You’ve found the perfect hire, and she’s starting on Monday. You’ve notified HR and lined up some first projects, and payroll and health insurance paperwork are all ready to go. Now what?
A first day at a new job can be awkward and uncomfortable. Imagine this: You walk into a room with a bunch of people you don’t really know, get directed by a stranger to an empty desk, and sit awkwardly waiting for someone to tell you what to do. You might ask yourself, “Is this the right move for me? Should I have taken that other position? What am I doing here?”
As an employer, that’s my nightmare. New hires (and their families) have made a big bet on your company, and they’re looking to you to signal that it was a smart one. That’s why my company has established a few onboarding traditions designed to short-circuit those awkward moments of second-guessing–and send new hires home from their first day smiling. Here’s what we do:
1. Get Paperwork Squared Away Before They Walk In The Door
A first day should be about interacting with team members, not reading handbooks. So we like to send paperwork, handbooks, videos, and other onboarding materials to new hires ahead of time. Platforms like Gusto allow employees to submit payroll information early, and e-signature tools like HelloSign make it easy to prepare important paperwork from home.
While you’re at it, send a digital survey in advance as well, asking about your new team member’s favorite foods, what they like to do, what equipment they need to be most successful, and other likes or dislikes. Then use that information to make their day extra special. Do they love burritos? Then their welcome lunch will be catered by the local Tex-Mex joint. Collecting a bit of personal info early lets you not only personalize their first day but also get a jump-start on birthdays, work anniversaries, and other special occasions.
2. Set Up Their Desk (With More Than Just A Computer)
Litter a new hire’s desk with balloons and other small decorations so that everyone knows to swing by and introduce themselves. Try asking for your incoming team member’s T-shirt size ahead of time so you can throw some swag into the mix. To simplify their first few hours in the office, grab a bottle of water and some healthy (and cute) snacks to set on their desk as well. They might not yet know their way around or feel comfortable leaving the office on a snack run, and it’s an easy way to keep new hires feel welcomed but not overwhelmed.
We also ask everyone who interviewed the new hire (team members, managers, direct reports, investors) to write handwritten welcome letters ahead to set on their desk to read when they get home from their first day. These letters mention how excited we are to have them on the team, and the adventure that awaits them. Handwritten notes are so rare these days, and it makes candidates feel especially welcomed when they see the time put into expressing enthusiasm that they’ve joined the team.
3. Help Them Make Friends
Research suggests that having friends at work is one of the biggest contributors to employee retention. Make it easy for new employees to make friends by scheduling time for them to casually meet with coworkers. We arrange a series of one-on-one intro lunches and coffee dates, with no agenda other than getting to know each other. These are natural spaces for new hires to quickly get to know their colleagues and start building the trusting relationships that our organization’s culture depend on.
4. Send Them Home With A Gift For Their Partner Or A Friend
At the end of the day (and after our champagne and sparkling-cider toast) we send new hires home with a small thank-you gift for their partner, kids, or someone who supported them in joining our company. We like to offer a carefully wrapped mini-drone, with a note that says something along the lines of “Dear Friend of Hatch, Thank you for supporting Kavita in her decision to join our team. We’re so grateful to have her. We look forward to meeting you someday soon.”
The goal is to send new hires home thinking, “Wow, I made the right choice when I decided to work here!” Depending on your company’s culture, that might look very different; I’ve seen startups send people on orientation scavenger hunts, create getting-to-know you bingo cards, and make welcome cakes with the new hire’s face on it (for their “0th company birthday”–candles included).
Yes, it may take a couple extra hours to pull something together that’s truly exceptional–and it’s totally worth it. Not only are you building loyalty and enthusiasm among your incoming employee right out of the gate, but it’s also an opportunity to energize veteran employees. After all, who doesn’t love balloons, cake, and goofy team traditions?
Amelia Friedman is a cofounder at Hatch Apps, a company that automates software development to make building an app fast and affordable. She writes frequently for the Hatch Apps blog. Follow her on Twitter @ameliafriedman.