Onboarding

The Ultimate Pre-Onboarding Checklist

Get the complete checklist to set your new hire up for success, even before their first day.

Introduction

Getting your employee onboarding plan right is no easy feat. And while many companies can see the importance of a well-defined process, they often miss one crucial element. 

You have to invest in preboarding — that is, to start onboarding before a new hire’s first day. 

The average onboarding process requires employees to complete roughly 54 activities, typically including administrative tasks executed by HR once an offer letter is signed. While paperwork is necessary, it’s only one piece of what should be a much greater effort. 

Retention is the name of the game. In a recent study, only 47 percent of businesses said their onboarding program was strong enough to ensure new hires saw enough value to stick around for the long haul. An employee's journey should go far beyond signing on the dotted line. 

That’s where preboarding comes in. By doing the bulk of the busy work before your hire even walks in the door (or logs in, for those remote teams), you’re setting up a successful first day. The focus from thereon out can be on transitioning your hire into the role and helping them connect with their team. 

Here is a simple pre-onboarding checklist, complete with helpful examples, tips and templates to streamline your processes and maximize new employee engagement. 

What is a pre-onboarding checklist? 

Stay organized and know which tasks to set in motion when. A pre-onboarding checklist outlines HR’s preliminary steps for setting up a new employee. 

“Having a checklist can help to reduce the amount of stress and confusion that new hires often feel during their first few days on the job,” says Max Benz, CEO at remote-job.net. 

“By providing a smooth and structured transition for new employees, you can help create a sense of comfort and belonging, which in turn can make them more likely to stay with the company for longer periods.”

You’re all likely thrilled for your new colleague to come onboard — let them know! Our checklist includes slots for pre-onboarding outreach. These touchpoints serve as positive reinforcement, settling lingering nerves and encouraging some returned enthusiasm. 

Your pre-onboarding checklist

It’s simple but effective! Use this checklist to foster a consistent and positive preboarding experience. 

  • Submit onboarding documents
  • Send a welcome email
  • Inform existing employees
  • Prepare the office equipment 
  • Arrange training materials and access to tools
  • Send over a welcome kit
  • Set up a regular cadence for pre-first day check-ins

Gerrit Brouwer, founder of onboarding platform, Appical, tells SHRM that new hires spend an average of 9.25 hours of preboarding activity before they’re even on the payroll. 

Let’s dig into how that time adds up and, more importantly, how your preboarding process offers significant value. 

Step 1: Submit onboarding documents

Today, at over 58 percent of organizations, onboarding paperwork eats up the most time. By having new hires complete these documents before they start, HR teams can immediately ensure they’re up and running with payroll, benefits and workplace systems. 

Jennifer Hartman, a Human Resources expert at Fit Small Business, says, “A pre-onboarding plan will make actual onboarding on your employee’s first day an easier process.” To meet legal compliance and ensure new hires feel welcome, Hartman suggests that your packet of pre-hire paperwork includes a(n): 

  • Offer letter
  • Employment agreement
  • Background check document
  • Reference check document
  • Payroll information sheet 
  • Summary of benefits
  • Employee handbook

Companies can use onboarding software — like  Gusto, BambooHR, and Rippling — to centralize onboarding paperwork, allowing new hires to sign and verify forms without the hassle of manually uploading multiple documents to an email server. 

Step 2: Send a welcome email

A few days after your new hire has accepted the job offer, have direct managers reach out with a welcome email. 

Establishing a warm point of contact this early on cultivates an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated. With minimal effort, you can skyrocket a new hire’s morale. 

Here are a few details that managers can include in their email: 

  • Relay everyone’s excitement that they’re joining the team. 
  • Give them a preview of what to expect on their first day.
  • Detail the next steps in the onboarding process. 
  • Encourage direct outreach for any questions or concerns.

Check out our email template for welcoming a new hire: 

Subject line: Welcome to [Company name]!

Hi [Employee name],

Congratulations on accepting the offer! The team is thrilled to start working with you, and we look forward to seeing you on [start date].

We’re already making plans to ensure you have a great onboarding experience. Soon you’ll receive a few emails outlining the tasks and paperwork you’ll need to complete before you start. We will continue to keep you posted on your next steps. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out if any questions come up in the meantime! 

[Manager signature]

Step 3: Inform existing employees

Remember those first-day jitters? You’re unsure who to talk to or where to go. You’re easily lost. Often, you end up peering around the room, hoping someone notices how new you are. 

An awkward and silo-ed start to a new career leaves the wrong impression. To avoid this, 47 percent of businesses use buddy programs. While helpful, these are potentially unnecessary. Often, effective communication is all you need. Simply let existing employees know a new colleague will be joining their ranks. 

You can inform employees via email or drop a note in primary communication channels. Be sure to mention the following:

  • A new hire’s role and name.
  • The team they’ll join and who they’ll report to.
  • Their start date. 
  • What you expect from current employees.

Colleagues serve as company ambassadors. Your hire will likely lean on their teammates to navigate the ins and outs of the job. Use this initial message as an opportunity to share best practices on how to welcome a new employee. These could be as simple as:

  • Encouraging employees to connect with new hires on LinkedIn. They can add a simple note saying, “Congrats on accepting the offer! Looking forward to working with you soon.”
  • Asking them to introduce themselves if they see the new hire around the office.
  • Inviting new hires for group lunches or coffee runs.
  • In a remote setting: sending new hires a welcome message on their first day or scheduling 15-30 minutes for a casual introduction. 

Step 4: Prepare the office equipment

Set employees up for success from day one. Start arrangements for preparing office supplies and IT equipment as soon as you’ve confirmed the start date. 

If your employees are working in an on-site or hybrid model, you can prep: 

  • A clean workstation.
  • A laptop, desktop, mouse and keyboard.
  • A pen and notebook.
  • Storage boxes or cabinets.
  • Adapters and cables to connect with office devices.
  • A cheat sheet of login credentials and information to access company buildings, rooms and general systems.

For remote onboarding, start even earlier. With less opportunity for in-person support, you want to give new hires time to familiarize themselves with devices and get their home office ready to go. Here are a few virtual onboarding ideas

  • Ask what equipment they’ll need for their home office. You can also create a “Work From Home” stipend for use if needs arise for new supplies. 
  • Determine how they’d like to receive their equipment — through direct mail or pick up at a designated location? 
  • Add time on their calendar to review new equipment on their first day. Ensure they have everything they need and are synced to the necessary platforms. 
  • Schedule check-ins during their first few weeks to assess device functionality and give them the chance to ask questions. 
  • Create a document with IT points of contact and FAQs. HR teams also use automated knowledge transfer tools to simplify documentation on using company portals and requesting IT support. 

Step 5: Arrange training materials and tools access

During preboarding, work with stakeholders to compile all the materials needed to transition smoothly into the role and company culture.

Benz says that a core benefit of a formalized preboarding and onboarding process is prioritizing that all new hires get the same level of training and support. 

“This can be particularly important when it comes to HR teams, as they need to be able to hit the ground running and be effective right from their first day on the job,” says Benz. 

You can do this in a few ways: 

  • Providing a resource or wiki page with videos and documents that communicate your company’s mission, vision, organizational structure and an overview of benefits and perks.
  • Introducing a dedicated liaison from the HR team who checks in with new hires before the first day and during their first few weeks.
  • Working with the direct manager to build a training plan.
  • Developing onboarding guides and job training materials for each role. Documentation tools like Scribe can make how-to’s more interactive and digestible. For example, give your business development hires clear instructions for keeping Salesforce updated and organized.

It’s also important to note that not every new employee is the same. Personalize the training process to best fit your hire’s needs and learning preferences. 

“It’s important to do a preliminary assessment of the new hire’s skills and qualifications so that you can begin planning their training schedule,” Benz says. 

Step 6: Send over an onboarding kit

An onboarding kit shows appreciation for the time and effort a new hire spends in the application and recruitment process. 

An offer is more likely to be declined in a candidate-driven job market — 58 percent of job seekers in 2021 refused a position because of a poor hiring experience. Think of your welcome package as a way to say, “Thank you for choosing to join our team! You won’t regret it.” 

It also familiarizes new hires with your company’s brand and personality. Staffing firm, Insight Global, shows new hires how each item in the onboarding kit relates to company goals. This includes a notebook for “Shared Values,” a gift card to the company store and a book on growing perseverance and passion. 

Cryptocurrency platform, Coinbase, drops a fun surprise into their welcome boxes that gets their new hires excited and invested (no pun intended) — Bitcoin!  

Step 7: Schedule a preparatory email cadence

As we mentioned before, you really need to prioritize ongoing engagement. Your pre-onboarding checklist should include email follow-ups that lead up to day one. 

Aside from the direct manager’s welcome email, all outreach should come from the designated HR liaison established at the outset. Having a clear point of contact dispels confusion and lets your new hire know who they can reach out to. 

This series of emails will include:

  • A brief overview of the company and its culture.
  • Introductions to an onboarding buddy or other form of support. 
  • Their first-day schedule. 
  • A checklist of action items to complete ahead of time. 
  • Confirmation that they received their welcome kit and feel prepared for their first day. 

Define a preboarding experience that’s authentic to your company

Despite its massive benefits, 64 percent of new employees have never preboarded. This means that most of the action happens on their very first day. You might call this experience drinking from the fire hose. 

Often, costs deter companies from rolling out a preemptive flow, especially when recruiting at a high volume. But successful preboarding isn’t baked into the size of your welcome kit or tech stack. Ultimately, your wins are determined by how welcomed your new hires feel and whether they decide to stay.

This pre-onboarding checklist is both a roadmap and guide, making sure your team takes every measure and freeing time so you can focus more on your new employee. By that very first day, you’ll have already made a massive impact.