Make Your New Hires Feel Welcome With Automated on-boarding

Nathan L. Walls

On-boarding a new hire covers a lot of ground. For a developer or designer, there’s the easier to see pieces, like having a laptop ready and having a standard way of setting up a developer environment and getting access to source control and email.

Digging a little deeper, there are several concerns and questions successfully on-boarding a new hire needs to satisfy. Both the business and the new hire have concerns that need to be addressed by an on-boarding process. Let’s look at these separately at first, then find some commonality.

Understanding a hiring manager’s on-boarding concerns

If I’m thinking as a hiring manager, my on-boarding concerns include questions like:

  • Does my new hire need to relocate?
  • Do we have all of the essential paperwork sent and returned with the right information?
  • How am I going to announce and introduce our new team member to the rest of the company?
  • Does my new hire need and have a place to park?
  • Do I have a key, door token or passcode so my new hire can get into the office?
  • Does my new hire have a place to work?
  • Will my new hire have a laptop and other essential equipment in time for their first day?
  • Does my new hire have access to source control, email, calendar?

Understanding a new hire’s on-boarding concerns

As an incoming employee starting at a new company, I’m likely to have some set of the following questions going through my head:

  • Do I need to move?
  • How much time am I going to need to get to the new office?
  • Where do I park or what’s the closest metro station/bus stop?
  • How do I get into the building?
  • Where am I going to sit?
  • Am I going to be able to get work done?
  • Is my paycheck going to show up?
  • How do I sign-up for benefits?
  • Who are the people I work with?

Address on-boarding concerns with checklists

There are two different, but significantly overlapping, sets of concerns that a great on-boarding process needs to address. Addressing these concerns as consistently as possible helps improve predictability and stability. That reduces the opportunities for part of the process to be overlooked and allowing for any out of the ordinary requests and circumstances to get special attention.

We need to understand what goes into satisfying each concern. We’re going to start by making a checklist for each concern. Those checklists should answer the following points:

  • What successfully satisfying the concern looks like
  • What steps are required to satisfy that concern
  • When does each step needs to happen to ensure it’s ready on time
  • Who needs to make sure the step is done

Walking through checklist creation

As an example, let’s walk through a sample company concern: Signing up for medical benefits in a larger theme of “paperwork”. Paperwork can be boring and tedious and parts of it are easy to overlook. This makes it an excellent candidate for a checklist or automated process.

Now, let’s think through the happy path of a new hire signing up for medical benefits, given that we’re not yet worried about any automation, just working with what we have now.

  • A candidate accepts a job offer, a start date is established, and the candidate becomes a new hire
  • The benefits paperwork is gathered with other forms, put into an envelope, addressed to the new hire, and mailed
  • Mail is delivered to the new hire’s residence
  • New hire opens a bundle of paperwork and starts filling it out
  • New hire completes the paperwork and either brings it with them on their first day or mails it back
  • A benefits administrator validates the paperwork and sends it along to the insurance carrier
  • Other processes happen at the insurance carrier
  • Soon, the new employee has medical benefit ID cards

Understand your assumptions

Let’s note that we’re making some assumptions here:

  • We remembered to send the new hire a packet on time or early
  • We remembered everything that had to go into it
  • We have all of the necessary paperwork on hand to send to our new hire
  • The new hire can figure out what’s needed on each form and can complete each form before they start
  • The new hire sends back the forms early or brings them on their first day
  • Everything after the new hire returns the forms goes perfectly

Improve robustness

There are a few easy first steps to help make this process more robust:

  • Creating an introductory letter welcoming the new hire to the company so we’re not just dropping a bundle of officialdom upon them
  • Creating a manifest of the necessary paperwork with an explanation of what each article in the bundle is for
    • For our medical benefit paperwork, it could include the form itself and a description of coverage options and how much those options cost
  • Flagging forms to identify what fields are needed
  • Assembling the paperwork and manifest into ready-to-go packets
  • With a new hire, customize the introductory letter, grab a bundle and put in into an envelope with a second envelope for the new hire to return

Repeat for other items on the list

Use that process for an actual new hire, or have an employee do a trial run and see if there are any other sticking points as Version 1.0. Once our process works with the first set of medical benefit forms, we can expand it to other forms and documents we care about:

  • Employment agreement
  • Citizenship or visa verification
  • Tax documents for proper withholding for income tax, Medicare and Social Security
  • Payroll and direct deposit
  • Employee address, phone number, and emergency contact
  • Life insurance, short and long term disability insurance enrollment, and beneficiary designation
  • Retirement account establishment, beneficiary designation, and account selection

Automate with off the shelf tools

In time, you’ll likely find something you want to adjust. For instance, you may decide handling all of this paperwork as paper is too much of a hassle. thoughtbot uses RightSignature for sending and signing electronic versions of paper forms like this now. We also use Namely to handle direct deposit establishment, emergency contact designation and other employee information.

Tie off the shelf tools together with an on-boarding script

At thoughtbot, our on-boarding starts immediately after an offer letter is signed and a new hire is asked to fill out an online form with information such as the new hire’s desired email address. This information goes into an internal Rails application we call Onboard. Onboard will then kick off a background job to add the new hire to several systems like GitHub, Heroku, Basecamp, and Gmail. It will also generate requests for all of the paperwork through RightSignature.

When I started at thoughtbot, I received a welcome packet via email sent from Onboard about two weeks ahead of my start date and was able to spend couple of hours over two nights getting the paperwork in order. As part of that, I was able to spot that one document didn’t get to me and request it be resent because I had a manifest. Then, my first day was focused on technical setup instead of paperwork, which felt great.

Not everything is going to be able to be automated. For instance, we aren’t automatically ordering a laptop from Apple when an employee starts. Those cases are covered by a Basecamp checklist and assigned to the new hire’s manager or office manager and covered manually.

Expand the concerns addressed by automation and keep iterating

We explored just one segment of on-boarding in-depth here. You’ll repeat this style of exploration for each of the concerns we talked about earlier. You can start by going through the process with one or two concerns at a time and iterating, just as we have here. In time, you’ll find areas where these processes overlap, automated or not. Where you can, automate small components and compose those components into a larger on-boarding process instead of having a monolithic process.

I’ll bet your new hires will feel more confident they’ve made the right decision of where to work when you have an on-boarding process that runs smoothly and proactively. Business processes should be optimized and refactored, just as software is.