How to Onboard Inclusively

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

When we think about inclusivity in the employee life cycle, our minds often immediately gravitate towards hiring. The hiring process is typically well defined, has standard steps along each way, and lends itself well to lists of bias-mitigating tools and tips on what to do (and not to do) to shape a more inclusive and equitable experience. However, one aspect of the employee experience often overlooked among the focus on getting a candidate to accept a job is the onboarding experience. What comes after the offer? Not all onboarding processes are alike, and this can be a make-or-break experience for new employees joining your organization. 

I believe new employees should feel included from Day 0– that is, they should feel supported even before their first day. Someone’s experience ramping into a company can set the tone for the rest of their time with that team and organization. This experience is also one of the new employees’ first exposures to the organization. The onboarding experience can fall by the wayside for many reasons, including pressure to hire quickly, focus on hiring only, pressure for the new hire to deliver quickly, etc. Another factor to consider these days is whether or not your new hire is remote, in-office, or in a hybrid role, as the steps for getting them set up may look different. 

To ensure that your onboarding is inclusive, take a step back and consider what that process flow looks like from all angles. At SGO, we frequently assess whether our internal processes are inclusive and equitable. We’ve collected our top ten favorite best practices for how to make the virtual onboarding experience more inclusive (and note that an in-person onboarding process will look slightly different):

  1. Share a ‘Day One’ agenda with the new hire in advance. Make sure to be as clear and explicit as possible around expectations (should they be online by a specific time? Are there any first-day pieces of information they need to provide? Is there any required paperwork to fill out? Is there a dress code? Who will they be meeting with?)
  2. Send the first calendar invite of the day to both the new hire’s personal and work email. By including their personal email, you know they will be able to join that meeting, allowing you to troubleshoot with them in case they run into any difficulties accessing their work email and accounts. 
  3. Proactively set up check-in meetings with the new hire’s team – this is particularly important for remote or hybrid teams. Since the new hire won’t have the luxury of bumping into people in person or at lunch, ensure that there are introductory meetings with other team members and folks with whom the new hire will need to know or will be working. 
  4. Build in time for breaks! In a virtual setting, it’s tempting to set up back-to-back meetings (no time needed to walk between conference rooms or office floors!). However, jumping from one welcome meeting to another can get tiring, so build in a 10-15 min break between meetings to allow the new hire to use the restroom, take a screen break, take some notes, or simply just take a breath.
  5. Set up your new hire with any needed technology, system access, and equipment in advance. Since SGO is a remote-first company, we typically send our new hires a new laptop when they join. We’ve started downloading essential platforms such as Slack or Asana on the laptop for the employee before we ship out their equipment– this makes it easier and ensures that they have internal access to the tools we use. This system prep also cuts down on needing time to set up access and download platforms on the employee’s first day. 
  6. Ensure your employee has the necessary equipment and tools to do their job. We check with new hires to make sure they have everything they need– and if they don’t, help them set up by purchasing what they need (desk, chair, monitor, etc.) in advance. All employees also have access to an annual employee stipend that they can use for additional home office setup, materials, and more. 
  7. Consider asking the new employee for a brief bio and/or headshot before they join. You might want this anyway, especially if you have a website team page that you need to update. The new hire’s manager can share this information before the new hire’s first day, so their team members know who is joining the team. This practice is also a non-obtrusive way to ask whether the new hire uses or has pronouns they would like to share with the team.  
  8. One of SGO’s favorite onboarding tools is a document that we call ‘Working With Me.’ The basic template asks employees to share any information that they think is important around things such as: working style, work assessment results, typical hours online (critical if you have employees in different time zones!), preferred meeting times or norms, preferred communication channels, pet peeves, advice for giving feedback, any ‘quirks’ of working with the person, and any personal information they might want to share.
    Every time we bring on someone new, the whole team updates their document, and we set aside time for the team to review their Working With Mes together. This meeting allows you to remind yourself about your team’s working styles and is a constructive way to start getting to know the new hire (and vice versa).
  9. Set up a regular meeting between the new hire and their manager. At SGO, we generally conduct weekly one-on-ones. Set up a schedule that will work for you! It doesn’t have to be weekly– it could be daily during the first week or two, bi-weekly, or monthly. The key is to be consistent and make sure that the new hire knows where to go and who to ask if they have any questions. 
  10.  Set up a 30-60-90 day plan for your new hire. Don’t expect someone to hit the ground running right away– it takes time to settle in and understand how everything works. That said, you can still set milestones and goals for your new hire. Having this kind of a plan is also helpful for the manager to assess how the new hire is doing and course-correct early on if needed. A final step you can take as part of your 90-day check-in is to ask your new hire if there is anything else you could have done to make their experience more inclusive and streamlined. Don’t lose out on this unique opportunity to get feedback! 

Ultimately, these best practices are things that have worked for us at SGO. They aren’t set in stone; the most important thing to remember is that this process can change. We’re constantly assessing our own process and asking our employees if it works for them. If you are onboarding people in person, there will be different considerations to keep in mind. And, you might have some tips that didn’t make it into our list! Let us know if there are additional best practices you use or have seen work!