can make new team members feel welcome is to learn about the employee. 

One way to learn about an employee is to ask them to complete a, let’s call it, Favorites Survey. This is a questionnaire about things that they like or what interests them. The Favorites Survey is different than a New Hire Survey, which asks about the employee’s experience during the recruitment, onboarding, and orientation process because it asks about their personal likes and preferences. 

The Favorites Survey asks the employee questions such as: 

  • What is your favorite morning beverage? 
  • What is your favorite snack? 
  • What is your favorite thing to do on the weekend? 
  • Favorite type of food or restaurant? 
  • Favorite holiday? 
  • Favorite sport, hobby, and activity? 

The benefit of asking for this information is twofold: 

1) The employee is given a chance to share information about themselves, which acknowledges and encourages their individuality. 

2) The employer (manager, supervisor, etc.) has topics of interest to further connect with the employee about. Employee mentions that they play tennis? Take note that the U.S. Open is underway and ask if they’ve watched any of it or who they are rooting for. If your company has a budget for purchasing gifts for recognition, appreciation, celebration, etc. you can use the information the new employee shared to purchase something that will likely be meaningful to them. 

Heres’s what HR Assistant Marina Arciniaga says about welcoming employees.

Sometimes it is important to state the obvious, and attention to detail never hurts.   

When supervisors, co-workers and admin assistants make eye contact; when they know and use your name; you know you are part of the team.

Literally hearing the words, “welcome,” and “we are glad you’re here,” and “happy to meet you (or see you again),” on the first day in a new organization sends a positive and comforting vibe. 

Regardless of whether yours is a casual or formal work environment, you need to feel welcome and comfortable in order to be productive in your job. 


And here’s what our newest team member, HR Assistant Diana Hardy had to share:

I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe that even the most confident and competent new hire feels a bit anxious when getting started. 

In my experience, having intentional time to get to know the team has gone a long way in calming my nerves, bringing further clarity about my role and making me feel welcomed. 

During this time, team members can share what their day-to-day looks like, helping the newcomer envision their role as a relates to everyone else. It’s also nice to have this moment to get to know a bit about each other outside of work, to the extent that one is comfortable sharing. 

I understand that in larger corporations, one-on-one time with each employee may not be feasible. This is where organizational leaders can get creative with finding ways to build connection and foster a sense of community among all employees, both tenured and those who are newly arriving. It may take a little effort, but a warm welcome is a great start to building a productive and engaging relationship with your new hire – making the investment well worth it! 

10 Tips for Onboarding Like a Pro

Employees who feel like they have been assimilated and are a part of the team ramp up faster, so it’s important to do your part to facilitate the process. 

When you’re already adapted to your environment and working at the company every day, it’s easy to forget what it was like to be new. Take a moment to step back and consider what it would be like to enter your company knowing nothing about the environment. 

What would you need to get your bearings? Ask your leadership team and other employees what they think new hires need; then create a plan. Be proactive about filling in the gaps.

Here’s how to forge a long-lasting, positive relationship through onboarding. 

1 – Gather New Hire Paperwork

To ensure everything runs smoothly from the start, make sure you have what you need from them on day one. After they accept the position, send your new employee a friendly email with all of your new hire documents attached. Request that they fill out their new hire paperwork prior to starting and submit it on their first day of work. 

2 – Set the Stage for Success

Clearly explain company culture, how work gets done, and what the expectations are in the beginning. Make sure they know the company’s vision, mission, and values. Even if all of this information lives on your website, set aside time for them to watch videos, read materials, and then have a conversation about it. Take time to reinforce the aspects that are most important to their job, discuss how the big picture fits with their role, and give them an opportunity to ask plenty of questions. 

3 – Show Them Who’s Who: 

Few things are more disorienting than entering a new environment with no idea who’s who and where each person fits in the organization. Not only does it make it hard to do your job, but you don’t know where to turn for answers or who is responsible for what. During the onboarding process, provide your new employee with an organizational outline. Make it simple: names and job titles, who reports to who. Get fancy and create a slide show with pictures and bios of different people on the team and share that as well.  

4 – Make a Welcome Folder: 

Prepare a simple folder of important information and have it ready before they arrive on the first day. Consider including new employee paperwork, tax forms, employee handbook, job description, policies, and procedures. 

You can add items that make acclimating to the new environment easier: a map of the building and/or parking areas, a list of amenities nearby (UPS store, banks, Starbucks, etc.), a list of important phone numbers, and anything else that will  make them feel more “at home.” 

If they are working remotely, this folder can be digital, but be sure to point it out and walk them through what’s in it. It’s easy for this information to get overlooked when a new team member isn’t handed a physical file.

5 – Give the Grand Tour: 

Give your new employee a tour of the office, facility, yard, building, etc. This will create an opportunity to connect, both personally and professionally. Introduce them to as many people as you can as you walk together. If they’re starting virtual or have a hybrid work arrangement but will be in the office at some point, do a video walkthrough. Create a page on your website or intranet with short bios and photos of all team members or add video introductions.   

If working virtually, host virtual home-office tours – there’s just nothing like meeting a new co-workers dog or cat!

6 – Share a Meal: 

As often as possible, have lunch with your new employee on their first day. If you have many employees, consider hosting a monthly brown-bag lunch so that you can spend casual time getting to know one another. If you’re virtual, you can do a Zoom lunch. When possible, send a gift card for Door Dash, Uber Eats, or a meal delivery service, and plan to meet online. 

7 – Clean Up Your Act: 

This is so simple it’s almost too easy; just tidy up. Spend a little extra time preparing the area that the new employee will work in. Putting your best foot forward is a good move, and it shows you really do care about your team. Make sure they have the equipment and supplies they need to do their job. If it’s a virtual environment, clean up the digital clutter. It can be frustrating to find needed documents and resources in a cluttered intranet. And in any case, be sure to set up their technology and access to needed software applications before their start date.

8 – Gather Everyone for a Simple Hello: 

Make time during the first days that the new team member is around to gather your team for a Coffee & Tea Reception, Cookie Hour, Ice Cream Social, etc. If you hire employees often, you can host this monthly. Schedule 20 minutes during which new employees are introduced and can mingle with as many other employees as possible. This can be done via Zoom for remote team members. Send Starbucks gift cards or a gift basket of treats for the virtual new hire gathering.  

9 – Welcome Calls: 

Before their first day of work, have 1-2 team members call and introduce themselves to let the new employee know that they are looking forward to meeting and getting to know them. You may also want to consider assigning a peer mentor, aside from their supervisor, to be responsible for showing them the ropes or being another point of contact. Having that person reach out for a casual conversation prior to their start date is a good idea. Make sure the mentor has a firm grasp of what the role entails.

10 – Organize Informal Mixers

In a normal workplace environment, there are many opportunities to meet and mingle casually. New employees often meet their fellow co-workers in the breakroom, when sharing an elevator, or by waving hello in the hallways. It’s challenging to recreate this in a virtual environment, but it is possible. For example, encourage new hires to meet online with team members to discuss projects or debrief after meetings. 

The First 90 Days

Onboarding goes beyond day one; it’s a process that lasts until the employee is fully acclimated. So the first few months are a make or break period.

Schedule bi-weekly one-on-one meetings: When your new team members start, give them a schedule for a quick check-in with you every two weeks. 

Set aside between 20 and 30 minutes to have a conversation with your employee and ask them the following questions:  

  • How are you doing? What are you working on? 
  • What are you liking most/least about this job?  
  • What should I do more of to support you?  
  • What should I stop doing that would help you be more successful?  
  • What can I do to help you, overall?  

When the employee has completed 60 days in their new job, ask them to complete a new hire survey to assess how they feel things are going. 

At 90 days, schedule a new employee review. Whether it is a formal process or more of an informal conversation, it is important to provide feedback to your employee regarding how they are progressing in their new role. Put it on the calendar early on so that it doesn’t sneak up on you, and the employee knows to expect a conversation at/around their 90-day anniversary.  

Overall, creating a successful onboarding experience can feel like a big project. There’s a lot to cover and the stakes are high. But once you have a process in place, it will make a difference in your small business and each of your new team members will be off to a more promising start.

Do you need help creating or managing an employee onboarding process for your small business? Contact us for a free consultation today.