"So much of what people learn at the beginning of their job is informal. You overheard the person next to you, you met someone in the hallway. All those things we now have to formalize."
Cara Brennan Allamano, SVP of People at Udemy
After a long interview process, it’s Alyssa’s first day at her new job.
When she arrives at the office, a member of the People Operations team greets her in the lobby. During a tour of the workspace, Alyssa meets coworkers from other departments. Afterward, her team takes her out to lunch.
Throughout her first few months, Alyssa gets to know the rest of the organization. She makes work friends from around the office. Through informal encounters, Alyssa pieces together the social dynamics of the workplace. Within a couple of months, she's developed her go-to relationships. By day 90, she’s already hit the ground running.
Meanwhile, Eric joins the same company. But unlike Alyssa, Eric won’t be in the office. Instead, he's working from home.
Eric receives a nice message alongside log-in information, but it’s nothing like Alyssa’s welcome. He has a video call with the People Operations team. By mid-morning, he’s sitting in a Slack workspace with 180 strangers. After a few hours, he goes to his kitchen and cooks lunch for himself.
In the months that follow, Eric struggles to make connections across the company. Without natural interactions, he doesn’t find his crew. It takes Eric a long time to figure out who to turn to for various pieces of information.
By day 90, Eric feels isolated and frustrated that he can't navigate the culture at his new company.
Crafting a great first week of work for new hires is a challenging situation in any context.
Many teams rely on informal office collisions to help employees develop the connections they need. A new hire builds casual relationships over lunch and water cooler conversations. They ask their desk neighbor a quick question when they get stuck on a task.
For a remote hire, informal contact is less natural. Compared to their office counterparts, remote workers are more likely to miss the social and cultural dynamics at play on their team.
To ensure the success of remote workers, People Operations must design intentional connections.
The teams who successfully onboard remote new hires, say that the process starts and ends with over-the-top inclusion. Here are a few ways that organizations ensure that they support their employees and integrate them into the team during the first 90 days working from home.
Great Company* is growing fast, with new hires arriving every few weeks and multiple offices. To coordinate the chaos of introductions, the People Team built a #welcome channel to help employees keep track of all of the new faces appearing across their workspaces. As a new hire comes on board, they receive a formal digital introduction to share some basic info (who they are, what they’ll be doing, where their desk will be, etc.) with the whole company.
Onboarding is a long process. Even the most experienced hires will take months to catch up on the technical, cultural, and political aspects of their new job. Onboarding expert Michael D. Watkins, proposes setting a “how are things going” session every two weeks between a manager and new hire until the employee has no more questions.
During the first few weeks of work, new hires will have endless questions. At the same time, these employees may be hesitant to interrupt those around them, particularly their manager. To combat this problem, People Operations veteran Carly Guthrie suggests creating a shared document with where the new hire can dump all of the questions they have over their first few weeks.
Microsoft conducted an internal study that showed the importance of onboarding buddies on their teams. New hires who had a companion for their first 90 days were 36% more satisfied with their first three months. Those who met more often with their buddy became more productive, faster. Now onboarding buddies are a core part of the new hire experience. At Buffer, there are two different types of buddies: a “culture buddy” who addresses companywide dynamics and a “role buddy” who can speak more specifically to the new hire’s functions on the team.
At Genuine Company*, the managers play a large part in the onboarding process. Every manager with an incoming new hire is given a checklist of items to complete before the employee arrives. Since these items often fall through the cracks, managers receive a reminder about their checklist one week before the arrival.
It’s a tradition dear to many workplaces: the new hire GIF barrage. Upon entering the digital workspace, the rookie employee receives an onslaught of GIFs welcoming them to their new work home. Companies who want to add a little process to the chaos can designate the channel and timing of GIFs. Don’t have a workplace chat tool? Many companies create the same welcome experience in an email thread.
When a company hires someone new, there are expectations for what that person will be able to deliver within the first three months. By adequately setting and communicating those standards, it should start to be clear whether or not they are a fit within the first quarter of a year. Setting a marker with the appropriate stakeholders after 90 days can help you assess if a new hire is hitting the right marks and course-correct early if need be.
At fully-distributed companies, upfront communication is vital for setting the tone for a good working relationship (not that it isn’t critical for non-distributed teams). Managers at Buffer take extra time and care to set 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day expectations for new hires. Leaders and direct reports touch base at each of those moments to reflect and provide feedback for one another.
Scheduling one-on-ones with stakeholders in other departments is a way for new hires to learn the landscape of the organization. At BoxCast, each new employee is assigned one-on-one meetings with their teammates and one person from every other department during their first two weeks. These stakeholder conversations help lay the groundwork for the new hire’s organizational network.
Find more remote-friendly ideas in the People Operations Playbook.
*Note: Some team names have been given pseudonyms to maintain their anonymity.
Ensuring a good experience for remote new hires requires intentional planning. In a work-from-home environment, you can’t expect the same types of natural collisions that occur in an office. Each important step of integrating an employee into the workplace must have a workflow behind it.
But with the proper steps in place, you can craft an amazing experience for your remote hires.
P.S. At Gather, we’re helping leaders build onboarding processes to support their remote new hires.