When Humu shifted to 100% remote work in 2020, we knew we had to re-imagine our onboarding for new hires, affectionately known as “Numus.” The days of joyfully gathering around a Numu’s desk decked out with balloons and swag are gone for now, but we wanted to bring that same sense of celebration to dispersed work — all while sharing what we do, who we are, and how we fulfill our mission to make work better.
Great onboarding is tougher than it seems. Only 12% of workers think their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees, and remote onboarding makes it even harder to connect.
As Head of IT, I led a new task force to rethink Numus’ first few weeks, translating what worked from our live onboarding sessions to a new, more remote-friendly process, all backed up by behavioral science. Here ‘s what we’ve learned so far.
1. Start off strong
At Humu, we know that starting a new job makes everyone at least a little anxious. People who’ve spent years building a reputation at their previous company are starting from scratch, which can lead to imposter syndrome and fear of failure. Remote work only amplifies these worries, making new hires more likely to feel isolated and invisible.
That’s why great onboarding begins long before someone’s first day. At Humu, it starts the same day they accept their offer letter.
First, we mail a custom welcome package to show how excited we are for them to join the team. The package contains their company-issued laptop, some fun Humu-branded swag like stickers and clothing, and a personal, handwritten note of welcome from me. Their manager writes a note, too, reiterating how excited they are for the new hire to join and offering to answer any questions they might have before starting.
A week before the Numu’s first day, their manager shares a living document outlining exactly what to expect on the first day and in the first two weeks. This tailor-made two-week game plan sets work expectations and helps alleviate some of the uncertainty people feel when starting something new.
2. Facilitate casual collisions
Welcoming Numus is one of the best parts of my job. On Day One, I lead a morning welcome session with Mariana, my counterpart in People Ops, to officially welcome Numus and get them familiar with the company systems. Numus say it’s a relief to start the day with friendly faces instead of jumping in the deep end of their inbox right away.
Then comes a company-wide meet and greet, where we try to replicate the experience of crowding around a Numu’s balloon-strewn desk. We start the video call with a fun icebreaker prompt, like “We’re having a potluck - what do you bring?” or “What’s your favorite childhood cereal?” to help get people talking — and usually, laughing! On one intro call, below, we asked everyone to change their video background to reflect their favorite childhood movie, from Air Bud to the Brave Little Toaster. Sharing personal anecdotes helps Numus feel more connected to their new colleagues, and sets the stage for more positive cross-team interactions later on.
3. Embrace the buddy system
Starting a new job remotely can be incredibly isolating, so it helps to have a friend. Before Numus start, we introduce them to their Buddy: someone from another team that can help answer questions and support them throughout their time at Humu. According to a recent Gallup poll, when employees strongly agree they have colleagues they can always rely on at work, they’re 1.9 times more likely to strongly agree their onboarding process was exceptional.
4. Showcase your culture early and often
It’s not enough to send new employees a deck about your company culture: they need to experience that culture firsthand. When employees strongly agree that they have a good understanding of “how we do things at this organization,” they’re nearly five times more likely to praise their onboarding experience.
That’s why during the two weeks of onboarding, we host one or two general sessions per day with real Humu team members —like Security 101 or Intro to Humu’s Nudge Engine— regardless of the Numu’s actual role. We also pepper in 2:1s with important members of the Humu team. (We prefer 2:1s to 1:1s, since they’re more casual and give new hires a feel for how our organization actually interacts.)
No onboarding is complete without a chat with Humu CEO Laszlo Bock, who takes time to get to know each new hire and answer any questions. This helps model the kind of engaged leadership we want to be known for while building a shared sense of purpose.
5. Celebrate early wins
The official 2-week Numu onboarding ends with a company-wide “graduation” ceremony, where each manager talks about their Numu graduate and their personal accomplishments so far. Celebrating small wins like graduation helps new hires feel like they’re already part of the team, and also helps build rapport between managers and their direct reports. When managers take an active role in early onboarding like that, employees are 3.4x more likely to report that their onboarding was a success.
After the ceremony, I edit a personalized video clip of each manager’s speech and send it to the Numu to kickstart their smile file. We also give each Humun an opportunity to seed the Numus’ smile files with early positive feedback. This helps set the tone for Humu’s culture of genuine appreciation and gratitude. When people feel that their efforts are recognized, they’re more likely to continue doing great work.
6. Involve everyone, not just new hires
Last fall, we opened onboarding up to our veteran Humuns as well as new ones. Having some of the old guard in orientation sessions helps new hires by introducing them to veteran Humuns they might not otherwise get the chance to meet. And in a fast-paced organization like ours, established employees benefit, too, by hearing what’s changed since they went through onboarding themselves. There’s always something new!
A healthy onboarding process is a little different each time, and ours gets a little better with each class of Numus. After all, we know that lasting change comes from small nudges in the right direction.
As we continue to grow the company, we’ll scale our onboarding to match, making sure to keep the “special sauce” that makes Humu such a friendly, supportive, and engaging place to work.