6 Tips to Create an Onboarding Process from Scratch

Nov 2, 2020
min read

Ask any of my team members and they will tell you that I am obsessed with onboarding. I’ve been FreshWorks Studio’s HR Manager for almost 3 years now, so at least the shoe fits! As the company’s first People Ops team member, I’ve had the tricky yet exciting privilege of building out almost every employee-related process and initiative.

Even after a couple years, onboarding is still my favourite. It’s such an exciting moment in a new hire’s journey and can set the tone for the rest of their career with your company.

To quote one of my colleagues and a fellow onboarding geek –

It’s people’s first impression of working at FreshWorks and it sets the bar. If we show them an incredibly polished process, it states that it’s the level of excellence we need from our team here every day without having to explicitly say it.

When I started at FreshWorks in August 2017, there were 25 employees and no onboarding process. I had no idea where to go, when to show up, or what to wear. When I managed to eventually find the office, there wasn’t even a desk set aside for me.

Better yet, the COO and I had to go to London Drugs to pick out a laptop because one wasn’t ordered in time nor was I asked to bring my own – true startup life.

Startup Life Graphic - what people think vs what it's actually like
HR Backlog showing Create an Onboarding Process as one of the items

I spent my first couple of days scrambling to get login access to different platforms and generally feeling confused about what the company even really did (something to do with APIs and dockerizing things, right?).

The task of creating a more formal onboarding process was of course on the backlog. I don’t fault my supervisors who were doing their best to navigate a very challenging period. They needed to make sure there was a budget to hire at all – which was the highest priority among about a million other things (as it goes at all startups).

The idea of creating an onboarding process felt daunting and no one really knew where to start.

I know that our story at FreshWorks isn’t unique and we’ve definitely learned a lot along the way. I’m hoping that by sharing all that I know about onboarding, you’ll be able to use my learnings to take your company’s process to the next level.

1. Start small (Rome wasn’t built in a day)

I know for me personally, I can get overwhelmed by the advice of all the things our process should have that will make it “stand out from the rest” and “improve retention by 200%”. It can feel like you have to go big or go home, which is definitely not the case.

A high-quality onboarding process should be ever-evolving through what will seem like thousands of minor tweaks and additions. Have the best idea for the most efficient and effective onboarding process? Great! Add the details to your backlog and revisit each point when the time is right.

Our process started with one simple thing: a first-day welcome email. We had 3 employees starting on the same day just one week after me and part of my task was to figure out how to provide them with a superior experience to my own (I wasn’t about to get my steps in by taking everyone to London Drugs).

our welcome email which was the first step to create an onboarding process from scratch

Since the first day is the most stressful for an employee, I wanted to focus on alleviating whatever stressors I could by providing some simple information that would ideally help them feel more prepared: where to go, when to show up, what to wear, and what to bring. This email also gave us a more professional image to our new hires, which is always helpful for a startup!

Try and start by finding something small that you can do – as long as it creates some sort of impact – and then build from there.

2. Investigate the needs

Since I joined the company in an HR capacity, I was missing out on a lot of information on what it was that other roles in the company needed to be set-up for success. For example, I knew that all employees at the time needed access to Zoho for email and calendar, but I didn’t know that Developers also needed access to platforms like Bitbucket and Designers needed access to InVision.

It might sound simple, but when a company doesn’t have many established processes, information is often scattered and requires investigating to find.

Start by setting short meetings or sending messages to members of different teams to find out what tools they use in their role and when/why an employee would need access to that tool. Then find out who the admin of those platforms is and reach out to learn the onboarding process.

Our team recently created a spreadsheet to outline all of this information so that employees have a reference for who to contact if they are running into issues on a platform. This information gives you a starting point for who to reach out to and when so that you can make sure employees are set-up for their first day.

List of admins that can assist with internal software onboarding for new hires

Setting this up as a smooth process will make a huge difference in your new hires’ experience as it minimizes delays so they can focus on diving into their new role.

3. Find the right tool for your team

When we think of fancy onboarding processes, we often think we need fancy tools or software. Asana, JIRA, and Basecamp are all great tools, but they are also expensive and for some, require training to use. I suggest simply using what your team is familiar with.

Back in 2017, there were few tools that all of our team members had access to, except Google docs – so that’s where we started.

Our first onboarding checklist was a Google Doc that listed out the need-to-know details for all our platforms, as well as information about our culture.

Eventually, our checklist grew so long that new hires started missing items at the end of the doc. When I gathered feedback to inquire, I discovered that without the ability to actually “check items off a list”, it was hard to keep track of what was done and what wasn’t.

By this time, we had onboarded all of our team members on Trello, another popular and free task management software/web app, and after some Googling, I found Trello’s New Hire Onboarding Template. This was a game-changer for our team as it was an intuitive platform (even for us non-tech folk) and was visually easier to digest than a Google Doc.

For the longest time, we even kept the same headings as the pre-made template until we eventually created a Google Site to host all of our culture related information.

The onboarding section our company wiki built with Google Sites.

4. Make time for the little things

Once you have the main needs of your onboarding process locked down, you can start to add small cost-effective, yet impactful, additions.

A great option for startups is providing company swag that is already set-up at the new hire’s desk the first day they come in.

Example of a bad welcome kit for onboarding.

Since that welcome package of SWAG might just be a t-shirt and maybe a sticker at first, you can also include a gift card to the team’s favourite local coffee shop (Crust Bakery, we wouldn’t have made it without you).

These gestures take very little time to coordinate but have a large impact on an employee’s experience. Just do a little better than what you see in this picture. It makes them feel like the team is as excited about them joining as they are – which of course, we are!

5. Continuously gather feedback about the program

Impactful onboarding is built through an iterative process. By no means did we get it right the first time, and I can guarantee you that our process will change again multiple times before the end of the year. What’s exciting to me is that every employee at FreshWorks has had an opportunity to contribute to the process by providing feedback at their two-week “onboarding check-in with HR”. Employees are notified ahead of time to keep track of anything that comes up, no matter how small and are asked to consider the following 3 questions:

Ask your new hire:

  • What went well with your onboarding?
  • What was tricky about your onboarding?
  • What could be improved for future new hires?

During these check-ins, I do my best to communicate just how important feedback is, often giving examples of feedback other team members have provided in the past to get the creative juices and conversation flowing. I’m always inspired by our team members’ ideas and can confidently say that our process wouldn’t be even close to where it is now without their input.

6. Take pride in what you have!

Putting together a quality onboarding process takes time, patience, and dedication. The whole team has to understand and be on board with the importance of creating a great experience from the moment their new team member walks in the door.

Even if your onboarding process is in the early stages, take pride in it! If you are proud of what you have, you will continue to foster it and help it grow. Every process starts somewhere, and who knows, maybe you’ll be writing the next blog post on onboarding.

The key to any new process – onboarding included – is just to start somewhere.

At the end of the day, only you know what’s best for your team. If you’re like the vast majority of companies, there will surely be some trial and error along the way to figure out what “best” means to you.

Whether you start with a first-day email, a lone Trello board, or a single swag item, your new-hire will appreciate the extra care. The beauty of being the owner of a process is that you can iterate on the initiative as slowly or as quickly as feels comfortable — and who knows, you may just find that onboarding is your new obsession too!

This article is a customer feature and was originally published on FreshWorks Studio's blog.

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About the Author
Shannon ParkerShannon Parker

As the HR Manager and Leader of the People Ops, Shannon's main focus is to develop the Human Resources strategy at FreshWorks. She is passionate about creating an inspiring, exciting and supportive environment that helps employees reach their career goals. Outside of work, you can find her fishing or boating on a local lake, or socializing over music bingo and jigsaw puzzles.

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