Preboarding is yet another buzzword that made its way into the business world, human resources, and management. It stands for the period just after signing the work contract with the employee, but still before the official beginning of the employment itself. What could or sometimes even should happen in this period? How can a new hire and your company alike benefit from it?

Buzzword or not, preboarding is important. It helps the company to set up shop for new hire and get a company a little better by him or her. 

What is preboarding?

It’s part of the adaptive process of a new employee that lasts from accepting the offer to the first day of work. In this period, employee sign documentation, HR completes documentation, IT has the time to set up the workplace environment. It’s very technical but it doesn’t have to be. 

The new approach to preboarding turns this time into what I call “the setup mode”. New hire learns about challenges he must face, at least in the first, provisional three-month period. Gets familiar with names, projects, time frames, and bottlenecks. 

Most importantly, this time can be used to simply think. How can I, as a new hire, approach presented challenges? What needs to be done in the first place? How can I change the process of tackling a matter and convince the team, right from the start, that my experience justifies the change?

It’s especially important for project managers, we will come to that.

How to build a preboarding program?

First of all, there is no one-fits-all solution. Preboarding must reflect different roles in the company and especially, seniority. A buddy system, important especially for juniors, might be boring for seniors who are experienced in the role. Explaining the role of buddy for veterans is counterintuitive. 

So, how to do it right?

Send new hires a welcome email. This builds an atmosphere and sets the tone for future cooperation. Confirm the start date, introduce the team, and ask about the preferred laptop and operating system.

Get senior leadership to say a word or two. Because of the workload, I have a hard time imagining that this will be personalized in any way. An all-around welcome video or even a letter would be great as well. This is a vital part of the company culture. It’s always a good idea to have one sent to all new hires.

Get a direct supervisor to prepare a checklist with current project challenges. It’s especially important for project managers. That way, they can be aware of potential threats to deadline.

Set up a call with a direct supervisor. Create a chance to know each other beyond the recruitment process. Learn how you think on a deeper level. Talk about the project, progress, and closest milestones. Describe in detail what should happen next and why.

Please keep in mind that this can be a double-edged sword. Especially for companies that are not as structured as they could be and operate in chaos daily. Organizations with that approach and with no tradition of doing things the right way can introduce an opposite reaction to a low-stress environment that preboarding is usually known for.

That’s why the “all hands on deck” approach is not for everybody. The example I used in the paragraphs above is for emergencies when the project is not doing OK and the team faces an immediate deadline catastrophe. In other cases, you can eliminate task-oriented parts and simply get to know each other.

Is it even legal?

Forcing a new employee to think or do anything before even starting a new job is not legal. Not until the contract of employment officially starts. Things get more complicated when it comes to B2B contracts since contractors can do anything they want with their free time. 

Even then, forcing somebody to dive deep into the pool of project challenges is not a good idea. Asking about it is a whole other thing. The company can benefit in the obvious way; through faster acclimatization and onboarding. A new hire can faster understand what’s going on and the first week can run smoother than expected. 

Why you should think about rolling out the preboarding process in your company?

Preboarding is a remedy for a few major challenges: stress uncertainty and cold feet (according to a 2019 study, 28% of new employees renege on a job offer after accepting). It’s also a great opportunity to… even have this specific employee. Remember that many candidates have two, three, or even longer notice periods (non-compete, etc.) That’s why establishing a relationship in this transitional period builds trust and grounds new hires in your firm. Without it, you risk losing a talent to another company.

The last important, yet unbelievable statistic: 65% of questioned employers admitted that they had experienced a no-show on the first day of work. People who get themselves to work, are leaving within the first 45 days, and at least 22% do. Why? People are overwhelmed by new jobs, which is a topic for another article. 

Preboarding is a remedy for that as well. Thinking about a new job or building an architecture to address challenges even before the work starts, sounds weird but it actually works. Remember that the first 90 days are usually the most productive for any employee. They learn about the company, culture, tools, and projects. They absorb and have fresh ideas about how to run them the best way. They contribute the most when they are new and able to think outside the box.

Use it. Overwhelming talents with details is not a good idea. Presenting them with a checklist of the most important problems to solve, is. That’s where equalizing experiences come into play. Everyone has a different walk of life and work habits. No matter if you come from a teal company or not, you have seen cooperation, bottlenecks, successes, and mistakes. Evening the playfield and ability to talk about these differences between the organization and new hires is another reason to implement the preboarding process.


The most important thing – business justification

All fine and dandy but we still didn’t mention the most important factor: the client. Every project is unique. Sharing with a project manager findings from a discovery session, and the client’s project requirements, will speed up the onboarding process.

After signing an NDA, you can use the transitional period (notice period and so on) to gradually introduce the project manager into the project. Share as much as you can but don’t overwhelm. That way talent will get to know your as well as the client’s perspective and understand what needs to be done to deliver the project.

Final thoughts

Preboarding is a great tool but you need to use it wisely. Give talents chunks and pieces instead of a whole meal. If you deal with a 2-month notice period, you can establish a roadmap with weekly updates on what’s going on. Send materials, and warm up new hires gradually. Step by step.

That way you can have a prepared employee, ready for the most productive 90-day period. Can you force anyone to think about the company before starting the actual work? Can you force anyone to do anything before that? No. But you can create a bond and present yourself as an organization that takes matters seriously. And give people another reason to not drop you after the first three months.

That approach to preboarding is not for everybody. Organizations in the transformation periods (rebranding, implementing new organizational structures) are even a threat since new hires can view this as chaos. For companies that are sailing smoothly, it’s a chance to tackle employee turnover.