Experiment #1: Onboarding at Five by Five

This is the first article in a series of posts around productivity hacks at Five by Five.

Five by Five is an open innovation consultancy based in Paris, France.

Abstract

Onboarding is an important part of the employee life cycle. It is the cornerstone that will define the long-term success of an employee. But like most small companies, traditional onboarding methods that we tried in the past didn’t meet the needs of our rapidly growing company.

So, we decided to test a new approach. Our goals:

  • Improve and personalize the onboarding experience for each new hire.
  • Onboard new hires so effectively that they could quickly setup and run projects.
  • Have fun. There’s nothing more foreboding that listing “fun” as an objective — but in all seriousness, work culture plays a big role in fostering shared empathy throughout the team, especially ours. So maybe, “don’t be douchey” is more accurate.

Methods and materials

Our new approach comprised of three components:

A morning in the mountains.

1. Offsite onboarding
Why? Having an offsite dedicated to onboarding gave us the opportunity to both onboard new hires and re-onboard current employees in a relaxed, non-work environment.

We also wanted a way to bring the team, new and old, together to work on a low-pressure and fun project (read: planning the offsite). Our offsite planning sheet was an easy way to jumpstart collaboration — everyone had the opportunity to participate and take ownership of offsite activities (e.g. cooking dinner, creating playlists, booze selection, hikes).

2. Easy-to-use documentation for new hires
We wanted to forego the convention of long and verbose onboarding documents (which we had been guilty of in the past). Instead, we tried implementing API best practices with our own version of a Getting Started guide.

  • Day One guide: an hour-by-hour agenda that detailed what each new hire could expect on their first day in the office, complete with helpful links to various documents they might need on the first day. This guide was shared a few days before their official first day in the office.
  • Getting Started guide: a comprehensive guide with our team values, step-by-step guides for doing things the “Five by Five way,” simple tutorials for tools used in the office. The objective of this guide was to be a referential document for new hires, even beyond their first day.

3. Buddy system
The learning curve is high in our company — we work fast, we learn fast and it’s easy to get left behind. We introduced a “buddy system” that paired new hires with current employees who would be their go-to for essentially anything — project-related questions, advice, restaurant recommendations, mentorship, coffee breaks. Our hope was that this system would ensure success and personal growth not only for new hires, but also current employees.

Results

Post-offsite cheesin.

Key takeaways

  1. The Onboarding offsite was an easy way to foster natural team bonding.
    Did we mention we were in the countryside? Going on hikes through the forest and petting horses that lived on nearby farms easily broke the ice between new and old team members. These foundational bonds extended into projects in the days and weeks following the offsite. 
    New hires felt their start was stable, organized and devoid of the usual awkward “getting to know each other” moments typical of most first weeks in a company.
  2. The Day One guide established stability through transparency.
    The first day at any company can be a harrowing experience — new colleagues, new ways of working, new offices, new everything. This guide made the entire first day transparent. Everything was new but expected, meaning that new hires could navigate their first day a little more at ease.
  3. The Getting Started guide was a step in the right direction, but is still an imperfect document.
    What’s interesting about the (re)onboarding process is that you realize the pain points of your current internal processes. In creating our first Getting Started guide, everyone involved understood the need for better information management within the company — specifically one that is easier for onboarding, but also one that facilitates better workflows.
  4. “Buddy system” — better together than alone.
    The “buddy system” was aptly named the “influencer system” just weeks after it was implemented. Our initial assumptions about the “buddy system” were correct: new hires are more successful when they have support from someone within the team who really understands their strengths, weaknesses, interests and the actions needed to address these points. 
    But it also became evident that current employees have just as much to learn from new hires, specifically in terms of leadership, communication and working styles. New hires offered fresh insight and feedback into how we worked individually, but also as a team (hence, “influencer system”).
    We’ve extended the influencer system into other aspects of our workflow, which we have been testing (updates soon!).

It’s been about six months since we rolled out our new approach and, without question, it has been our most successful onboarding to date. We’ve been making adjustments to our Getting Started guide and information management structure, so the adventures (and experiments) continue.

Stay tuned.

We’d love to hear about your own experiments and best practices — so drop us a line below or send a message to hello@fivebyfive.io.

Special thanks to L’Hermitage for letting us crash during our offsite, and to Ed Gomaa, Chloé Bonnet and Micheline Zamora for their edits and suggestions.