Onboarding horror stories: The messiest desk in tech

July 7, 2022

First impressions are everything when you start a new job. And if your new company makes a good one on you, you’ll instantly feel like you’re a part of the team and feel confident that you made the right decision joining the company. 

But this likely hasn’t happened at every company you’ve worked at. In fact, you’ve probably had a handful of bad first impressions. And some of them were so terrible that they left a bad taste in your mouth for months and might’ve even prompted you to relaunch your job search three weeks into your new role.

At Sora, we want to help HR teams build onboarding experiences that do the former instead of the latter. So we decided to launch this content series, Onboarding Horror Stories, to show you what the worst of the worst looks like so you can strive to be the best of the best. 

In our debut installment of Onboarding Horror Stories, we present The Messiest Desk in Tech by Clifford Chi, one of our marketing specialists.

So you landed your dream job?

After graduating college, I landed what I thought was my dream job at my dream company. I had interned there with the same team the summer before, and I would’ve rated my experience a 6/5 stars on Glassdoor if I could. So, naturally, I was pumped to be back. 

My manager even offered me the job six months before graduation and a freelance gig during my last semester of college. I felt special. The team’s prodigy, even. 

And that all came to a screeching halt when you got to your desk?

When I walked into our office after training ended, most of those positive feelings went out the window. Why? Because my desk looked like a tornado had just ripped through it. There was a heap of books piled as high as the desk dividers. There were random belongings scattered everywhere. There were shoes in my drawers. And worst of all, my manager didn’t really think anything of it. 

She told me that the person who used to sit there never used her desk because she either worked in different nooks and crannies of the office or from home. She really just treated it as a storage unit. As a result, the company stopped assigning her a desk. But when I officially joined the company, they never told her to clear her stuff out. So my manager told me to ask her if she could. And I did. 

Did anyone ever do anything about it?

A week passes by, and my desk still looks like The Tasmanian Devil had just gone after Bugs Bunny over it. To fit my laptop on it, I literally had to push all of my colleague’s books and belongings to the back and to the sides. I looked like a mad professor working from there. And this was super embarrassing because we had an open floor plan, so people from other teams, who had no idea that my desk was actually someone else’s storage unit, could see it clear as day. I literally wanted to plant a flag on my desk that said, “PERSON WHO USED TO SIT HERE STILL HASN’T CLEARED HER STUFF”.

Eventually, my colleague collected her things, and I finally had a desk of my own. But working at the messiest desk in tech during my first week at my “dream job” will always be seared into my memory. And not in a good way. 

How did it make you feel?

I felt like an afterthought, especially when I saw my desk for the first time. And even more so when my colleague never got her things and essentially made me work on top of her stuff for a week. I interned with this team just one summer ago. They recruited me six months before my start date. I literally had just delivered some work to them a few weeks before my start date. I thought I was already a part of the team? How do I not have a desk yet? 

I also felt like the team was disorganized and a little inconsiderate. I started working at this company before the pandemic, and we were expected to be in the office at least 3-4 times a week. Besides giving me a laptop, setting up my desk was literally the most important task for them to complete. But they totally dropped the ball on it. And they glossed right over the impact it had on me. 

How this probably happened

Showing Clifford to his messy desk had to be mortifying, but unfortunately these things happen sometimes especially during the transition points where the people team hands off onboarding to hiring managers. 

The people team likely expected his manager to set up his desk. But the manager might not have really understood everything that went into that. She probably only knew his desk number and thought she just had to tell him where it was. If the people team knew what his desk actually looked like, they would’ve been clambering to clean it up before his first day. 

It’s horrifying to think that such an essential task can be left forgotten and a new hire could start out their first day like this. But with the right onboarding workflow, tasks, and instructions, this situation can definitely be avoided. 

How this could have been avoided

At Clifford’s former employer, which was a high-growth tech company with over 3,000 employees, they were likely overwhelmed with the number of new hires joining their company every recruiting cycle. This made it hard to track the progression of his onboarding and easy for their tasks to slip through the cracks for the people team and his manager.

If Clifford’s company would’ve built an onboarding workflow that assigned specific tasks with instructions to people and reminded them to complete them prior to a set due date, they could’ve told his colleague to clear her stuff before his start date. 

And instead of showing up to a desk littered with books and belongings, Clifford could’ve sat down at a desk with a monitor set up, a company notebook, water bottle, and headphones laid to one side, and a branded backpack, a bag of his favorite candy, and note from his manager on the other, confident that he made the right choice joining his company and more than ready to get to work.

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