New_Employees_body.jpgby Erin O’Donnell.

Welcoming new employees to your small business is about much more than filling out W-2s and setting up their email. New hires will fit in faster and more easily with good planning and a speedy introduction to your company’s work habits and culture.

A new employee is naturally trying to make a good first impression at work. But it’s just as important for the company to start this new relationship off on the right foot, says Harvey Deutschendorf, author of The Other Kind of Smart: Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success.

“You risk the person getting the wrong first impression, and it’s difficult to change that,” Deutschendorf says.

A written strategy is especially important for welcoming new employees in smaller firms, Deutschendorf says, because it’s less likely that there’s an entire HR team to handle it.

Define roles

Start by defining a role for everyone in welcoming the new employee, from management down, Deutschendorf says. Ask your current staff questions about their own onboarding process:

  • What was it like for you on your first day? Your first week?
  • What could others have done to make you feel more comfortable, accepted, and appreciated?

Business coach Alisa Cohn of New York City recommends asking current employees how they view the company values and culture to develop your corporate self-awareness. “You can ask employees, ‘What was the biggest surprise when you got here? What’s different here from other places you’ve worked?’” Cohn suggests.

Evan Hakalir says he helps new employees learn about the company and their industry before they set foot in the office of, an online apparel retailer for boys based in New York City. Hakalir, the firm’s co-founder and partner, prepared a PowerPoint presentation about the company for incoming employees, and he sends them articles to study before their first day.

The company, which launched in 2010, now has eight full-time employees. “We’re more attuned now to the amount of time it takes to get somebody acclimated,” he says.

New_Employees_PQ.jpgEnlist other employees

Small businesses don’t tend to hire new people as often as large firms. So it helps to have a written process that doesn’t have to be reinvented with each new hire.

Using the “buddy system” gives the new employee a point person to help navigate everything from break room etiquette to asking for time off, says Jennifer Martin, owner of Zest Business Consulting in northern California. “It allows that new employee to be enmeshed a little more quickly into company culture,” she says.

In a smaller firm, new employees are usually trained by other staff members who have their own job duties to fulfill. So it’s important to hire prior to your business’s busy seasons, Hakalir says.

“If you bring in new people during those busy times, it’s very, very hard to spend the amount of time you need to spend with that person,” he says.

At Andy and Evan, new employees are assigned to shadow another staff member for the first two weeks of work – but not his or her own supervisor. Hakalir says new people are encouraged to ask their mentors any and all questions.

Mark Anthony, director of Combat Tactic, a martial arts studio in New York City, likes to use an apprentice model for new instructors. They will also shadow a more senior instructor for the first couple of weeks before they are allowed to teach a class on their own.  During that training, Anthony says he watches closely for signs that the new employee is leaning in to the work.

“Experience has shown me that a person not taking notes usually ends up leaving,” Anthony says.

The traditional lunch with the boss on the first day is still a great way to encourage more casual interaction away from the office, Martin says. In very small firms, she says, each employee could also take turns going to lunch with the new person, to help integrate them naturally with the rest of the team.

Feeling welcome

It’s important to make sure the rest of your staff understands the new person’s role and duties before he or she arrives. Then, Cohn recommends creating a “people plan” for the employee’s first day, first week, and first month, to determine the important people they should meet, either one-on-one or in groups. Help them also to know which meetings they should attend, she says.

Hakalir says he and his partner also schedule a few hours alone with the new hire to share their vision for the company. “They get to be a little more comfortable with us, which is important. You don’t want them tiptoeing around you,” he says.

Welcoming a new employee is also a great occasion for an office get-together. Hakalir says his firm plans an outing every time someone new joins the team.

In some businesses it may even be appropriate for clients to participate in the welcome process. Anthony says their martial arts students sometimes come along on a night out with a new instructor. “It really feels like a family, and I think it helps us business-wise,” Anthony says. “People feel like they’re getting more out of it than just the service, and that helps us expand.”

Be prepared

Nothing says, “Welcome to the Team” better than a well prepared work space. Make sure new workers have everything they need to get started, whether that’s a computer and phone or a clean uniform and the right tools. Consider also a welcome gift such as company logo items or just a personal note of welcome.

Deutschendorf suggests making a visual organizational chart with pictures of other staff members and maybe even some personal information about their interests. He also recommends asking new employees how they prefer to learn new information: would they rather read a manual or have someone show them a process? Those are cues as to how they work best, he says.

And don’t forget that coming into a new workplace is an intimidating time, Deutschendorf adds. “Employers often miss the part a lot of people fear about going into a job: how am I going to get along with everyone there? Are they going to like me?” Deutschendorf says. “When people feel more comfortable and accepted, they’re more open to asking questions. They’re going to think more clearly and make fewer mistakes.”