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The Essential Onboarding Guide For Architects & Interior Designers

Posted By Kappa Executive Search  

You’ve found and hired a great Architecture or Interior Design professional. While the process was likely lengthy, your firm is faced with some exciting times ahead. 


Having invested so much time and effort into finding your new hire, it’s important to turn your focus to what you can do to ensure you keep them. This is precisely where a great onboarding process can help, particularly when you consider what a not-so-great one can do (US labour forces stats show around 20% of employees leave their new job in the first 45 days). 


This onboarding guide is a roadmap for the first four weeks of your new hire’s employment. It also contains a few further suggestions beyond that time. As you read through it, keep in mind there are no hard and fast rules. Feel free to tailor it according to the individual needs of your firm and your new recruit.


(Download the full hiring guide here including Salary Survey, Position Description Guide, Interview Guide, Onboarding Guide and Exit Interview Guide.)




There are many things you can do to internally prepare for your new hire to ensure your new employee’s first day and week are all they hoped for and more. 


While the following may seem like a lengthy list, remember you can use the same onboarding process for all new talent in the future (albeit with a little tweak here and there for individual needs). 




1. Send your new starter an introductory email: 


Your first email should be warm and welcoming, letting them know how excited everyone at the firm is to have them on board. You can take the opportunity to introduce yourself on a personal level, as well as provide some details about their team/colleagues. Ask them if they are comfortable emailing you a small bio so that you can forward to others to ‘pre-introduce’ them. In this same email, pre-empt any burning questions they’ll likely have about their first day by reconfirming start date and time, and detailing any specifics they need to bring (ID, bank details and so on to fill out paperwork such as tax and super forms) 


2. Introduce them to the rest of the firm via email or in person: 


When you receive their short bio, send out an email to all firm personnel and introduce them. Or you might find it works better for your firm to invite them in prior to their official start date to have a coffee with the team. It’s an informal way to help them start forming connections, so their first day isn’t as daunting. 


3. Set up their workspace: 


It’s not a good feeling to arrive at your new desk and sit there twiddling your thumbs as nothing is set up for you. To avoid this, ensure your new employee’s workstation is ready to go before they arrive. Consider things such as: 


  • Desk 
  • Laptop/desktop computer 
  • Phone 
  • Email logins 
  • Connection to printers Access cards 


You can take it a step further by loading up time-saving tools such as hyperlinks to firm policies, procedures or any software they may use on a daily basis. If appropriate, add them to email distribution lists. You could also send them a welcome email with their first day schedule all planned out. One last suggestion is to put together a personalised kit of firm-branded materials (if you have them) such as stationary, portfolios, sketch books etc


4. Block out a portion of your day: 


Even if you’re not with your new hire for their entire first day, it’s still a good idea to keep your day open and ensure you’re accessible. 


5. Consider a buddy and mentor: 


There are merits in having a mentor and buddy program to help a new employee transition into their role, but this depends on the size and nature of your firm. If you feel it would work, pick a mentor who is a senior firm member and a buddy who is a peer. Arrange a few meetings with each during your new employee’s first week. They can then meet weekly - or whatever suits - to discuss issues that may arise and job shadow if appropriate. 


6. Training schedule: 


Your new employee’s learning curve is steep - from day to day work to policies and procedures to firm branding to client briefing. As such, it’s important you spend some time thinking about all your new recruit needs to grasp over their first four weeks. Then, create a training schedule to encompasses these tasks with a daily or weekly workflow (there are some further tips to help you design this in the coming sections). 


7. Create a ‘day one’ agenda: 


First days are always overwhelming but you can negate this somewhat by creating a structured agenda… 




First impressions count. What do you want your new hire to say to their family and friends when they return home after their first day? Answering this is a great way to guide you in structuring your employee’s first day schedule. The following are some tips to assist you, but adjust according to what suits your firm best. 




1. Arrive an hour early to get organised: 


Use this time to check everything is in order, from their desk to their first day schedule to any social plans. 


2. Office tour: 


Take your new starter around the office. Ensure your tour covers key facilities and contacts that are important for their day-to-day job. 


3. Colleague and/or team introductions: 


How you do your introductions depends on the size and structure of your firm. If you’re on the smaller side, they may have already met most of their colleagues during recruitment or at your informal coffee catch-up. But if you are a bit bigger, they will need to do the rounds. Keep it informal and ask each firm member to briefly state who they are and what they do. The new employee can spend more time with each person later in the week so brief is best, particularly as it will be overwhelming meeting lots of new people. 


4. One-on-one with you:


Sit down and spend some time clarifying expectations and running through job requirements (your position description will help you here). You can also broadly introduce the firm and your particular clientele, plus attend to any housekeeping items (paperwork, leave, benefits etc.). 


If you have any online documentation that would help them learn more about your firm, direct them to it so they can peruse it in their quieter moments. It may be a simple as giving them access to prior successful projects so they delve deeper into your design process. 


5. Give them some time at their new desk: 


Let them familiarise themselves with their new workspace and computer system. This might be a good opportunity to have their peer sit with them and help them navigate through firm specific systems. 


6. Something social: 


While onboarding is about education and compliance, personally engaging your new employee is also extremely important to start building internal relationships. Arrange a social get-together for their first day, whether it’s big with all staff or small with just few direct colleagues. It might be a welcome lunch, afternoon tea or after-work ‘drinks and nibbles’. 




The first week is all about building relationships with firm staff and knowledge transfer. Keep a close eye on your new recruit during this time to gauge whether they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out. If you notice this, check in with them and ask how you can help. 




1. Regular mentor and buddy time: 


If you’ve put a mentor and buddy program in place, your new employee should have adequate one-on-one time with each during their first week. Not only can they transfer knowledge, they can also touch base about how the new employee is feeling and answer questions. If your firm is on the smaller side, arrange these regular meetings with yourself or another principal Architect or Interior Designer. 


2. Invite them to important firm meetings: 


Firm meetings are a great way to impart information to a new employee, but also help them understand work and team dynamics. They should attend such meetings from day one. 


3. Meetings with other relevant stakeholders plus one client: 


Working in the Architecture and Interior Design space, you have many key personnel you deal with outside of your firm such as councils, surveyors, engineers and of course – and most importantly - clients! Allowing your new recruit to sit in on a meeting with each during their first week is an excellent way to build the foundation of knowledge about the way you work. 


4. Systems-related training: 


If you have specific design tools, systems and processes, a training session in the first week is a must. While it’s highly likely the new employee has experience and skills in some of these areas, it’s still important for them to come to grips with the nuances of the way your firm does things. Online training materials are very helpful here, for example, short video tutorials or cheat sheets. 


5. Some daily ‘quiet’ time: 


It’s very easy for your new employee to feel overcome by all they have to learn. It’s wise to schedule in some quiet time each day to come to grips with all the new information. 


6. Your availability: 


Your new employee should clearly understand they can come to you with questions, and that no question is silly. Take the time to connect with them at the end of each day too, and ask how it was. 


7. Payroll check: 


Do your due diligence when it comes to paperwork and pay. Contact all relevant departments to ensure all is on track with your new hire’s information. 




After their first week, your employee should have a good grasp of your firm’s systems, their daily workload and have also met all key personnel. Their second and third week is about further training and strengthening relationships. 




1. Style & brand induction: 


You have specialities and/or philosophies that make you unique. That’s why clients come to you. It takes time for an employee to absorb - and then live this ethos - but it’s extremely important. Ensure your new recruit has ample opportunities to develop this knowledge during their second week (and beyond). 


2. Strengthen internal relationships: 


Continue to focus on building internal relationships. Liaising with their colleagues regularly on-the-job and small social activities are important. As an example, lunch is a great way to nurture relationships and get to know your new talent. This doesn’t require you to take them out each day. It should be as simple as sitting together at the same time and chat while you eat. 


3. Continue with knowledge transfer sessions: 


The new employee should continue with their systems training if need be, but the second week should also focus upon task-related training (for example, your preferred method of creating client briefs). Combining online and in-person teaching works well, so perhaps job shadowing in conjunction with reviewing previous client briefs. 


4. Assign first tasks and deadlines: 


If you feel they are ready, assign their first task/s in the middle of the second week with a clear outcome and deadline. 


5. Lock in an ongoing weekly review meeting: 


This is a perfect time to check in with the new employee, but also learn more about them personally. Set a short weekly meeting towards the end of each week to do this. 




By the end of this week, most of the formal onboarding process is over. But to ensure you retain this great employee you’ve invested so much time and money in, it must continue in a deeper way. 




1. A comprehensive review and feedback session: 


At the end of their first month, schedule in a longer review meeting. It should go beyond your weekly review meetings. It’s a chance to delve deeper into not only the employee’s progress and happiness level, but to provide encouragement and suggestions for continued learning. 


Let them know you are happy to take on feedback too from everything to do with the onboarding program to everyday processes. Fresh eyes are often the best ones to spot inefficiencies and offer up better ways of doing things you might miss. 


Here are a few suggested questions: 


  • What are you enjoying most about your role? 
  • What has been the most challenging? 
  • Has anything surprised you about your role, colleagues, firm or company?
  • Have we given you the right tools and support to get your job done? 
  • How are you getting along with your colleagues and/or team? 
  • Is there anything you’re still unclear about (role, firm etc.)? 
  • What else can I do to help you further transition into your role? 
  • How have you found your training program?  
  • What worked well (ask for specifics)? What didn’t? 
  • Was it long enough, too long, just right? 
  • Is there anything we’ve missed that we should provide to new employees? 


2. Ongoing training: 


Training goes beyond the first month and should be regularly scheduled until the employee feels they have a good grasp of all they need to do their job. Then it’s time to set up training to help them achieve their future career goals… 


3. Develop a personal development plan: 


The best way to retain the amazing talent you’ve found is to show you are invested in them. A personal and professional development plan is a wonderful way to do this. Include a few short and long-term goals, while also identifying any onsite, offsite or online training they might need. 


As you can see, there is much to do to create a valuable, efficient and effective, onboarding program for your new Architecture or Interior Design talent. But the rewards it brings your firm is happy and engaged employees who will become great ambassadors for your work and brand.


Download the full hiring guide here including Salary Survey, Position Description Guide, Interview Guide, Onboarding Guide and Exit Interview Guide.