We care deeply about our onboarding process at Atomic. We recognize that work relationships are human relationships and that it’s crucial to demonstrate respect for our new employees, show that we really value them, and that we’re excited to have them joining us. We want to do everything we can to set them up for success.
Our onboarding process gives us a chance to welcome new Atoms and provide a practical demonstration of our company values. It makes the difference between an energizing and highly productive first year at Atomic and a potentially stressful one. Investing in our onboarding process makes very good business sense, as it increases retention and decreases time-to-productivity for new Atoms.
We’re very excited to have six new Atoms join us in Grand Rapids this summer. Their arrival has given us the opportunity to revisit our onboarding guidelines and update them with the best practices we’ve put together over the years. We’ve received great feedback on our onboarding process from our newest Atoms, so I wanted to share our latest nine guidelines.
1. Start the onboarding process well before an Atom’s first day.
New Atoms feel most comfortable if they know what to expect during their first day and their first week. They have a better experience if they know some people coming in and feel like they already have allies on their first day.
- Send a welcome letter when the new Atom accepts an offer.
- Invite new Atoms to social events prior to starting.
- Several days prior to their start date, send a detailed agenda for their first day and their first week at Atomic.
- Provide answers to common questions prior to their arrival.
- Make sure they know when they’re expected to show up, where to park, and what to do when they walk into the building on their first day.
2. Make it clear that we’ve been looking forward to their arrival.
It’s important for new Atoms to see we’ve been planning for their arrival, and we are excited to welcome them. There should be clear evidence we’ve prepared a place for them.
- Ensure that the new Atoms’ team will be in the office and ready to greet them.
- Have a workstation ready for the new Atom with a display, keyboard, and a decent chair.
- Set up the Atom with a laptop and any other tools needed to perform the job.
- Make sure all necessary accounts have been created and that all HR paperwork is ready to go.
- Ensure that new Atoms have everything necessary to gain access to the building.
- Order business cards, so they’re ready on the first day.
- Put together a welcome gift and have it waiting—maybe a nice snack and some flowers.
3. Make the first day special.
Think long-term on an Atom’s first day. It should be spent getting to know folks, asking questions, and settling in.
- Spend time welcoming the new Atom. Take at least 30 minutes to chat before kicking into any planned material.
- Make sure new Atoms get a full tour of the office early on. They need to know where the restrooms are, where the snacks are, and where to get a drink.
- Take breaks during the day. Grab a coffee at the neighborhood cafe, go to the store, or walk around the block.
- Organize lunch for the new Atom with a couple of colleagues (don’t go yourself—use this break to catch up on email and Slack).
- Focus on getting them socially connected for the rest of the week. Don’t drown them in paperwork or details.
- Don’t throw the new Atom into project work on the first day; there will be plenty of time for that later.
4. Map out the first few months.
People will have a much more comfortable start to their Atomic careers if they have a roadmap to follow.
- Let them know what to expect in terms of onboarding sessions and information.
- Give a detailed overview of the project(s) they’ll be working on.
- Explain the expectations we’ll have for them and how those will ramp up over the first weeks and months.
- Explain how they’ll be evaluated and when they should expect feedback.
5. Remember that onboarding is a process—not an event.
While we want Atoms to have a wonderful first day, it’s important to understand that getting them fully integrated is an ongoing process.
- Establish a culture pair on the first day. It’s important to have someone who is deeply familiar with Atomic’s culture readily available to answer questions throughout a new Atom’s first few months.
- Check in regularly over the first months to ensure questions are answered and the Atom has everything they need.
- Make it very clear that you are available and willing to solve problems for them.
- Give special attention to new Atoms for months, not just during their first week.
6. Provide feedback.
Integrating into a new organization is stressful—it’s hard to know exactly how you’re doing and what people are thinking of you. Ease this stress by providing regular feedback. Have conversations early and often about areas that need improvement.
- Find areas to give positive feedback early. Comment on their good work regularly during the first few weeks.
- Create a regular schedule for formal feedback, and clearly communicate this schedule to new Atoms. They should get regular updates and know when to expect them.
- All new employees should get regular feedback during their first three months.
- The current recommendation is to schedule 15-minute weekly feedback sessions starting during the employee’s second week.
- If new Atoms are doing great and the sessions no longer seem productive, congratulate them for doing a great job, and end the sessions early.
- Recognize that you do a disservice to new Atoms if you hold back pointers that could help them early on.
- Pair with another Atom to polish message and tone before presenting areas for improvement.
7. Provide access to leadership.
Atoms feel most comfortable when they have strong social connections within the company. Relationships with leadership can be difficult to establish—access is limited, and it’s intimidating to ask. We should do everything possible to help new Atoms develop these relationships.
- Schedule a roadtrip with our CEO as early as possible.
- Schedule pair lunches for new employees with managing partners and senior Atoms.
- Pull new folks into conversations with leadership at group events.
8. Create social connections.
Social connections are key to new Atoms feeling safe and part of the team. We need to foster these relationships; this should be an intentional part of the onboarding process.
- Be sure new Atoms are properly introduced to the company (all offices!).
- Connect new Atoms with a peer group.
- Make sure Atoms on other teams are engaging with the new employee.
- Encourage Atoms to take new employees out for lunch—track this, and reach out to individuals if a new Atom doesn’t have a healthy pair lunch schedule.
- Allow new Atoms to participate in cross-team efforts (hiring, recruiting, workshops).
9. Gather feedback.
It’s challenging to see the onboarding experience from a new Atom’s perspective. We need to gather feedback during the first few months to see how effective our process is. We should do this after the first week, first month, and at three months.
- Use a standard template for feedback.
- Record responses, so we have data to analyze as we experiment with new approaches.
- Update any relevant docs with lessons learned.
I hope you find these tips useful! I expect you’ll see great returns when you provide new folks with an intentional and welcoming experience.