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Employee Onboarding for Small Businesses and Startups (Best Practices for 2023)

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Read Time: 11 min

For a new employee to have a good start, it’s important for them to have an effective employee onboarding experience. This is especially true for small businesses and startups.

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New employee onboarding gets a new hire off to a good start. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Effective employee onboarding isn't just about complying with local laws and regulations. That’s just the beginning. Employers must always consult with a local attorney to ensure they’re covering all legal bases.

In this tutorial, you'll learn some key points about employee onboarding to use for new hires.

Understanding Employee Onboarding

The Society of Human Resource Management defines employee onboarding as

“...the processes in which new hires are integrated into the organization.”

This new hire onboarding definition includes all activities that orient a new hire into their new role. It also includes the “structure, culture, vision, mission and values” of the organization they’re joining. Employers expect their onboarding experience to reflect the company’s culture and values.

An effective employee onboarding gives a positive overall employee experience. And these first few days, sometimes weeks, on the job plays a big role in the future success of the employee, as well as the company culture.

Onboarding can reduce turnover, increase productivity, and increase employee engagement. According to the Brandon Hall Group Employee Engagement Study, the most impactful aspects of the employee experience are work/life balance and candidate experience, and onboarding. 

“Research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.”

-Talya N. Bauer, Ph.D, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success

In short, a well-structured and effective onboarding program benefits both the employee and the employers. These benefits include faster integration, improved job satisfaction, and better retention rates.

Keep reading to learn some onboarding best practices and how to use them. Use this article to create your own employee onboarding checklist.

Preparing for Employee Onboarding

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Add best practices to your employee onboarding checklist. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Several steps are involved in creating an effective employee onboarding process. Consider adding the following to your onboarding checklist. Remember that many of these best practices apply to contractor onboarding as well.

1. Design an Onboarding Program

The first step to designing an effective onboarding program is to start at the end. Define the onboarding objectives and outcomes you wish to achieve. ​​ 

Set Your Onboarding Objectives

Whether it's familiarizing new hires with the company culture, equipping them with necessary skills, or establishing strong relationships with the team, having clear objectives guides the development of your onboarding program. 

Think in terms of both short-term and long-term outcomes. According to Bauer, short-term outcomes of onboarding include:

  • Self-efficacy - self-confidence in doing the job well
  • Role clarity - how well the employee understands their new role and expectations
  • Social integration - meeting and establishing effective working relationships with peers
  • Knowledge of and fit with the organizational culture - understanding the organization’s values, politics, goals and even language

Long-term outcomes include:

  • Job satisfaction - enjoying and feeling fulfilled with the job
  • Organizational commitment - dedication to the job and the organization
  • Performance - meeting and even exceeding expectations and targets

With these outcomes in mind, begin to think of activities to incorporate into your onboarding process.

Identify Stakeholders

Next, identify key stakeholders and their roles in the onboarding process. Direct supervisors and the human resources department are involved in onboarding. But so can co-workers, the training department, executive team, and a mentor or buddy.

For executive positions, higher-level management may also be involved. Make a list of specific stakeholders and assign them specific roles. Their collaboration is necessary to make the onboarding experience successful. Keep in mind that you’ll be updating this list as your onboarding plan takes shape.

Choose a Timeline

Finally, determine the timeline and duration of your structured onboarding program. With all the outcomes you want to achieve, it’s unrealistic to complete the onboarding in just a few days.

Many sources say a reasonable duration for onboarding to be effective is at least three months. This may or may not be practical for your particular situation. You do need to set aside enough time for a new hire to adapt to their roles and work environment, and to integrate into the team. Decide on a timeline that’s feasible and allows you to achieve your goals.

Now you’re ready to flesh out your new hire onboarding program.

2. Create Onboarding Materials

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Professional onboarding materials give a great first impression of your company. (Image source: Envato Elements)

With your onboarding objectives and outcomes in mind, determine which onboarding materials you'll need. For each objective or outcome, ask yourself: “What materials and tools will the new employee need?

The answers to that question may include:

  • An employee handbook or manual. This should contain basic information about the organization as well as all the policies and procedures all employees should be aware of. It should also include your legal obligations as an employer and the rights, benefits, and other entitlements of employees.
  • A welcome kit. This includes not only all the documents and resources the new employee needs to start working, such as IDs, key cards, and a nameplate for their desk or office. It should also have items that make them feel good—and welcomed—into the organization. Consider adding branded merchandise, such as a company t-shirt or coffee mug. Don’t forget digital resources, for both in-office and digital employee onboarding. These could include new-job announcement images they can post on their LinkedIn and other social media accounts.
  • A comprehensive orientation presentation. Put together a slide deck or video to orient new hires. The presentation can cover:- welcome message from the CEO- company values, mission and vision, and culture- organizational chart- employee benefits, from paid time off to health coverage and more- where to get information on critical policies-what’s next in terms of onboarding and training

Now, you’re ready to identify specific activities that'll go into your structured onboarding program.

3. Cover Essential Employee Onboarding Activities

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Digital onboarding requires some special consideration. (Image source: Envato Elements)

To make sure you cover all the essential employee onboarding activities, think of onboarding in three phases:

  1. pre-employment
  2. the first days of employment
  3. onboarding beyond the first days

Identify Pre-Employment Activities

As the name suggests, these onboarding activities take place even before the employee begins work. These include:

  • Communicating job expectations and responsibilities. The employee’s contract should have their specific responsibilities and what’s expected of them.
  • Completing background checks and necessary paperwork. Do your due diligence to vet the new employee. Make sure they complete government-mandated forms such as tax forms, and other documents like enrolment forms for medical coverage, pension plans, and others.
  • Scheduling the first day and providing logistical information. Make it clear when they’re expected to begin work and give them the information they need to do so. This includes everything from where to park to which person they should report to. Remote onboarding has different logistics.
  • Setting up their remote workplace. For digital onboarding of remote employees, make sure they receive their work computer/laptop, login information, and passwords in time for their first day at work.

Day One: Welcoming the New Employee

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A warm welcome for new employees is part of any onboarding program. (Image source: Envato Elements)

The first day is always special. The impression you give on this day is going to last and affect your employee’s job satisfaction and productivity, so give this plenty of thought. Consider the following activities:

  • Give the employee a warm welcome. Send a welcome email, leave the welcome kit on their desk (or have it shipped to remote employees). Set up a welcome meeting with their direct supervisor. 
  • Make introductions. Introduce the new employee to their co-workers and other stakeholders. Schedule virtual ‘coffee chats’ for remote employees
  • Take them on a tour. Walk them through the workplace and facilities. Digital onboarding may also require a virtual tour of the office intranet, chats, and other collaboration tools.
  • Deliver the orientation session. Use the orientation presentation you created so the new employee gets to know the organization and how it works.

Plan for Onboarding Beyond the First Few Days

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Assigning a mentor or buddy is another onboarding best practice. (Image source: Envato Elements)

A structured onboarding takes time. Plan the rest of the first 90 days—or however long you want your onboarding program to take.

  • Create a structured training plan. This will be a combination of generic training for all employees and a more tailored development plan that’s specific to the new employee's role. Encourage ongoing learning - and provide resources for professional development.
  • Offer mentorship or assign a buddy. To support the employee's integration, consider assigning a specific HR staff to each new employee. Or the mentor or buddy can be a non-HR co-worker.
  • Ease social interactions and team-building activities. Organize activities that encourage networking with peers and supervisors. These could include a team welcome lunch or, for digital employee onboarding, virtual coffee chats.
  • Foster a supportive and inclusive work environment. Keep communication lines open and seek feedback often.

How to Evaluate and Improve Onboarding

You won’t design the best onboarding program on the first try. Besides that, circumstances change.

Creating a formal, structured onboarding program is an iterative process. Think of your onboarding program as a work in progress. In a way, your work is never done. You’re always tweaking and improving things as you go along.

Collecting Feedback

To be constantly improving, collect feedback from new employees and other stakeholders. Gather feedback through surveys and interviews. Get feedback at different stages of the onboarding process, and even a few months after the onboarding.

Go back to the objectives you identified earlier. Make an honest evaluation of whether you’ve met those objectives. The idea is to evaluate the effectiveness of the onboarding program, identify areas that need improvement, and make changes to further optimize the onboarding process.

Regularly update onboarding materials and resources. Office policies, processes, and documents are always changing. Make sure your onboarding materials are up-to-date. 

The feedback you collect will also give insights on how to improve your onboarding materials.

Create a Positive Onboarding Experience with Envato Elements

Good employee onboarding gives new employees a positive impression of your organization—one that sets them up for success in their new roles. As you’ve seen, creating professional onboarding materials is a critical part of the onboarding process.

To make sure your onboarding materials make a great first impression and communicate effectively, consider an Envato Elements subscription. It’s particularly cost-effective for small businesses and startups. 

For one flat monthly fee, you get unlimited downloads of everything you need to develop professional, effective, and easy-to-use onboarding materials. These include:

For presentations, you get unlimited downloads of presentation templates for the most popular presentation software like PowerPoint, Keynote, and Google Slides.

If you want to make an onboarding video, you've got unlimited access to an extensive collection of video templates, stock videos, music, and sound effects you need.

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Save time and effort when making onboarding materials by starting with presentation templates from Envato Elements.

Envato Elements’ vast library of creative resources make it easy for startups and small businesses to create professional, polished onboarding materials. The platform is easy to use, so you can find the exact assets you need, streamlining your workflow and saving you both time and effort.

Give New Employees the Best Start with Effective Onboarding

I hope you realize by now that effective employee onboarding is crucial to set up new hires for success—from even before their first day on the job. A well-structured onboarding program with a sufficient timeline ensures a smooth transition for new employees. They’ll feel confident and supported in their new jobs. If you think about it, what is onboarding but a way to increase productivity, foster employee engagement, and reduce turnover?

Use the onboarding best practices outlined in this article. Use the points above to create your own onboarding checklist.

As a responsible employer, remember to consider local laws and regulations about employee onboarding. These vary from country to country, and even within different regions. Consult with a local attorney to make sure you've got all your bases covered. 

Think of the laws and regulations as the ‘bare minimum.’ Nowadays, you can and must go above and beyond to ensure a successful and productive start for new employees. Follow the onboarding best practices in this article to create an exceptional onboarding experience that attracts and keeps exceptional employees.

To design impressive onboarding materials, consider Envato Elements. With these premium items, you can create appealing presentations, engaging videos, and impressive employee handbooks that leave a lasting, positive impression on new hires—even if you’re not a professional designer.

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