New Employees Know Nothing: A UX Consideration
Your onboarding procedure may need some updating
6 min read
It's the first day of your new job. You show up to the office and meet your team. The IT department hands you a laptop with some credentials. You promptly set up your desk and log in for the first time. Your team lead let's you know where the onboarding package is on the company network, so you promptly download the PDF and start reading. As you work through the package, your laptop fills up with all the software it's telling you to install. Reaching the end of the PDF all your tools are ready to go, but are you?
The onboarding process I just outlined is a cookie-cutter procedure that, with little variance, many companies use to onboard their employees. They may use a physical document instead of a PDF, or maybe they'll show a PowerPoint to a group of newbies all at once, but the result is the same - you know your team, you know your software, and you probably know your job, but you know nothing about the company you're working for.
Even companies in the public eye have their internal structure hidden behind strict NDAs. The way they’ve arranged their teams and workflows is a closely guarded secret because these procedures are often one of a company’s most prized possessions; giving them an edge against their competitors. Couple this with a great company culture and they’re set up to attract top-tier talent and then use that talent in the best way they know how. Herein lies the problem though, no matter how good the talent they're hiring is, there is no way for them to have an insight into locked down internal procedures, and a cookie-cutter onboarding process does little to remedy this.
It’s easy to forget that the different teams and departments are all working towards the same goal, the success of the company. Therefore it’s more often than not that teams have to work alongside other teams to get the job done. With no knowledge of what department is responsible for what, which team has access to a given asset, or who to call just to get some basic IT support; your high-class talent is left stonewalled at every turn. Ultimately this draws out their onboarding time from the cookie-cutter half-day to weeks of getting settled.
Beyond the Cookie-Cutter
For the productivity conscious, onboarding someone for weeks at a time sounds like a nightmare. You hired this talent to get a job done, so it makes sense that you’d want them working as soon as possible. This is where cookie-cutter onboarding processes came from in the first place, they look great on paper. You can hire someone and within half a day they’re already good-to-go on their first project, at least in theory.
The question now is, how do we fix this inadequate onboarding procedure? We need to ensure that it’s efficient and encompasses of all things we’ve already discussed in this article. Personally, I think the solution is a UX one and can largely be solved by simply analyzing what it’s like to be a new hire from the perspective of a new hire. I’ve made a few pointers to show what I mean below.
Cut the Cookie-Cutter?
I’ve complained a lot about these cookie-cutter onboarding procedures throughout this article, so you probably think that I’d want them gone completely right? Well that isn’t the case. They are really great at getting through the parts of onboarding that are more like chores. Tasks like giving people their front door access cards, getting them their software, and sorting out their login details are all things that don’t need a highly-tailored experience. Making cookie-cutter processes that cover all these “chores” just makes sense.
Lay of the Land
Instead of an employee wondering where another team’s job ends and theirs begins, I think it’s important to show new hires the lay of the land. If you give them a high-level reference document on how all the company's departments are laid out, they'll understand how the organization snaps together. Couple this with some common contacts they may need, like the payroll officer, or HR contact, and they’ll have more than a good idea where they’re at within the company.
Taking this a step further, I’d recommend providing another document that is more "zoomed-in" than the high-level reference. This document should outline the new hire’s department and all the teams within it. Additionally, providing a relevant employee list with contact details and job descriptions will also help a new hire call the correct person the first time when collaborating.
FAQ sections are designed to help people quickly find answers to common questions. Many companies will have similar quick reference sheets for emergency procedures like a fire alarm, or lockdown policies that apply to all employees in the building.
In the same vein, I think companies should create tailored FAQ references per-team. The goal here would be to give employees a quick reference to glance at instead of bothering their colleagues. Questions could include things like who’s in charge when the manager is absent, technical guidelines (i.e. always name printers with the prefix 'asdf-'), the team’s IT contact, and much more.
When you’re acquainted with something, you don’t need instructions every time you do it, so it’s very easy to forget to label items, or to provide signs to direct people around a building. Something as simple as not labelling where the washrooms are can cause a new employee some grief.
If something falls outside the realm of common sense, then it’s best to put up an unobtrusive label or sign so that newbies can find their way around with minimal effort. Common items that should be labelled include filing cabinet drawers alongside the folders within them, as well as meeting room names. Colour-coded folders are great for those already enlightened to what the colour-code is, by adding a written label new hires can learn the colour-code over time. When it comes to meetings, there’s no point in having a new hire wandering aimlessly around the office trying to find the “Coffee Conference Room #1.” Instead, consider putting up some signs around the office to direct them to the appropriate and clearly-labelled door. Once again, if you learned something due to your job familiarity, and not due to common sense, consider a label so that newcomers can learn quick.
Like many things that humans interact with, the UX needs to be considered and maintained to keep things running smoothly. The allure of a simple “get your employees onboarded in under 3 hours” process has its worth, but isn't tailored to each of your team’s needs. New hires are basically guests in your office, they have no idea how your company's departments all click together, and they’re not comfortable with their own team yet either. By adding a well-thought out, UX-based onboarding procedure that utilizes the efficiency of a cookie-cutter method, alongside a tailored set of resources, I believe that you can cut down on new hire stress and smooth out any bumps in the road they may face as they get settled.