Weekly Editorial

The Role of Onboarding in Office Furniture Careers

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • September 11, 2023

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When I was in college, I got a summer job with a masonry company. I knew nothing about laying a brick, but I was young and strong. I wasn’t needed to build walls; I was there to lug around bricks and make mortar for the tradespeople I worked with.

It was the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. And my first week was the most frustrating I’ve ever had at a job. It wasn’t mentally challenging in the least, but I was thrown into the work with no training whatsoever.

I was told to make mortar (I’d never done it before). I was told to drive the forklift and deliver skids of bricks to the higher floors (I’d never driven a forklift in my life). Terminology was used (and a lot of swear words hurled in my direction) that I hadn’t heard before. In short, I was lost.

It took me a solid week to learn what I was doing (and for calluses to form on my hands from carrying bricks all day). Without an onboarding program or any training at all, it took me some time to figure out the job, though I immediately knew I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life.

While training and onboarding rarely occurs for manual labor jobs on construction sites, I’m surprised by how little formal onboarding and training happens in our industry.

According to the Society of Human Resources Management, onboarding is a prime opportunity for employers to win the hearts and minds of new employees and they urge companies not to waste it. “Onboarding is a magic moment when new employees decide to stay engaged or become disengaged,” said Amy Hirsh Robinson, principal of the consulting firm, The Interchange Group, in Los Angeles. “It offers an imprinting window when you can make an impression that stays with new employees for the duration of their careers.”

In an article at SHRM – The Voice of All Things Work, Robinson laments the myriad of ways in which organizations squander those precious moments. Instead of using the experience as an opportunity to connect emotionally with new hires, HR professionals often overwhelm them with boatloads of materials and information at the new employee orientation. Or they provide no support at all.

That is simply not acceptable in our industry. We work in a complicated, complex industry that has many moving parts. When I look back at my career covering this industry, I spent my first decade understanding how it works. I’m a slow learner, I guess.

You don’t have a decade to onboard and train an employee, so what can you do to smooth out the process?

HR professionals recommend following the six C’s of onboarding: Compliance, clarification, confidence, connection, culture, and checkback. You can look up these recommendations and you will want to tailor them to your organization, but they are a good place to start.

The office furniture industry has an unusual amount of what I call “insider baseball” that needs to be explained, especially for those hires coming from outside the industry. When you say “six pack” to most people, they think of beer. Of course, six pack has a different meaning in our industry and refers to a cluster of six workstations. It is full of industry-specific information that needs to be shared with new hires.

BIFMA is a great resource for industry information. And if you are an INDEAL Dealer Member, you have access to what I think is the most comprehensive database on industry-specific information that you can find at INDEAL U. INDEAL U is a digital destination for industry-specific learning. Whether you’re looking for basic industry awareness or more in-depth opportunities that even experts in their field find beneficial, INDEAL U can help develop your organization’s most valuable asset – your people.

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