Onboarding Remote Employees

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

Hey folks. How are you onboarding remote employees?  Any best practices, tools, templates (especially for sales and engineering roles)? 

I'm curious if companies follow any playbook for the first few weeks to set up the employee for success?

Here's what our users had to say:

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "Hey Srivatsan, Thanks for the post. I've predominantly worked with a lot of freelancers/ contractors in engineering roles, so most of my experience may not directly relate to what you're looking for. I'll be happy to share if you feel it is relevant though. In contrast, @Borisov91 & @tpieper-573 have a lot of experience in onboarding full-time remote engineers. I'm sure they'll have a lot to share around this. For sales roles, @brendan-33 could share some of his experiences & best practices. On a general note, I find templates on Almanac helpful. I haven't used any onboarding templates there yet but I'm sure there will be great ones on that too."

  • srivatsan said "Thanks hrishikesh. I have never come across Almanac in the past. Looks cool"

  • T. Pieper said "You're right @hrishikesh! At CoScreen, we're using a scaled down version of GitLab's onboarding issue which is extremely detailed and makes sure there is a smooth process for new team members: https://gitlab.com/gitlab-com/people-group/employment-templates/-/blob/master/.gitlab/issue_templates/onboarding.md (further details in their handbook: https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/people-group/general-onboarding/)"

  • Justin said "We're far from perfect (it's like we're still building all the parts to this airplane while still flying it) so don't take it as me saying our system is best, but we do the following: - Start w/ setting up on G Suite as it's what will get you access to most of our tools, environments - Invite to Slack where we get you introduced and founders can communicate directly to establish more alignment - Share Onboarding Documents (company culture, roadmap, OKRs, etc.) managed on Notion - While we're still very much "all-hands-on-deck," between the founders, there are "zones" of responsibility in terms of work and so the responsible founder is in charge of setting up their own work processes and flows and how their team members will function (once established, we try to make these as transparent as possible for everyone to have an overview at least) - At the moment, there's little differentiation in terms of how we manage it "sales vs engineering"; overall, everyone has set objectives and corresponding metrics we agree on to determine if our actions are a success or not - Plus we give everyone some crypto to do with as they please as perks 😆"

  • John Wade said "I like the simplicity of this process. Especially in the early-stage of a startup, founders just need to believe in each others' capabilities and back them. I just wonder how you ramp up over weeks? I have faced that problem myself. I am not sure if I am pushing a new hire too much or too little. Also, with them not next to me, it is tough to get that feedback easily."

  • Justin said "Yea, I think particularly for startups, simplicity in processes is best (easier said than done) given how unpredictable and complicated everything can become. I'm a big fan of OKR systems as a result, so long as they're adapted for startups, meaning the duration periods should be a lot shorter and crisper compared to at large companies like Google. In terms of ramping up, I think this part is more related to the actual onboarded team member. I can only speak from my limited experience, but it's difficult to try to train noobs and training in itself is a big ask by both you and the noob (through no fault of his or her own). A startup is largely about time/runway and so unless you really feel you can train someone and do your primary work (growing), then it's a waste of time for both sides. Which in short means, you should aim to hire people that are either good at what you need them to do or are able to learn quick and work autonomously, or ideally carry both qualities. I'm currently on my sixth startup at the early stage and working with other people, managing their expectations when you're early is a painful lesson I still continue to learn. Too many people are in love with the idea of startups but when it comes to contributing to growing, many fall short (not excluding myself from that statement 😂). But the best people I've worked with are those who take ownership of their work fast and without much pushing (probably obvious but these types of people aren't easy to find). So don't be afraid to push (as long as you're being reasonable) because it's better to find out sooner that someone isn't a fit to your organization/your expectations, then to do so later."

  • srivatsan said "Great points Justin.  In your earlier startups, did you do anything different when you moved on from being an early-stage startup?"

  • Justin said "I think the trajectory can be different if you're bootstrapping and growing organically as you're 100% in charge of who you can onboard and how you manage the processes. But if you aim to bring in external investors, then you're kind of forced to be "efficient" with your hirings and firings, which is, if I'm honest, sometimes good and sometimes bad. In any case, more efficiency doesn't hurt, right? 🤭 At my very first startup (I was an early employee, not a founder), I learned a painful lesson soon after the company raised its first big round of funding - if you don't hire the right people, you'll likely have to fire many or all to right the ship again. Since witnessing that scale of layoff (>1/3 of a ~100-person team, some great talent, some not so great talent), I've become more conscientious of managing headcount, managing peoples' expectations when joining a startup. As an employee at a much later-stage company (~200 people, cashflow positive), I was working closely with the CEO and witnessed him being very efficient with employees - onboarding (in person) was offered the 3-4 days (orientation, equipment, tutorials on tool environment, your specific missions, etc.), you were assigned to a manager or in-charge who'd work with you for ~2 months, and then the relevant manager and he would make a decision together on whether to keep or let go. He treated well the managers who delivered on KPIs, giving them lots of perks and freedoms to perform; but quickly let go junior team members who didn't deliver or didn't seem satisfied with their jobs. I didn't 100% agree with all of his evaluations nor do I think he's a top CEO, but he defintely was in control of his business priorities and managed the balance between company and investors/board members well. Remote or not, I've seen statistics like an avg. employee needs ~2 years to start really contributing to his or her company, which is crazy because avg. turnover is usually <1 year. I'm still learning myself but my sense is that, whatever stage you're in, the best onboarding practice is to be clear in expectations/objectives and to keep as clear and as reviewable as possible records of deliverables/results. It's been the easiest way to give others an honest rationale for whatever decision/direction you end up taking."

  • srivatsan said "> In your earlier startups, did you do anything different when you moved on from being an early-stage startup? All great points.  Thanks for the insights Justin"

  • Boris Borisov said "Hi Srivatsan!I think it really depends on the stage of your company, and how many hires do you plan to do in the near future. How important is it to onboard well each new hire, and how difficult it is for new hires to get onboarded. If you are making a lot of hires, it pays off to have a well-defined process. (I think you need 5-10 hires for investing the time in a process to pay off) At RemoteMore, we are a team of about 10 remote people. The goal of the onboarding is to make the employees fully productive as early as possible. With developers, a good benchmark is 50% productive in the first two weeks, and 75% productive the second two weeks. A secondary goal is to create a good experience for the new hires - building good relations with their manager and others, being excited about their job. In other words, motivation and retention. The way we approach it: * We have a check-list for onboarding steps (permissions needed, meetings to do etc.) * We have one meeting with presentation about the company * We have one meeting with presentation about the project/team/job * We have one meeting with tech onboarding to the project - e.g. setting up their environment * We don't have an employee handbook so far, maybe we will in the next few months * We introduce the person in Slack, everyone should welcome them * We introduce the person to their team at the next team meeting, and to the company at the next team meeting * We try to do more regular talks with the new people, e.g. weekly 1on1 instead of bi-weekly * Give the new people tasks that are suitable for them - e.g. some bug fixing that is relatively straight-forward, UI changes etc. Basically, start with clearly defined tasks that do not require understanding of many things that are going on in the project. Increase gradually from there. * Aim for 1 success in their first day - e.g. "I fixed this bug in my first day" * We evaluate their performance - week 1 is expected to show signs if it will work out or not. Week 2 it is pretty much known if it will work out or not (just not by how much). After week 2, their trial is ended in our company and we make a decision if we proceed or not.   I think that is it! For a small team constrained on time, this works fine."

  • Karthik Sridharan said "Wow, amazing. I plan to steal some points from this 😝"

  • srivatsan said "> Aim for 1 success in their first day  - what a great point Thanks Boris"

  • Vivek said "This is something I am experimenting and learning on the go. Generally, I take a proactive approach and try to get on call/chat as much as possible during first 2 weeks with the new hires. This helps in me making them understand what I expect, how they should behave, company goals etc. But after feedback, I have worked on documents as well. Vision, Behaviours, communication etc. goes in documents.  I take cues from articles like these ones: https://www.remote.tools/remote-work/remote-work-bill-of-rights to and keep forwarding them to new hires. Such direction makes the new hire relatively relaxed. Currently, my process is a not ideal but i trust moving forward, it will be much smoother."

  • srivatsan said "Thanks"

  • Charley said "We have some thoughts at Unitonomy on how to onboard remote employees and we stuck them inside this post on setting up a Head of Remote role for success. Here's the section: Personalized onboarding for every new employee Plan logistics for each remote employee Technology hardware needs (like a computer and wifi) Systems access Office environment needs Implement an “onboarding buddy” system so that each new remote employee has a close collaborator on day one Manage “white glove” onboarding to welcome and guide each new employee through their initial time joining the company Provide software walkthroughs Provide playbook for healthy remote collaboration techniques  Provide an org chart walkthrough Provide a Slack / MSFT Teams walkthrough Provide information & knowledge tours Provide a relevant reading list of internal knowledge Run 1st Friday casual team calls to connect new employees"

  • srivatsan said "Thanks. The concept of "culture management" is very interesting"

  • Nancy said "A lot of really good stuff has already been mentioned, but I want to emphasize how important it is for new employees to meet and spend time with their manager in their first days.  Especially in startups, I see a lot of new managers that really aren't sure what they're supposed to do, so they think HR will just take care of the new employee for those first days/weeks. But the manager needs to be really involved in the process as well so employees feel supported.  As someone in HR, I always try to remind hiring managers that the work doesn't end when someone signs an offer. It's often more difficult and time consuming to ramp up a new employee than it is to hire them. I try to help them prepare before the start by discussing things like a 30-60-90 day plan. And I think it is helpful to give the managers a checklist of things to make sure they're covering over the first few weeks. Things as simple as:  - Set up a 1:1 meeting rhythm - Discuss communication preferences and expectations (email, Slack, text, etc.) - Discuss the performance review process - even if you just completed a cycle. Managers should be setting expectations as early as possible."

  • Boris Borisov said "I agree completely with you, @nancy    HR helps with many things, but the hiring manager must also be present. The hiring managers must be in close contact with the new employees. The employee-manager relationship is crucial for the success of the new employee. I've seen a very good structure for this: 10:00 meeting with HR for about 1 hour. Then 11:00 meeting with the manager for about 1 hour. HR covers the practical company-wide things. The manager covers the role-specific things. 30-60-90 days plans are a good idea, most bigger companies do them, they are the best practice for that stage for sure. On this, since we are a small team - we just communicate "what you need to do to be successful in your role", which includes "how do we evaluate performance in practice"."