Tech Career Insights: 3 Ways to Prioritise ‘Humanness’ When Onboarding Team Members Remotely

3 Ways to Prioritise ‘Humanness’ When Onboarding Team Members Remotely

By Summer Smith

Starting a new job is always scary – but even more so during a global pandemic where the world has gone remote and everything feels so uncertain. Tamsyn Lunt and Thabang Tseboho joined SnapScan during the height of South Africa’s lockdown, which meant that they couldn’t see the office space or establish an in-person connection with anyone on their team. Despite this, they both settled into their new roles quickly because of how the broader team had responded to COVID-19 by prioritising each other’s humanness.

Here are three ways the team has approached this over the last few months, and how this has helped Tam and Thabang not only settle, but also thrive in their new roles.

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When South Africa went into lockdown, the company where Tam and Thabang worked together had to start retrenching team members. Unfortunately, both of their positions were cut and they found themselves looking for new jobs pretty much overnight.

“It was just devastating – for many reasons,” says Tam. “We both loved the company, so we were sad to leave – but more than that, there was this incredible fear. I was in a total panic thinking about the fact that we were in a pandemic and how hard that would make finding a new job.”

After a few weeks, both Tam and Thabang were offered positions at SnapScan – Tam as a UX Designer, and Thabang as a Software Engineer. “We were both excited because SnapScan was a place where we both really wanted to work, but the idea of starting a new job remotely was very daunting,” Tam says.

As with any new job, the pressure to adapt to a new environment and prove their abilities was something that they were both worried about. Being remote added to this stress because they had never had an in-person conversation with anyone that they were now working with. “It was not something I’d ever had to deal with before,” Thabang shares, “and I was expecting it to be really tough.”

However, when the SnapScan team went remote, they made a point of prioritising mental well-being so that everyone felt supported during such a new and challenging time. This meant that when Tam and Thabang joined, they were welcomed and given the space to share their feelings and experiences from day one.

“The only expectation was that I had to be myself, and I started to feel very at home very quickly,” Tam says.

Three ways that the team has been prioritising each other’s humanness include:

  • Acknowledging burnout before it becomes a problem
  • Trusting each other
  • Understanding that everyone thrives differently

Here’s how they approached these things, and how they impacted Tam and Thabang’s new-joiner experience.

Acknowledging burnout before it becomes a problem

One of the most difficult parts of living through a pandemic is admitting that you’re tired and need a break. It can be easy to forget how much has changed and the dramatic impact that this has had on everyone’s mental and physical health. “I had been running on fumes since I was retrenched,” says Tam. “I didn’t realise how exhausted I was until I had joined the new team and finally got a moment to breathe.”

Team well-being has always been important at SnapScan and, during the pandemic, it’s something that they’ve kept as top priority.

“When I admitted how tired I was, the first thing my manager said to me was, ‘We really like you and we want you to stick around, so please do what you need to to feel better,’ and that made me feel like it was okay to have the experience I was having,” Tam shares.

To help people be honest about their energy levels, and take action to manage them, the team has done two main things:

  • Maintain regular one-on-one sessions between team members and leads so that there is an opportunity to discuss how individuals are doing in private.
  • Remove any and all barriers to taking a break: There are no forms to fill out or permissions to get. People who need time off just post a message on Slack for visibility, and then log off.

Because they have been encouraged to prioritise their well-being during their onboarding, Tam and Thabang have become comfortable with their new roles quite quickly. “We’ve been able to take this whole process at our own pace and the team has been supportive. I’ve never been in a situation before where I say I need a break and get a slew of heart emojis instead of questions or sighs,” says Thabang. ❤️

Trusting each other

A big part of being comfortable with a team is being able to communicate easily. This is something that became even more important when everyone went remote and walking up to someone’s desk to check in was replaced by scheduled video calls.

The SnapScan team realised that the best way that they could keep communication lines open and maintain trust during this uncertain period was to focus on being as transparent and empathetic as possible. Two key things have helped with this:

  • A flat-structure where the leadership team is accessible: With less hierarchy, people feel more comfortable reaching out with questions or if they need support.
  • A culture of support where good intentions are always assumed: Knowing that the team genuinely cares and will help you when you need it makes it much easier to be vulnerable.

Joining an environment like this made it easier for Tam and Thabang to slot in and start building up trusting relationships with their teammates. Reflecting on this, Thabang says, “Even during the interview process, I knew what would be expected of me. This sense of open communication was great because I knew how I could contribute from day one. Now that I’m here, I see how the team thinks about support, and that they’re always looking at things from a ‘human’ perspective, which makes me feel like I’m in a safe space.”

Understanding that everyone thrives differently

In any team, you have a mix of personalities and everyone has routines and ways of interacting that help them perform at their best. For a long time, the office has been a space that accommodates these different people and provides them with what they need to work effectively. However, with the pandemic sending everyone home, many companies have seen that having the same expectations of people in different environments is not feasible.

When Tam and Thabang first joined SnapScan, the country was under a heavy lockdown, which meant that any social gatherings were banned. “We were completely online, which was hard for me,” says Tam, “because I’m definitely an extrovert. I’m a chatty Cathy who loves people and being all alone behind my screen felt very isolating.”

After speaking to her manager about this, he sent her a list of names to organise virtual coffee dates with so that she could start her day chatting to new people and getting a feel for the team’s dynamics. As soon as the lockdown restrictions started to lift, he also worked proactively with the other leaders to open the office again safely so that people like Tam could go in and interact with others in-person.

Having someone recognise that this sense of connection was what she needed to thrive in her career was huge for Tam, and through meeting people – in whatever shape or form – she has really started to feel like part of the team.

In Thabang’s team, people were open to trying new things and having a bit of fun to connect with each other online. When someone logged onto stand up wearing a dressing gown, for example, the team decided that every Friday, they would all wear dressing gowns for the whole day.

Other activities included online games evenings and after work drinks, and when restrictions were lifted, small dinners at each other’s houses to bond in-person. “For me, this was great,” Thabang shares. “I’m a social guy, but I prefer intimate environments where we can connect with each other in the ways that we want. Being able to do that has helped me feel comfortable with my new teammates fast.”

The supportive approach that the team has taken to welcome Tam and Thabang during the pandemic has empowered them both to show up authentically. They’ve been able to interact with their new teammates on their terms, and find ways to feel comfortable without feeling forced into things.

Thabang says: “Some companies think that they need to organise chat after chat, or event after event to help you settle in – which can be exhausting. Here, we were allowed to join the team ‘as we were’. We were automatically included and free to reach out, partake or suggest new things when we wanted to, which helped us not only settle in at our own pace but also bring our full selves to work.”


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