Two new employees joined Soluto during the past week: a developer and a product manager. We’re used to onboarding several new employees in a single week, but now things are different — we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so not only are we adjusting to working remotely, now we have another first — remote onboarding.
WIIFM? (what’s in it for me)
- For a new employee — if you’re about to start working remotely in a new place, we think you’ll find the following information very helpful.
- For employers — if you’re in the same situation as us, you’ll find best practices for the process, and if you’re not sure if you should be hiring at the moment at all, hopefully this will show you that remote hiring is possible and even effective too.
- For current employees — new team members always need help and guidance, but if you have a new employee joining your team during these times, they’ll need more assistance than usual. Keep this in mind when reading the following, and try to be extra mindful to their situation.
The onboarding guide
We usually have an onboarding process for people who start working on premises, face to face. When we created the remote onboarding guide, we adjusted the process and gave more emphasis to the necessary tools, the people, and job shadowing. The guide included meetings and topics that should be covered, and independent tasks that can be completed between meetings, in case the direct manager or mentor aren’t available.
On the first day of employment, the new employee had his first virtual meeting with his manager and mentor (a team member who’s been assigned to help him as an additional point of contact besides the manager) — the first thing on the agenda was to make sure that everything in the guide is clear to him and that he understands the circumstances of his unique onboarding process. Happily, everything was clear. :)
Once the new employee was working according to this guide, he knew what to do when he was “on his own”, he had meetings with his manager to set workflow priorities, and he could also turn to his mentor if any questions came up. Thanks to the guide, he never feels “stuck”.
The original guide is open for changes
If something isn’t working, we’re always open to changing the process. Sometimes we can’t predict things that may be harder to follow when working from home. For example: developers use a lot of tools, each team even has its own team stack. It’s easier to follow all the tools when speaking face to face, but when working remotely it might make it easier to list the tools, and the permissions that are needed for each one, so the new employee will be able to start working more easily.
Knowing who to contact
One of the greatest downsides of working remotely is that we don’t get to meet people in the hallway, or have chance encounters for spontaneous questions.
Whenever you have a question, you want it to be a good question, to impress. Having multiple contacts to reach out to will help new employees direct their questions to the people they feel most comfortable with.
Getting the team involved actively
We included additional contacts in the onboarding guide (besides the mentor and the manager) from the company’s different departments, to cover all aspects of the product. So there’s someone to reach out to for every topic, without having to feel stuck if the mentor is unavailable.
We also asked these contacts to reach out to the new employees and invite them to all relevant meetings — this way the new employees get to cover all the aspects within the company, and everyone makes an effort to keep them involved.
The first week
We usually send new employees a welcome gift a few days before their starting date, and then they’d find a few more gifts (a notebook, chocolates, and a card) waiting on the table by their laptop when they start. This week, we sent the first day gift to each employee’s home on the day they started working, to give them the real office experience.
Normally, the first day would start off with a series of meetings with people from the company. These days, the new employees’ first week included a lot of online Zoom meetings. They both said that everybody was so nice and willing to help, even though no one really has much experience with remote work (it’s new to everyone…)
The main interactions during the first week were with the mentor, the manager, and the new employee’s team.
How did we encourage the new employee to get involved in the team’s work?
- Tasks were broken down into small iterations.
- The mentor checked in to see if everything is clear in order to continue with the task.
- After each iteration was finished, we moved on to the next one until finishing the entire task.
1x1 conversations were important during the first week:
- Meetings with the mentor were held throughout the day.
- The manager usually starts every week with 1x1 meetings, so this was especially important now.
- The number of meetings may change depending on the employee’s needs. We wanted these talks to help the new employees and not bother them if they didn’t feel a meeting was needed.
One of our biggest concerns was making sure that the new employees blend in socially. It’s not easy to start a new job without getting to know anyone face to face. (You “meet” a lot of people, but you’re not actually meeting them — it’s a weird experience.) It’s hard to develop relationships without breaks between meetings, drinking coffee, or going out to lunch together.
One of the new employees used to work remotely in the past, but it was with people he already knew and they had their own face to face relationships that included jokes, body language, regular daily conduct and rapport — it’s hard to develop these things remotely.
Here’s how we tried to ease that gap:
- On the first day we welcomed the new employee on Zoom during the company’s daily DSM (Daily Standup Meeting; all hands on board). One of the new employees said “the DSM welcome was a good experience, everybody was super nice and sent me welcome messages.”
- Keeping traditions same, but different — later that day, all the product teams held a Zoom party for the new product manager, this gave him a little taste of our company’s social environment (instead of the product teams’ usual lunch).
Being creative about the situation
The onboarding plan includes a lot of meetings with different people in the company. During normal times, the new employee would usually find the person he needed to meet with, introduce himself (with a smile) and schedule a face to face meeting with them.
Now, it’s impossible to find people (or just bump into them at their desk), which makes approaching people a bit uncomfortable if you’re a new employee they never met before… One of our new employees devised his own solution for this — instead of sending emails and scheduling the meetings he needs, he sends a text message, introduces himself, starts off with a bit of small talk, and then asks to schedule the meeting. This makes it feel more friendly, welcoming and natural for both sides.
As an employee, you can’t be too shy. Especially at the beginning when you have tons of questions. You should feel okay about sending someone a message saying “Hi, I’m the new employee, can we schedule a call for tomorrow?”
And as a bonus… starting a new job at home, with kids
Think about how hard it is to start a new job and adapt to a new place. It makes it much harder when you do it remotely and even harder when you have kids at home.
For employers — we held a conversation with HR, where they explained that we understand these special complex circumstances. We let employees know that if they need to be with the kids, that’s okay — we’re all juggling between work and taking care of our kids. Show the new employee empathy — they want to prove themselves, but feel bad that they’re being distracted.
This is where the 1x1 meetings can be even more helpful — going over the tasks backlog together and helping new employees prioritize, is even more important with these home constraints and the limited time.
For employees — assume that you’ll feel as though you don’t have time for anything. Things might be even more overwhelming, and it’s okay if the job shadowing takes longer than usual. You can’t be at work and with the kids at the same time, and what you can do is your best. Just remember that your teammates are in the same boat, you’re not alone.