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The ultimate employee onboarding checklist for SMEs

If you’re running an SME, having a well thought out onboarding process for new employees is vital.

As the old saying goes, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” More than that, effective onboarding of new staff lays the foundation for positive performance and job satisfaction.

In an average business, training a new employee to full productivity takes around five months. An intentional and proactive approach to onboarding can speed up the process and make the most of your SME’s resources.

So, if you’re taking on new employees, here’s our ultimate onboarding checklist to help you make the most of every new team member coming into your business and reduce stress for everyone involved.

Before a new employee begins…

Prepare all the relevant paperwork

If this seems obvious to you, then you’re doing better than most. But the experience of many new recruits is of managers and HR teams scrambling to find documents they’ll need days or weeks into their employment. With effect from April 2020, all employees must be provided with their written statement on or before their first day of employment. These will need to contain: 

  • the hours and days of the week the employee is required to work, whether they may be varied and how
  • entitlements to any paid leave
  • any other benefits not covered elsewhere in the written statement 
  • details of any probationary period
  • details of training provided by the employer

Set clear expectations with manager or supervisor

If new employees are reporting to another manager or supervisor, meet with them to discuss the new starters. Work together on setting goals and finding appropriate projects to work on while they’re still new to the business.

Prep their work area

We all know that employees who feel valued are happier and more productive, and here is one place that a little effort in advance can really communicate value to your employees. Make sure their work area is tidy, safe, comfortable and set up with what they’ll need. Think about:

  • Access to sockets
  • Any access or seating requirements
  • Specific hardware or software they’ll need
  • Useful internal contact information

This extends to information about WiFi, parking, or door entry codes. If possible, communicate these things before their first day.

Create all necessary accounts

Productivity software is great, but only if people have access to it. Speak to your new recruit’s manager about what access they’ll need, and make sure that all the relevant accounts are created (or at least prepped) ready for them to begin. Think about:

  • Slack, Trello, Asana, etc.
  • Social media
  • Company email
  • CRM software
  • Company website

Add in any others that are relevant to your business. And, of course, make sure passwords and security are handled according to GDPR and your own policies.

First day

The big day! Thankfully your prep work has removed some of the more stressful elements so you can focus on setting the tone for happy and productive employment.


Again, this is about communicating value. It may be an ordinary work day to you and everybody else in the office, but for a new starter, today is a pivotal moment. Make sure you’ve cleared your schedule to be able to prioritise them and welcome them into your company.

Introduce them to the team

Introductions serve two purposes: letting new recruits know who performs what role within the business (and where to go for specific help); and also providing personal connection within the team, which has been shown to boost morale and productivity.

A quick walk-around and a brief introduction to each team member can work wonders. Try to be specific about the nature of their role when you are doing the introductions.

It can also help to send a quick message to the rest of the team in advance to let them know.

Tour the office

As well as meeting the team, make sure to show new recruits where everything is. Consider:

  • Toilets
  • Staff room / kitchen
  • Fire escapes
  • Stationery / specific supplies
  • Lockers / showers

Set expectations and goals

This is a great opportunity to meet together with new employees and their line manager or supervisor to go over expectations and goals for the first few weeks of their employment. Mention any training or HR processes at this time also, but make sure that you focus at least some of the time on envisioning new recruits for their role and the contribution they’ll make.

And, if you’re able to…take them out for lunch!

First week!

Assign a project

For employees, growth and job satisfaction comes from the opportunity to tackle projects, so assign a project early on. Make sure it is appropriately sized, with minimal risk to the health of your SME, but meaningful enough for your new employee to learn about the work they’ll be undertaking within your business and get them involved!

Assess work together

Regularly reviewing work, particularly during this early phase, can prevent problems from developing later down the line. Allow new employees the opportunity to reflect on their work too. 

Think about whether their work is in keeping with your company’s policies or house style. Assess whether there are specific skills gaps or knowledge which could be gained from another team member.

Set specific targets for the coming month

For new employees, working without specific targets can be demoralising or frustrating. Work with their manager or supervisor to set some realistic targets for the month. Think in terms of output, as well as targets relating to knowledge of your SME and its processes. Set in a date to assess how it’s gone.

First month…

Plan future check-ins

Set a schedule for future check-ins. Explain the format they will take — or better yet, model it during the initial check-in — so that staff can see how best to prepare for them.  It’s a two-way street after all.

Think about future development

After a few weeks, it’s a good opportunity to check in with new employees to discuss future development opportunities. This can not only boost their level of job satisfaction but also help you to solidify the skills your SME requires to thrive. 

See how they have reflected on their first few weeks and if they can highlight specific skills or areas to work on.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to onboarding new employees.  That’s why we’ve created a masterclass dedicated to this very topic. 

This takes you through the entire employee journey to help integrate new hires into your company successfully….and so hang on to the best talent for your business!

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