Remote Onboarding

Written on 28 November 2021

Changing jobs can be so strange these days. When I changed jobs earlier this year, nothing changed in my physical environment. I'm still working in the same room at home, sitting on the same chair, and using the same computer.

But I'm at a new company!

To help new teammates make the transition and onboard smoothly, there are a few things you can do. I'm glad to have learned these firsthand from my remote onboarding experiences—at Buffer and ReferralCandy—and my recent experience at onboarding a new teammate.

While I'm writing this from the perspective of a manager, if you are joining a new company, you could flip this around and ask your manager for some of the things below.

1. Welcome pack

I like sending a welcome pack to new teammates before their first day because I think it's nice to have something new in the physical environment when nothing else is changing.

At Buffer, we would give branded t-shirts, notebooks, water bottles, and stickers. Company swag is great because it also helps with the sense of belonging. At ReferralCandy, our company swag was not ready, so I bought a notebook (from one of our customers) for my new teammate. It is nothing fancy but I think it is the gesture that counts. :)

I also sent a "what to expect on day one" email because I think it can be scary and confusing on the first day of any new job but even more so for a remote job.

2. Onboarding calls

For onsite jobs, new teammates would at least meet someone who would welcome them when they step into the office. For remote jobs, I think it is important for at least someone in the company to welcome the new teammate at the start of their day via a video call. If time zones make that challenging, a document on the things to do on the first day will be helpful.

At ReferralCandy, we generally have three onboarding calls for new teammates:

  • Ops: For setting up accounts and sharing administrative things
  • Culture: For sharing our company culture and values
  • Role: For more team- and role-specific information

At Buffer, managers would also introduce new teammates to the company by posting an announcement in our internal forum so that more people could welcome them. At ReferralCandy, managers would send a short introduction message via email or Slack. New team members would then give a short presentation about themselves at our monthly all-hands.

3. 90-day plan

I create a 'First 90 Days' plan for my new team members. This is to set them up for a good start while they are new to the company.

The plan is broken down into three 30-day periods, with a theme each. Here's a simplified example for a content marketing role:

  • Learn: Learn about the company, people, product, and marketing
  • Create: Write one blog post, start posting on our social media, and take over email sends
  • Own: Start owning your area by tracking your results and finding ways to improve

While it seems mostly about work, I would also include social things, such as chatting with five people outside of the marketing team.

Here's another 'First 90 Days' example from my former manager, Kevan Lee.

4. Onboarding buddies

At Buffer, each new teammate would have three onboarding buddies:

Hiring Manager: This person is typically the new hire’s direct supervisor. They help select the role buddy and coordinate the roadmap of 30-, 60- and 90-day goals. The manager also gives feedback and keeps connected with the buddies to pass along any vital information or corrections to the new hire.

Role Buddy: This person is typically a peer working on the same team as the new hire or a comparable role elsewhere in the company. Depending on how closely the role buddy and new hire work, they’ll talk once or twice a week via Zoom, and this buddy is the go-to person for any task or role-related question the new hire may have (generally asked via Slack or email).

Culture Buddy: This person is typically on a different team and selected to help guide the new hire through culture-related discussions and provide additional context on company history and norms. This buddy will chat weekly with the new hire for the first six weeks, and as needed thereafter.

I'm trying to adopt this practice at ReferralCandy. Given the team is small, I play both the roles of the hiring manager and the role buddy.

5. In-personal meetups and personal stories

Even though it is a remote job, there might be other teammates in the same city or country. At Buffer, we would try to meet a new teammate if there are others—regardless of the team—in the same country. When I joined, I met several teammates in London. They traveled from Manchester, Cambridge, and so on.

It's easier at ReferralCandy because we are mostly based in Singapore. But because of the COVID situation in Singapore, we could only meet in groups of two. So I met my new teammate for coffee when she joined. Now that we can meet in groups of five, we have been organizing more lunches and coworking days to meet one another.

One Buffer practice that I love—and continue to do with new teammates—is to share our personal stories at these meetups. Everyone, not just the new teammate, would share their life story up until they joined Buffer. Everyone can share as much or as little as they like. I usually choose to go first so that the new teammate would feel comfortable sharing. I would talk about growing up in an entrepreneurial family, studying overseas, working at Buffer, and training as a triathlete. I find that such personal stories help us know one another better and help build trust.

If you were onboarded remotely, what did you like about your company's onboarding process? I'd love to learn from you.

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