Hiring Tips & Insights: 3 Key Things to Get Right in Remote Onboarding

3 Key Things to Get Right in Remote Onboarding

By Jomiro Eming

In a remote setup, it’s even more important than usual to ensure that your new-joiners feel well set up for their new role, can connect with the rest of the team, and feel like they can reach out for help whenever needed.

That’s why we are asking tech leaders in our community for a few quick tips on how they approach onboarding in their own teams. Here are the insights from Baadier Sydow, Frontend Development Lead at HomeChoice.

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Baadier Sydow, Frontend Development Lead at HomeChoice

We onboarded four new developers into our team in April and had another one who joined in March - so, in many ways, we are still right in the middle of it.

As a team, we took a step back and had a critical look at our process. We had to be intentional about this, as the human tendency is to accept the status quo and just roll with how things have been done in the past. We had to react quite suddenly to the changes brought about by COVID-19 and going remote-first, so the approach we took was to prioritise the remote onboarding across three focus areas:

  1. First meaningful contribution
  2. Developer support & technical onboarding
  3. Culture

First meaningful contribution

Above all else, we try to optimise the process for helping developers get to their first meaningful contribution as soon as possible after joining. Typically, this is to have something they have worked on be shipped into production; but, depending on the role, the contribution can vary.

There is a feeling of accomplishment when making your first contribution - and, if the ‘task’ they complete is selected carefully, then you can optimise for it to touch different parts of your system so that the developer gets an idea of how things in your company all come together.

One of our new joiners, Shema Kaitakirwa, got his bug fix into production on his second day on the project. We eponymously named the feat the “Shema-mark”, and it is now the one to beat.

It may seem silly, but initiatives to grow your culture and your shared history help build stronger teams and get your team to norming faster in the traditional forming–storming–norming–performing model.

Developer support & technical onboarding

Getting an initial communication channel for the new-joiners up and running was critically important. We opted to start with a WhatsApp group before they started, and used that until they had their emails and Slack correctly set up and running.

We had four new-joiners starting at once, so we created a separate channel for them on Slack. Even though, in most cases, a direct messaging group would suffice, a channel meant we could have the new-joiners, and the people that would be able to provide information to help them acclimatise, all in one place.

It provided:

  • a centralised area for sharing information,
  • prevention for forming silos of knowledge, and
  • a safe place to ask questions.

The best part of centralising the conversation is that it offers a detailed breakdown of the gaps in your onboarding: All the questions and missed information lies right there in the conversations; you can then use this information to fix the gaps in your onboarding process as you continue to iterate and improve it.

Supporting the developers through the technical set up can be tricky. Initially, we provided the instructions, and checked in with them at a later point. However, we found that steps would be missed or differences between operating systems would cause unnecessary friction.

Remote-first requires a shorter feedback loop, so we opted to move towards an evidence-based approach - for example, we’d ask them to set up Node, and share the output of node -v as a screenshot in the Slack group. This helps get a quick gauge of where people are, and - when there are multiple steps required - it helps diagnose potential issues earlier rather than later.

Culture

To help build culture, we involved the whole team right from the beginning. For example, on day one, we did a video call with the full team present, and welcomed the new-joiners.

From then on, different people on the team were asked to assist with different parts of the onboarding, so that the new-joiners spent time with as many people as possible. We optimised the early tasks they do for that broad range of interaction. Where we could, we opted to do video calls as much as possible, because we wanted to provide more ‘personal’ support and develop face-to-face relationships.

Finally, we set up semi-regular coffee chats on a video call, to replicate the ‘water cooler effect’ we get in the office. We also often have people from other parts of the business pop into these to say ‘hi’.

You have to be intentional when trying to build a team and be able to adapt to the constraints. Optimise for culture, but reduce the time for your feedback loop, so that you can course-correct more regularly.

If you’ve had to onboard someone remotely, let us know in the comments below what has helped you set up your team and your new-joiner well! We always love hearing from you, and would love to know if any of the above has been useful for you and your teams!

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