A Comprehensive Guide to Employee Onboarding

by Aimie Ye, SEO Manager @ GoCo

Employee Onboarding Stats

Employee onboarding: a task every business is familiar with, but not every HR team has mastered. Strategic employee onboarding has become a major component in most organizations, mostly because it just matters that much. Here are a few stats:

  • A poor onboarding process is a major contributor to a “bad hire”, and organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new-hire retention by 82%.
  • Employees with a negative new-hire experience are twice as likely to seek different opportunities in the near future.

Lack of proper employee onboarding leads to higher turnover rates, but it’s also important to understand the cost associated with replacing an employee. SHRM research shows that replacing an employee can cost between 50%-60% of their salary.

In a year of unprecedented change, from a dangerous pandemic to the remote-work shift, a strong onboarding process has become even more crucial to the employee experience. Now that you’ve seen the numbers, you can understand why it’s important to start
your employees off on the right foot, and keep it that way.

What is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding refers to the process of integrating a new-hire with an organization. The process starts the minute an offer letter is sent, and continues into the new employee’s first day, week, and even year. HR teams and businesses with strong
onboarding methods set the employee up for success with the proper tools, information, training, and documents. Proper onboarding helps employees get up-to-speed faster with their responsibilities, while shaping a positive first impression of the

From meeting their coworkers to accessing resources necessary to do their job well, successful onboarding gives new-hires a clear idea of what their role looks like, what success in their position looks like, and what the culture of the organization is like.

The Stages of Employee Onboarding

The onboarding process begins as soon as the offer letter is signed, and ends when the employee can independently do the job they were hired for. Because there are so many crucial steps to onboarding a new team member, it’s easier to categorize onboarding into 5 key stages.

  1. Pre-Boarding (Before their first day)
  2. The First Day
  3. The First Week
  4. The First Quarter
  5. The First Year

Each of these stages builds on the one before, and can drastically impact an employee’s productivity and happiness. We’ll also dive deeper into the key interpersonal elements of new-hire onboarding, from pre-boarding to maintaining employee engagement at year one.

Roles Involved in Onboarding

Though your HR team plays the primary role in onboarding a new-hire, it truly can take a village to guarantee a seamless experience overall. The hiring manager, department, mentor, IT, and even C-level executives play a role in a strong onboarding program.

The Role of HR in Onboarding:

Human resources takes responsibility for the majority of employee onboarding tasks. In an organization, human resources can be anything from a one-person team to a department distributed across multiple countries. Some companies may not even have a dedicated
HR manager.

HR is responsible for:

  • Presenting information to the new-hires: benefits administration, company policies, payroll set-up, and work environment.
  • Introducing company culture to new team members. HR is in charge of education around organizational culture.
  • Determining the skills, gaps, and abilities employees have and addressing these with appropriate training plans.

The Role of Managers in Onboarding:

An employee’s immediate supervisor plays an important role throughout the onboarding process. From day one (and likely before then), managers and supervisors are in charge of building strong, trusting relationships with their new employees. Managers often take over once HR has completed general orientation and activities.

Supervisors are responsible for:

  • Aligning employee goals with their job descriptions and the organization’s mission. The direct manager ensures that the employee has a strong grasp on the tie between their job duties and key business objectives.

  • Setting expectations for job performance. Supervisors meet with new-hires to set realistic goals and expected performance trajectories.
  • Providing coaching to their new-hires around technical skills, communication skills, and giving advice for upward movement.

The Role of Leadership in Onboarding:

While founders and C-level executives may not be the first people that come to mind in the onboarding process, these people play a powerful part in the new-hire experience. Leadership is often strongest at seeing the big picture, zeroing in on business strategies and goals.

Leadership is responsible for:

  • Tying business strategy to employee success and retention.
  • Educating employees on the business’ mission, culture, goals, and history.
  • Helping employees visualize the path of the organization, as well as how to achieve long-term success.

In addition to these three key roles, co-workers and IT also add to a seamless experience. Co-workers can act as mentors, buddies, and support for new team members, offering relatable past experiences as help. The IT department equips new-hires with equipment, passwords, accounts, and more so the newbies feel ready to take on their roles. From this you can truly see that every person plays a role in helping a new employee navigate onboarding matters.

Onboarding Checklist

Now that we’ve covered the stages and the roles involved in a great employee onboarding program, let’s cover key steps to creating the best first day and beyond, as well as how to create a custom checklist.

Pre-Boarding Checklist

The hire-to-onboard period, when a new-hire has committed to joining the team but has yet to start, plays a major role in creating a memorable first impression. Companies that have a pre-boarding plan in place retain 81% of new-hires through the first year. Creating and referencing an employee pre-boarding checklist guarantees consistency and organization.

  • Send your offer letter. With an HRIS like GoCo, you can customize an offer letter and send it digitally within minutes.
  • Create the perfect onboarding video to communicate core values and give employees a preview of the awesome organization they’re joining. Whether you’ve gone fully
    remote or are staying in the office, getting a welcoming message out can make a world of a difference. Have existing employees record personal experiences for a warm welcome.
  • Collect personal information, contacts, and other relevant information. By using an onboarding tool like GoCo, information is securely stored in the HR database to minimize double-data entry.
  • Review policies and documents. Bring new-hires up to speed in GoCo with digital documents and acknowledgements, and stay compliant with the law.
  • Collect W-4 and I-9 documents from your new-hire. Since both forms have gone through major changes in the past year, GoCo’s guide to the new W-4 and I-9 forms keeps you in the loop.
  • Provision email accounts and IT access for the new team member.
  • Collect any necessary certificates from the employee. This could be anything from teaching certificates to Google Certifications.
  • Collect payroll information from the employee.
  • Run a background check. Make sure your new-hire’s background check does not conflict or prohibit them from working for your company.
  • Prepare equipment set-up and requests. Your new employee should have the proper equipment lined up for their first day!

View the complete pre-boarding checklist here.

New Hire Orientation Topics

  • Administrative Support — helping new-hires with consent forms, background check forms, payroll forms, building entry instructions, and employee requests

  • Company Policies — providing background on confidentiality & NDA policies, reviewing benefit & stock options, covering employee handbooks, vacation & COVID-19 paid leave policies

  • Introductions — connecting new-hires to their managers, co-workers, departments, and senior leaders, assigning mentors & scheduling meetings, whether remote or in-person. Assign tasks to other team members and automate onboarding workflows to minimize bumps along the way.
  • Work Equipment — setting employees up with proper equipment and demos for important tools/software
  • Company Culture — sharing your company’s history, values, cultural mentality, and social norms.

Day one sets the stage for the weeks and months to come. It’s easy for new-hires to become overwhelmed — HR tech like GoCo can be a game-changer to have new-hires focus on the company instead of paper-based processes. Additionally, modern HR software automates tasks, documents, and processes so human resources can focus on high-value engagements.

Download the complete guide to creating a great first day here.

How to Build a Custom Onboarding Checklist

We’ve covered the necessary steps in a complete onboarding checklist — now let’s cover how to create a custom checklist and start automating! Modern HR software like GoCo helps HR managers automate routine checklists and workflows in minutes.

Build Your Checklist in GoCo

With GoCo, you can drag and drop to create a custom onboarding checklist template that makes sense for your company, or create specific ones for each team or role.

Within your template:

  • Add names, descriptions, and icons
  • Designate permissions levels for users
  • Create tasks for sending the offer letter, creating an onboarding video, sending digital payroll documents, or even your specific company welcome package. Make sure to include all the tasks from your onboarding checklists above!
  • Insert relevant form fields to collect all the information you need (e-signatures, acknowledgements, and more)

Collaborate with Your Team in GoCo

  • Assign tasks to other departments or teammates, to keep everyone in the loop.
  • You can set custom owners, due dates, and approval flows that make sense for your onboarding workflow.
  • Group tasks by employee, manager and department

Track Progress of Your Onboarding Checklist in GoCo

  • Get an at-a-glance view of all of your onboarding employees, and track outstanding tasks
  • Trigger alerts and view task completion status in regards to your new-hire checklists!

Try our onboarding platform and create custom onboarding templates.

New Hire Paperwork

A major part of the onboarding process is managing the variety of documents and forms that your new-hire must complete before starting employment in your organization. Specific types of paperwork may vary depending on your industry, state, and labor laws
where you live, but every business must complete federal paperwork like the I-9 and W-4 documents.

Compliance Issues

Maintaining personnel files and compliance documents can be extremely difficult without a proper document management and HR system.

Compliance issues often include:

  • Missing, incomplete, or incorrectly completed documents
  • Record keeping deadlines regarding how long documents must be retained
  • How HR should handle audits or litigation
  • Document sharing and safety risks

Paper-Based Issues

Problems with paperwork also arise when your HR processes are paper-based. Some of the most common issues around paper-based HR are:

  • Misplaced paperwork/lost paperwork
  • Time spent printing and filling out paperwork by hand
  • Additional costs of printing all onboarding documents

How to Collect New Hire Paperwork Securely & Digitally

With sophisticated document management features built into our HR software, you can kiss compliance issues and paper-based new hire paperwork goodbye. Customize and “magictize” every document digitally,
so you can easily insert necessary form fields and store this information once and for all. In other words, once an employee’s name or information is in the system, it will be automatically populated on future relevant documents!

  1. Add your existing new hire documents to GoCo

    Easily upload any existing offer letters, agreements, payroll forms, and performance reviews and start placing Magic Fields on your document.

  2. Add custom magic fields, dropdowns and signature fields on your new hire paperwork

    The magic field will automatically fill in the existing GoCo information for each new hire. Even if you have a complicated PDF or word document, you can customize dropdowns, signature fields, text fields and more.

  3. Test your new template by switching to the Test tab

    Receive a live preview of what the sender and new employees can see!

  4. Send your documents to new hires in a seconds

    Once your docs are made into templates in GoCo, choose one or more team members to send it to. The new-hires will be pinged to review and complete required documents.

    Learn more about how to digitally manage, send and sign documents here.

Remote Onboarding

At this point you may be wondering “what if my business is fully remote?” The COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant change to the standard work setting. In order to minimize health and safety concerns, many organizations have moved fully remote, some with no plans of going back into the office.

Remote onboarding can be a daunting task, but is made easier with digital onboarding systems. Though your end goal for remote new-hires is the same, here are a few best practices that will help you improve online onboarding.

  • Create an onboarding program with goal tracking (30/60/90 day plans, goal tracking in real-time, etc.)
  • Provide web links to online assets (Blog posts, video libraries, training platforms, etc.)
  • Schedule remote meeting sessions (Video chat, digital agendas, and digital copies of documents)
  • Schedule an HR orientation virtually (Review & digitally sign onboarding documents, cover account set-up details, etc.)
  • Virtually send compliance forms (W-4 form, I-9 form, direct deposit authorization)
  • Schedule a communications orientation
  • Hold a virtual product/sales review

Make sure to start the remote onboarding process early to allow new-hires to adjust to remote practices and company culture beforehand. It’s also important to communicate frequently so new-hires feel a sense of belonging, despite being in the comfort of their own home.

Each of your new remote workers could have the potential to be a future leader. In light of this, make sure you retain and train each employee accordingly. Read the full guide to remote employee onboarding here.

Onboarding Automation

Automation goes hand-in-hand with the shift to remote-work. With massive change comes the need to step away from manual, often tedious methods of work. In the wake of the coronavirus, most HR teams have added tasks to their plates, and the importance of automating onboarding processes is becoming increasingly apparent. We’ve discussed the different components of a strong onboarding process above, so it’s time to discuss the advantages of streamlining the process with an HRIS.

  • Save time. With digital onboarding software like GoCo, you can replace your previous paper-based orientation workflows with digital communication, paper-free forms, signatures, feedback and more.
  • Save money. The money spent on recruiting, training, and onboarding new-hires could be reduced greatly with automated onboarding checklists, training reminders, and performance check-ins.
  • Reduce error. Using a modern HR platform to onboard employees means you won’t be repeatedly entering important information, from payroll account info to timesheets.
  • Stay consistent. Automating your new-hire orientation guarantees that materials presented to new-hires remain consistent, with standardized workflows and document management.

Automate New-Hire Orientation

GoCo’s automated HR workflows feature makes it easy to build custom new-hire orientation workflows for every team and role.

    1. Create a custom orientation checklist template

      1. Add names, descriptions, icons, permission levels and more
      2. Create and group tasks for company intros, tours, meetings and IT support
      3. Add custom form fields

  • Start your onboarding workflows!
  • Trigger alerts and track workflow progress.

Read the detailed guide for onboarding automation here.

Setting the Stage for Long-Term Engagement

A strong onboarding process isn’t over after orientation. Your employees are your greatest asset, so you must make sure to continue and engage your team. Here are a few great tips from our Guide to Creating a Great First Day.

  • Continue to focus on culture. Before you can speak to the company’s culture, you need to know what it is. Can you articulate the company’s culture? Can everyone that works for the organization articulate the company culture?
  • Encourage connection through knowledge sprints. Continue to stimulate the brains of your newbies — have them explore beyond “what’s my role?” and create strategic alignment around the vision of the company.
  • Ask for feedback. Learn what worked and what didn’t from the people who experienced it all. Create a survey and reflect on mistakes.

Working remotely shouldn’t be an excuse for weakened employee engagement efforts either. There are plenty of ways to preserve a close-knit culture over Zoom, including the following:

  • Create space for talking and listening (Zoom, Slack, Skype, etc.)
  • Host online games, happy hours, and activities
  • Keep the 1:1s going!

View a full list of remote engagement ideas here.


If there’s one thing you’ve taken away from this comprehensive guide, it’s that employee onboarding is far more than a welcome mug and an office tour. Businesses and HR teams are tasked with an extensive list of duties before the new-hire has even stepped foot in the office, and are expected to keep the positive momentum going for years to come. From detailed checklists to the role of other departments in the process, you can see just how important a great first impression can make. Your business becomes more productive, more profitable, and your workforce becomes happier. The best part of it all is that you can easily automate and streamline the key components of onboarding with very little hassle.

If you’re ready to make the investment in onboarding technology, a sophisticated digital onboarding platform like GoCo allows you to collaborate, save time, and create customizable new-hire workflows for your organization. By automating operational tasks into workflows through an HR management software, you will allow your HR staff to focus on what really matters during this unprecedented time—your people. Take a free tour today.

See how GoCo can simplify your HR