Onboarding new team members during all-remote times

Rewind to the good old days when fewer used to work from home while most of the employees enjoyed spending time in-person with colleagues at a fantastic place (now deserted) — Office! Someone joining the company or rotating out to a different team was an exciting experience of making new connections besides learning or sharpening skills.

However, during the COVID lockdown when many companies have opted an all-remote arrangement, new and existing team members grapple with team onboarding for the following reasons:

  • Hazed Availability — When you’re in the office, it’s easy to know who’s available or is busy in some meeting. At times, just with expressions, or whether is someone at the seat or in a meeting room, you could determine the availability of the person who can help (Recall you eyeing on when the busy person who could support your leaves for a coffee :D). But with everyone remote, you’ve no clue about it as the communication is more asynchronous. You drop a message and then wait for another person to respond. Even worse, you’re stuck if the person on the other side is too busy to acknowledge your message.
  • Missing Goodness of Osmotic Communication — Osmotic communication is when you throw a question to someone in a bay, and someone responds to your query from someone who overheard it and has a ready answer to it.
  • Hitch — The new member, might have a hitch to reach again and again to someone.

The level of support is dependant on the slack capacity of current team members. The following are some options to smoothen the onboarding process by fine-tuning the communication and support levers.

  • Rotating Buddies — If the current work allocation isn’t uniform and some have more bandwidth than others, for the time being, they can become dedicated buddies. If everyone is busy, you can negotiate some scope to support for onboarding. Everyone understands it! The benefit of this approach is that the new member will have lesser hitch but might not make connections with others.
  • Asynchronous Group Support — Where everyone is mostly busy and has intermittent holes in the calendar, the team can create a dedicated channel and set culture to support queries during gaps. With this, the new team member gets support from many people and make connections. However, this option isn’t feasible for companies not having a communication mechanism like slack or MatterMost.
  • Dedicated Meeting Slots — Where teams usually have varying load throughout the day, for example, mornings and evenings are more packed with meetings, create a few dedicated slots scattered throughout the day for 30 minutes for onboarding support. This process’s benefit is that people aren’t interrupted during other times, and those who need assistance are aware of when the next bus arrives.
  • Restructure Teams — This is very powerful. If you have a need to spin up a new team in an engagement already having several teams and considering a point of contact from current teams to support, there’s a better option. There was a similar need and one of the leaders was audacious to try a disruption that worked out amazingly well. He pulled one member out from all previous teams to create the new team and distributed members planned for new team into old teams. This increased the support capacity multifold as each team had several people to support one new member. (learned from Mahesh Singh)
  • Virtual Onboarding Process — Onboarding an employee into the company needs much more warmth and support before they blend into a team. Consider working with stakeholders from the talent team and leaders to set a virtual onboarding process that makes an onboarding cakewalk. The most important item I could imagine in it is a way for new members to quickly note two names they should reach out to for help. (suggested by Payal Gogia)

I hope if you were struggling with onboarding new team members, one or more of these ideas would help. If you’ve tried a different option, enlighten me and others in comments.