Building a great remote team has enormous benefits. By expanding one’s talent pool beyond your local area you can dramatically increase your chances for finding people who possess the unique set of skills and talents for your team. As a product development team based throughout the Americas (that’s North, Central and South by the way), we know this first hand. Last month, we talked about how to hire remote employees and how to do awesome team building with distributed teams. But what do you do with a new remote hire before you can integrate them via awesome team building? How do you set a remote teammate up for success? We’ve learned over time that it is not enough to simply hire the right people. Success as a virtual company requires constant attention to the way we are on-boarding and interacting with our new teammates. In this post, we’ll take a look at our best practices for onboarding remote hires.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Setting clear expectations is critical with all new hires, regardless of whether the team is working in a distributed or in-person environment. When you hire someone both parties are making a commitment to invest time together in achieving a goal. In many cases you spend more time working towards that goal than you spend in any other activities in your life so making sure that everyone is on the same page is critical to a successful working relationship. However, in a distributed environment, setting clear expectations becomes even more important because new hires don’t have values and working styles reinforced by seeing their teammates everyday.
At AgilityFeat, we tackle this challenge from a few angles. First, all new hires meet with each member of our leadership team. Additionally, new hires meet with the members of the team they are going to join and in many cases meet with the client before we make an offer. Each interviewer has a specific set of evaluations for the candidate. By meeting with multiple people who play different roles with our company, a new hire can gain a multi-faceted perspective of what it is like to work at AgilityFeat. Following the interviews, our team gets together to discuss their individual interview experiences to evaluate the candidate as well as to identify key themes that have emerged about the candidate from the series of interviews.
Another critical component of ensuring that everyone is on the same page is a trial period. The trial period affords all parties the chance to get to know one another and make sure the correct fit is there for a long-term relationship. We think of this as dating before we get married and in our case, we typically set an eight week trial period for new hires. Each new hire receives an offer letter than explicitly lays out our expectations for performance during the trial period. In the offer letter, we state our expectations about quality of work, communication and responsibility along with clear definitions of how we measure each. Further, we lay out important details for the candidate like how much and when they get paid as well as expectations for meeting attendance and lastly, when we will review the trial period. The combination of a trial period and an offer letter provide a documented framework for both parties to acclimate to working together.
2. Make Onboarding Consistent
Every company has its own unique culture. When a new hire comes into an office environment, they are consistently soaking in company culture. New hires learn about a company’s culture by seeing other teammates interacting with each other, attending meetings and observing the overall workflow for a business. In a distributed team, these experiential indicators of a company’s culture are much less frequent. To counter this dynamic, it is important to create a consistent onboarding process that each new hire can share.
When onboarding a new hire, it’s important to articulate the company values. Building off the expectations set in an offer letter, laying out the specific values for a company can provide a framework for individual decision making. This is even more critical in a distributed working environment and teammates are largely left to their own devices to make important daily decisions. Establishing and articulating the key values of a company goes a long way to ensuring that new hires are equipped with the right tools to make decisions. When faced with uncertainty, the values will help guide decision making. Further, by articulating a company’s values, it can be easier to find and hire people who share the same values. List your company’s values in rank order and discuss them with the new hire to accelerate the acclimation process.
In addition to values, it is important to reinforce any working tools and expectations in the orientations. Schedules for regular meetings, communication tool preferences like skype or hangouts, team contact information and working logistics should all be covered in the orientation meeting.
If possible, have the same person deliver the onboarding process to maintain consistency. Ensuring that each new hire has the same information about your company as the rest of the team can go a long way to combatting the uncertainty that each new hire may feel when lacking the experiential learning that accompanies an in-office working environment.
3. Make It Personal
It can be very easy to feel lonely when working in a distributed environment. Loneliness can breed a lack of communication which can be very dangerous for distributed teams and low communication often results is misaligned decisions and unpleasant surprises. It’s important to make new hires feel comfortable as part of the team to connect one on one. Creating a shared space online for communication is one way to make new hires feel welcome. Shared spaces like on Google Hangouts or on Skype (sound only, distributed workers like to have a little privacy to work) are beneficial.
In our company, we have an open Skype conversation with the entire team running at all times. The conversation can be work related items at times such as asking for help on a specific problem but more commonly, the chat is pure fun. Most of the messages are shares of interesting articles, funny videos and jovial ribbing to provide a virtual water cooler for establishing relationships, building trust and creating running jokes. At AgilityFeat, we rely on our team to help one another so fostering an environment where personal connections matter (even in a distributed company) is critical to making sure the team is empowered and encouraged to help one another.
As a leadership team, we also make a concerted effort to check in regularly with new hires during their trial period. Casual check-ins go a long way to ensuring that a new hire is on the right path. These conversations can be scheduled but should not be forced. Ask the new hire broad questions, like how are things working with the team. Additionally, specific questions like what’s been the best and most challenging part of working so far can open up the type of healthy dialogue that nurture the acclimation process for new hires. Asking for feedback on the onboarding process can also be a valuable exercise for continuously improving the process.
Building Trust for the Long Haul
Getting new hires acclimated is critical for companies working in distributed and in-office environments. A thoughtful and consistently delivered on-boarding process can go a long way towards establishing the trust with a new hire as well as brining them up to speed as fast as possible. In the end, a great on-boarding process is no more important for distributed companies vs companies with an office, it’s just easier to forget. Consistent investment in on-boarding and communication will go a long way to making your distributed teams successful.