First impressions matter, right? Well definitely when it comes to onboarding a new employee. A good onboarding process can set up exactly what the rest of your experience at a company will be like. At Surevine, we’ve put in a lot of thought into our process, constantly reviewing and improving it over the years (check out Graham’s blog post about his new starter experience back in January). Even though we’re a remote company, we still always carried out onboarding in person, until COVID-19 made us make the change to a remote onboarding.
After having done physical onboardings for so long, we took this opportunity to learn how we can make our remote onboardings better (as it seems this might be the way forward for now). A few weeks ago we welcomed Jeremy to Surevine; here’s what we learnt from our very first remote onboarding.
What went well?
Starting with the positives, Jeremy told us that overall he thought it all went well. He could tell that a lot of effort was made to ensure he had an smooth journey, including early communications from HR and sessions with the Care team to make sure that when the first day came, he was prepared.
From Surevine’s point of view, working remotely meant that a lot of the usual onboarding sessions could take place a lot quicker. Often, sessions would be put on hold whilst we waited for members of the team to arrive at the London office. It also meant we could involve more of Surevine in the onboarding, as it was as simple as inviting somebody to a video call.
There was a lot of thought given to how we could securely set up and share a laptop, but we used lists to ensure that we had everything in place, with permissions for different apps granted and headsets properly configured. We even had a Google Hangouts set up, so that as soon as Jeremy opened the laptop, he was on a video call with our Care team.
What didn’t go well?
Communication is certainly harder over a video call. Conversations are much more formulaic, reducing the general chit-chat, which can be quite calming on a first day. Google Hangouts isn’t the easiest to use when you’re trying to show somebody what to do, so we had to switch to Slack which has a useful function allowing you to draw on the other person’s screen whilst they are screen-sharing.
Video calls usually have some teething problems (how many times have you heard “Can you hear me?” recently?), but these were compounded with getting Jeremy up to speed with the technology we use. The Bluetooth headset had some connectivity issues, which were difficult to diagnose remotely. We also didn’t share our expectations about having a wired internet and a quiet room to work in which we find are imperative for remote working.
How did this process differ to normal?
For a distributed company, there can be a lot of travel and meeting room bookings involved, so it was much easier to get meetings arranged. We also usually set up a MacBook hand in hand with a new employee so they can understand the steps that have been made, but this had to be done beforehand. This also led to lots more time spent testing, as we had to be super confident that Jeremy would receive a laptop in the correct state.
When comparing this to previous onboardings that Jeremy had experienced, he did note that the effort Surevine had made to consider the needs of a remote worker was noticeable. In an office, onboarding can be a bit more free-form and take much longer as everyone is together, but this way meant Jeremy was up to speed quite quickly.
What was missing?
You definitely miss that physical interaction with somebody and the ability to read their body language. It’s therefore best to always have video calls, and if that’s not an option then high quality photos of people are key to be able to “see” the person and grow the connection even if you’re only having an audio conversation.
Did the remote experience change the way of thinking?
The nature of Surevine’s way of working has meant that we are already prepared for remote working, however this made us truly realise the value of face to face opportunities, especially when getting to know someone and learning their social cues.
If remote onboardings are the new normal, then it may be worth using different tools to perfect our approach. When delivering pieces about the company strategy, vision, mission and values this could be done asynchronously by recording the piece earlier or delivering it as a webinar. That way, they can always be referred back to for those people who want to listen again.
What’s the one thing that could be done differently?
From the four people that we interviewed, we received four different responses. Jeremy’s response was to have met more of Surevine (and in person). The other responses covered more testing of the equipment, breaking up the onboarding sessions a little (too much time spent on a call can be trying), and arranging an end of the week remote drinks session with the whole team.
For the well-seasoned Sureviners, this experience was pretty normal. But for the majority of people, it is strange. It would have been nice to sit down and have a cup of tea, but unfortunately we won’t be able to do this for a while. Sharing our experience will hopefully teach others what needs to be considered for a remote onboarding. We have learnt a lot through this, and will continue to review each onboarding to make sure that they remain a positive beginning for each employee.
We are still hiring in this current situation, so do check out our jobs page.