Getting onboarding right is vitally important now more than ever, with new hires joining who may not have physically met anyone from the organization. Some words of advice came from Erevena clients Beamery, Personio, Sqreen and Zenly, who have successfully remotely onboarded new hires.
The current reality of the Covid-19 world is forcing businesses to rapidly re-examine their processes and procedures, particularly those that involve face-to-face interactions such as candidate assessment, hiring and onboarding.
Onboarding is the foundation for every new executive to develop relationships with both their new reporting team and others on the executive team, and to help them establish their voice in the company which is particularly essential when working remotely. The main components of good onboarding continue to be true regardless of the current restrictions.
Getting onboarding right is vitally important now more than ever, with new senior hires joining who may not have physically met anyone from the organization yet. Some consistent words of advice came from talking to Erevena clients: Beamery, Personio, Sqreen and Zenly, who have successfully onboarded new hires remotely over the last few weeks. They have developed alternatives to those in-person interactions and offer advice on how remote methods can best be implemented.
We hope that early-stage Founders, CEOs, hiring executives and investors find their experiences both reassuring and of practical use.
Make sure someone in the organization has overall responsibility for the process
This advice was reiterated regardless of size or maturity of the organization. At Personio, every new starter whatever their seniority has a session with the CEO and the process is driven by the HR function who ensure that the structured process is followed for all new hires. At Zenly, Claire Pluvinage Head of HR and Operations has overall responsibility for the onboarding process and draws on her previous experience of integrating international hires: “We have a thorough onboarding process which we’ve tried to transpose to remote channels.”
Building trust with your new team can develop less rapidly when it’s a remote process, so Zenly have in place mechanisms to allow the new leader to quickly get to know their team and develop trust. The integration with a new team can be a more difficult and intense process for a senior leader with direct reports, so help from other parts of the business can be useful. Claire makes sure that new leaders joining know that they have her support and help: “I’m there behind the scenes to help everyone to align to the same page. I facilitate and guide the process, ensuring that regular sessions over Hangouts are happening. Plus, explain what it means to be a manager at Zenly, how we evaluate performance and our people processes as an example.”
For a senior hire the responsibility for onboarding may lie with the CEO, as is the case at Sqreen where CEO, Pierre Betouin led the remote onboarding of Nuno Antunes who recently joined as VP of Engineering. The top priority for Pierre is the CEO and senior hire relationship: “It is important that we are aligned and for the new VP (in this case Nuno) to see the world as the CEO does. We have been having hour-long virtual meetings about the company’s strengths and weaknesses and what we are all working towards. Taking this time to establish a strong fit has been vital.”
Develop a structured approach that moves at pace and gives everyone joining a consistent experience
All the companies we spoke to are striving to make virtual onboarding as seamless, dynamic and informative as in-person onboarding; to remotely give an introduction to the company, it’s culture, processes and procedures, as well as its products and customers.
Sultan Saidov, Co-founder and President, Beamery explains: “We had a well-defined onboarding process which we’ve adjusted for remote implementation, adapting the level of engagement and becoming more structured.” When someone joins there are a couple of rituals that help immerse people, they are automatically added to group and team meetings and there are rounds of reintroductions. “These aren’t necessarily new initiatives, because we’re used to working with distributed offices, but there’s now an extra rigour to make sure that they are run quickly and comprehensively.”
Personio have an existing well-defined process but deliver it all remotely aiming for consistency so that everyone joining has a high-quality onboarding experience. The process that everyone goes through is in two parts: the first part is general onboarding organized by the HR team, and is the same for everyone with 12 different online sessions presented by different teams across the organization, including sessions with the CEO, Chief Operations Officer and a product demo. Plus, remote social sessions, such as remote coffee check-ins facilitated by Wellbeing Warrior which matches people across the organization who don’t necessarily work together for short social sessions. This structured programme ensures that all new joiners experience the key elements of the company culture in a consistent manner. This is supplemented with a series of personalised sessions that are particular to the individual and their role.
Create a balance of formal and informal sessions
Onboarding can also include scheduled training sessions, one-on-one meetings with the new hire’s manager and onboarding buddy, an all-team presentation, and a virtual happy hour with the team to get to know co-workers in a more casual setting.
Claire at Zenly explains: “We have a well-structured process in place, with a balance between formal and informal time to make it more natural. As a remote process we had to find a way of making it more ‘human’, particularly to help ease the integration into the team. We have online happy hours every Thursday evening, where we use the Snap filters which is a great icebreaker for new joiners. We also have a 24/7 open link called ‘The Break Room’ using Google Hangouts where people can drop in at any time and talk to whoever is in the room. These informal methods are increasingly important for helping new joiners to integrate across the company.”
New joiners, as anyone, will find it hard to cope with all structured formal meetings, so to avoid ‘Zoom fatigue’, a balance of formal and informal meeting is important and will help to replace those kitchen and coffee break moments of informal interactions.
Claire explains how they think carefully about the language that they use when naming remote meetings in people’s calendars, to let people know what the expectation is of the meeting is and allows them to prepare appropriately and come with the right mindset. “We’ve had to think about everything more closely since everything is remote.”
Consider implementing a Buddy System
A buddy system can help to integrate people and make them feel part of the wider team and increase their sense of belonging. Systems can be implemented remotely, using tools such as Slack, Google Hangouts and Discord.
Claire explains that at Zenly: “We have a buddy system, where all new joiners are buddied with someone from another team who performs a different job, which helps creates links outside of their immediate team.”
Likewise, Beamery have a buddy system in place that matches new joiners with people from other departments to help with integration across the company.
Ensure regular contact with new hires from the word go
The onboarding process starts as soon as someone accepts the offer, rather than the day that they start, and regular communication from this time is key, particularly when someone has a lengthy notice period to work out before they can join. A week before a new starter joins Zenly send a Welcome Package, in a special box containing branded clothing and equipment, along with all their IT equipment, which has been set up and tested.
“It’s so important that we keep doing this throughout lockdown to let them know how excited we are that they are joining.” Claire, Zenly.
It’s important to be conscious of any concerns that new hires may have about changing jobs during a global pandemic. Adriana at Personio explains: “We engage with new hires from a very early stage, to eradicate any concerns that they may have moving jobs at such an uncertain time. We want them to feel reassured that Personio is in a stable financial position.” They regularly engage with new hires via email using their own software to automate the process, along with regular personal check ins from HR, and even invite them to remote social event before joining, such as the Personio Pub Quiz.
Onboarding during lockdown is made even more difficult by the complexities of the immigration process as the authorities are often closed or hard to get hold of. Zenly try to make the process as smooth as possible for the new joiner and keep them regularly updated. “We take the time to update them on the situation in France and let them know that it is a priority for us. We try and take the stress away from them as much as possible, particularly when it’s a family relocating from overseas.”
Introducing new hires to the existing team before arrival can also help smooth the integration process. Claire at Zenly explains: “I present the new team members to the rest of the team before they join, covering their background, previous experience and hobbies, so that when they arrive people feel that they already know something about them and find it easier to reach out to them.”
At Beamery the onboarding process starts as soon as someone signs their contract. They use video to introduce the new team to someone joining where they prerecord snippets and package these up into a presentation comprised of videos and stories of people who will be in their direct path of interaction. This is sent to the new joiner along with recommended reading, relevant documentation and details of available resources. There’s no expectation that the new starter will read everything, but frequently they do as the content is designed to be clear and engaging, and it gives them a great head start.
Beamery also ask the new joiner to provide a video introduction to themselves that they share with their direct team. Plus, every month the whole company is emailed with details of who is joining, so that people can put faces (and videos) to names before they join.
Have the right tools at hand
All the companies we spoke to made sure that new hires had PCs delivered to their home addresses before their first day, with all the appropriate software preloaded and tested so that they were ready to hit the ground running from the outset and not besieged by frustrating technical problems. There were a number of tools mentioned that people finding useful when on boarding remotely:
- Confluence – Team collaboration tool and knowledge sharing space
- Discord – VoIP application and digital distribution platform designed for creating communities
- Google Hangouts – Messaging, voice and video calls
- Miro – Online collaborative whiteboard platform
- Notion – All-in-one workspace collaboration app
- Slack – Business communications platform
- Wellbeing Warrior – Platform for combining team well-being features and connecting employees, integrated with Slack
- Zoom – Cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars
With thanks to our contributors
Sultan Saidov, Co-founder & President, Beamery
Beamery’s mission is to help the world’s best companies acquire their greatest assets: their people. Their Talent Operating System allows enterprises to attract, engage, and retain top talent, and manage the entire talent journey on one unified platform. They have three main hubs in London, Austin, and San Francisco with satellite offices spread over a dozen countries. A key hire for the company this year was an experienced Chief Product Officer to lead the rapid growth of the Product team and business while nurturing a strong one-team culture. The successful candidate started during lockdown.
Adriana Sabino, HR Manager, Personio
Personio is a Munich-head quartered company developing an HR management, recruiting and payroll solution for SMEs. Founded in 2015, the Series- C business is backed by Accel with 450 employees in Munich, London, Madrid and Dublin. They are used to onboarding new joiners remotely, and since the Covid-19 outbreak in mid-March have successfully onboarded 45 new employees ranging in seniority.
Pierre Betouin, Co-Founder and CEO, Sqreen
Sqreen is a next generation leader in application security management. Rather than protect an application’s perimeter, Sqreen provides deep application monitoring for developers to identify and neutralize even the most sophisticated cyberattacks. In March this year, Nuno Antunes was hired as VP Engineering, to scale Sqreen’s team in Paris and to lead the engineering group, scale it, with the perspective to open a second engineering office in Lisbon where he is currently based. Then the Covid-19 lockdown began.
Claire Pluvinage, Head of HR & Operations, Zenly
Zenly is a mobile app that shows you a live map of your friends and family. Founded in Paris in 2014, Zenly joined Snap in 2017, and continues to run as an independent entity with millions of loving active users around the world. 21 of the 57 person Zenly team in Paris are from overseas. English is the business language spoken by everyone, with English and French lessons available to everyone daily. They have continued to hire during lockdown, hiring 7 people with 5 been successfully onboarded to date.