"A new job can be stressful, and the decision to stick with a job or move on is often made within the first few days. It's vital that we create a great onboarding experience. We never want to lose sight of the fact that people are at the heart of what we do."Jessica Loadenthal and Alexa Davidson
Employee onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee into your team. A good onboarding process will reduce the time it takes new employees to acclimate — and to contribute.
Onboarding consists of the following activities:
- Getting the new hire the tools and information they need to be a productive member of the team
- Introducing them to your organization's culture
- Orienting the new hire to your goals, priorities, and projects
- Ensuring that all of the new hire paperwork is done
- Making them feel welcome on the first day and beyond
Onboarding is a long process. It starts from the moment a candidate agrees to join the team and ends a few months after their first day on the job.
Start documenting your onboarding process with the first hire. Even a small amount of simple documentation will improve this important process. And as new employees get up to speed, invite them to participate in making onboarding even better for the next new hire.
Onboard in phases
To avoid overwhelming new hires — or underwhelming them — treat onboarding as a phased process. Break it down into the pieces that make sense at each stage. The suggestions below will help you build a tailored onboarding guide and corresponding checklist.
Before the first day
Preparing for your new employee starts well before their first day. You'll want to have a number of things in place:
- Order the hardware (for example, laptop, phone) the new hire will need — and be sure to leave enough time for IT to configure it and ensure it's ready on the first day
- Purchase any additional licenses and accounts for any software needed
- If they're going to physically be in an office, figure out where they're going to sit and get the space ready for them
- If they're going to be remote, make sure to ship whatever they'll need to have on hand for the first day (for example, laptop)
- Assign them to a team or project and give the team time to prepare concrete tasks to get the new hire started
- Schedule time for them to meet the team
- Assign an onboarding buddy to guide them through the first few weeks on the job and:
- Facilitate meeting people
- Provide them with any informal context to the work and relationships
- Answer any questions about cultural norms, etc.
- Send them any first day instructions, such as what documents to bring, what time to come in, dress code, etc.
On the first day
First impressions are important and lasting. Make your new hire feel welcome on their first day, and:
- Have them complete the necessary paperwork
- Give them their laptop and walk them through setting up their accounts and access to any software they'll need
- Get them access to your team chat
- Introduce them to your organization through chat or email (have them provide an introductory blurb)
- Introduce them to their onboarding buddy
- Have the onboarding buddy schedule coffee or lunch with the new hire
The first week
- Encourage team members to schedule 1-on-1's with the new hire to welcome them and give an intro to the different projects throughout the organization
- Schedule deep-dives for the project they will be involved with
It'll take time for new employees to adjust to your environment and start becoming productive. Keep engaging with them during this early period, as they'll need lots of help navigating your organization. Schedule regular check-ins, and ask them how they're settling in.
Create an employee handbook
Create an employee handbook that's easy for everyone to access. A well-written handbook becomes the source of practical information and documentation of your culture. In addition to the normal HR-related things, here are some topics to include in your handbook:
- How to get help with technology
- How to request software licenses
- How to request new software
- A link to the organization's Code of Conduct
- Documentation around best practices for making remote teams work
- A guide to the acronyms and initialisms that are so popular with government agencies
- Build an onboarding process and guide
- Create an onboarding checklist for new hires
- Create an employee handbook
- Ask new hires to make updates to the onboarding guide, onboarding checklist, and employee handbook
- 18F's onboarding schedule
- Making a great first impression: Onboarding matters
- How we dramatically improved 18F's onboarding process in 3 months
Case study: Coding it Forward
Since 2017, Coding it Forward has brought over 100 undergraduate and graduate students into the federal government through their Civic Digital Fellowship. In addition to delivering real value to the agencies where interns are placed, the Fellowship is educating the next generation of our civic workforce.
Most interns are used to working in tech companies, so Coding it Forward proactively manages their experience to ensure a smooth transition to government culture. Each intern is paired with a mentor to help them navigate the civic tech world, introduce them to the community, and provide valuable guidance and support.
Agencies must host at least four interns to build community among the interns and ensure that no one is isolated at their agency. To help create positive experiences and spread the word about civic employment to other young people, plan social events, demos, and opportunities for interns to share their work publicly.