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Creating a spirit of belonging at Zapier: Employee onboarding best practices to steal

Grab employee onboarding best practices from Zapier and the team that brings it to life.

This author first found Ashley Priebe Brown, the Onboarding Program Manager at Zapier, through a Tricks Of The Automation Trade article focused on how Zapier uses Zapier to automate certain employee onboarding activities. While the article did an excellent job of showcasing how Zapier, a 12-year-old remote company, has managed to automate some high-effort, manual tasks in its onboarding program, the author felt like she’d have also loved to hear more from Ashley about the spirit and ethos of Zapier’s comprehensive one-month employee onboarding program.

After all, Zapier has been remote right from day one and has had to figure out how to run an employee onboarding program to make new hires feel welcome and at home in a distributed environment even before the rest of the world found itself doing so in 2020.

In the true spirit of asynchronous collaboration, Ashley, Savannah Waggoner, a Sr. People Ops Generalist, Randy Alvarenga, an Onboarding Specialist in the Learning & Development team, and Dara Hashemi, a Learning & Development manager, passed around and collaborated on a Google Docs to bring this article to life. It is very much in the spirit of Zapier’s, and Atomicwork’s, DNA.

What themes would you recommend someone keep in mind when they think of onboarding?

At Zapier, we focus on four key themes to ensure new hires are well-equipped to contribute to the organization:

Expectation Setting: Clearly define both big-picture expectations for their job and timebound expectations for their first 30, 60, and 90 days. This provides a solid foundation for new hires to build on and understand their role.

Access to Resources: Provide new hires with the necessary resources, tools, and documentation they need to do their job effectively. This lets them dive into their tasks and contribute to the team efficiently.

Relationships and Interpersonal Connection: Foster an environment where new hires can build connections across the organization. Ensure they know who to connect with and why, and share the team's culture on connecting. This creates a sense of belonging and support within the company.

Communication: Encourage timely feedback on communication best practices for their team and organization. Offer learning opportunities early on so they can improve their written and/or verbal communication skills. This is especially important for fully remote companies!

We also lean heavily into flexibility as we support new hires across the globe. Be mindful of the diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and learning preferences of your new hires. Strive to make your employee onboarding processes inclusive and flexible to cater to their needs and meet them where they are, within reasonable limits.

What are some must-create resources that every People Ops team should have on hand when they onboard new hires?

  1. Welcome guide: Lets new hires know what to expect during their first week(s) on the job
  2. IT setup checklist: Ensures new hires have all their tech tools
  3. Onboarding buddy: Provides a friendly human point-of-contact outside the Onboarding and People Ops teams
  4. Ramping plan template: Helps hiring managers set role-specific expectations and goals for the new hire's first 90 days
  5. Onboarding survey: Helps the Onboarding and People Ops teams know what's working and what needs improvement

What are some must-do employee onboarding items that a lot of companies miss out on?

Establishing a strong foundation in company culture, rituals, and processes: Prioritize connecting new hires to the company's values and culture. Investing time and resources in this aspect of onboarding can lead to higher engagement and commitment, even when employees transition to different roles.

Implementing a pairing program: Pair new hires with veteran employees who can act as friendly resources, guides, and familiar faces. This fosters a sense of belonging and support within the company.

Creating a go-to place for questions: Provide new hires with a specific place where they can ask any question without hesitation. This encourages them to seek help and learn more, rather than give up or struggle in silence.

Involving leadership: Ensure your executive team is engaged in the onboarding process. For example, our founders at Zapier meet live with each new hire cohort, and our CEO leads a live workshop on our company's feedback model. This shows new hires that leadership is invested in their success.

Allowing time for new hires to digest information: Give new hires ample time to process and internalize the information they're learning. At Zapier, we block an entire week for core company onboarding and another week for transitioning to functional employee onboarding. Faster isn't always better when it comes to learning!

How do you scale onboarding even as you grow the team and still make it feel personal?

Streamline and refine employee onboarding processes: Continuously identify the essential components of your program and simplify, automate, and refine them. This empowers individuals going through the onboarding process and sets them up for success within your organization.

Use automation to remove unnecessary work: By automating repetitive processes, your team can focus more on personal interactions with new hires. At Zapier, we automate tasks like launching onboarding workflows, setting up Slack messages, and inviting new hires to calendar events. This allows us to concentrate on connecting with our new team members through Zoom calls and Slack, ensuring a positive onboarding experience.

Hold targeted live sessions: With the time saved through automation, organize live sessions that foster building connections, practicing skills used in live settings, and creating dynamic live dialogues. These interactions are essential for personal growth and team cohesion.

How do you figure out what sessions to hold live and what can be asynchronous?

We have official guidelines for this, actually!

  1. Live sessions are best for building connections. Use them for team-building, dialogue, and live practice.
  2. Pre-recorded videos are best for presentations. Team members can watch when it's convenient for them, and you save the time spent leading live sessions.
  3. Lessons, via an LMS, are best for guiding a new hire through an experience centered around a topic. We love them because you can make an assignment with a due date, track progress, and assess learning.
  4. Documentation is crucial to share, but make sure to share it with a purpose. We recommend creating activities that ask the new hire to use the documentation rather than sharing it without context.

How do you infuse the employee onboarding process with the company’s culture code and values?

Emphasize the importance of company values: Throughout the onboarding process, clarify that the values are important and necessary for thriving within the company. Encourage growth and feedback while remaining steadfast in what makes your organization unique.

Dedicate time to discussing values: We allocate an entire day of onboarding to our company values, including an hour-long live session where new hires discuss each value, its practical application, and its personal meaning. This reinforces our commitment to these values from the very beginning.

Model values through veteran team members: New teammates interact with experienced Zapiens who demonstrate our values daily, setting a standard for how we work and illustrating the importance of these values in our company culture.

How would you recommend companies think about offboarding?

Create clear documentation and processes: Establish a step-by-step process for managing employee departures to reduce stress for all parties involved. At Zapier, we use Enboarder to notify stakeholders and employees about crucial offboarding details and provide an offboarding guide that outlines the next steps related to benefits, stock options, payroll, systems, equipment, etc.

Gather employee feedback: Implement a process to collect and act on employee feedback, which can prove invaluable for your organization. We use CultureAmp for exit surveys and offer exit interviews to gain deeper insights into the reasons behind resignations. This information can help your organization grow, improve, and foster a positive company culture.

Plan for access and knowledge transfer: Create a plan before the employee's last day to transfer their knowledge, responsibilities, and ongoing work to colleagues or successors. Documentation, training, or handoff meetings can facilitate a seamless transition. Additionally, ensure systems, accounts, and sensitive information are secured on their last day. Zapier has developed a workflow between our IT and People teams to guarantee accuracy and efficiency when de-provisioning an employee's access.

Demonstrate gratitude: Show departing employees respect and appreciation for their contributions. Remember that they will share their experiences with their network, and they might even return to your company in the future. Offer opportunities for farewells, check-ins to provide additional support, and best wishes for their future endeavors.

To end on a lighter note, what is the worst piece of advice you've ever received?

Savannah: This is a hard one! I'm selective about who I take advice from, but I’d say either:

That you have to have a college degree to succeed in life.

There's this trend where people think you have to be an entrepreneur to do well for yourself, and entrepreneurs are so important, but so is being an excellent intrapreneur and making your work the best work it can be. If you can deliver value for an organization, you'll benefit immensely and without many of the headaches that many entrepreneurs have to endure.

Randy: To just continue struggling and solving a problem in the same way the instructor had deemed correct. For me, I had to learn to try to do things differently to finally find success and growth. People learn in different ways, and this was a major eye-opener for me.

Dara: A quote from a former manager at a previous employer. “You’re too patient. To be a good manager, you need to get angry and flip the table every once in a while.” Motivating through positive emotion is a much better strategy than through fear."

Ashley: I can’t think of a specific example, but I tend to filter advice by whether or not it feels authentic to who I am and how I want to show up. If it aligns, great! If it doesn’t, I let it fade.

Featured Teammates

  • Savannah Waggoner is a Sr. People Ops Generalist for Zapier, and is based in Northern Colorado. She’s passionate about bringing out the best in others and cultivating workplaces where people can thrive.
  • Randy Alvarenga works within Zapier’s Learning & Development team as an Onboarding Specialist and supports their Talent Attraction team as a technical talent sourcer. A first-generation college graduate and leader of Zapier's BIPOC ERG, he is a champion for building out diversity and inclusion practices in the recruiting field. 
  • Dara Hashemi is a manager on Zapier’s Learning & Development team. He’s passionate about people and automation and believes we should use automation to remove work, increase efficiency, and give us the room we need to focus on human connection and more complex forms of collaboration.
  • Ashley Priebe Brown is the Onboarding Program Manager at Zapier, where she aims to provide each new hire with a delightful onboarding experience. Her favorite parts of the job are supporting teammates and automating repetitive processes.

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