Best practices for onboarding remote employees

What are some onboarding practices that work really well at your company?

What about onboarding practices that could use some improvement?

A few things that have worked well for us:

  1. Tell the team why you hired this person and why they’re great. Building hype is good in this situation. I try to highlight qualities, work history, and some quotes from reference checks. This can be in writing or video.
  2. Have the new hire introduce themselves in a short video before any “all hands” meeting on their first day. Combined with #1, this kicks off an email thread that gets everyone excited and talking even before Day 1. We’ve had whole conversations taking place in these threads even before anyone has met the new hire.
  3. I create a Day 1, Week 1, and Month 1 doc for the new hire to give them some direction. Some of this doc is purely logistical. Some will give them a jumpstart on initial projects, which we’ve already discussed. This helps them feel and be productive immediately without the pressure to know everything on Day 1.
  4. Create a company wiki. We use Notion. A wiki is a great place for onboarding info as well as keeping records across the team. For example, a new hire might be interested in reading our last few Quarterly/Annual strategy docs to see where we’re at and how we got here.
  5. New hire buddies. We give every new hire a “buddy” to help answer company/employee questions. The buddy should be someone from another team that they wouldn’t interact with every day. An additional point of contact also takes some burden off of the new hire’s manager.
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Onboarding new team members successfully is more challenging in a remote environment. Here are some key moves that have worked well for us:

  • Before signing an agreement to join the team, they are provided with a copy of Hubstaff’s Communication Manifesto so they are familiar with expectations in our remote ecosystem. In short: we default to asynchronous communication, encourage and respect focus time, and expect a response to internal questions within 24 hours during their week. We do this to:
  1. Give the team freedom from distractions so they can focus on their best work that moves the needle.
  2. Allow greater flexibility for work hours and to establish work/life boundaries and therefore balance.
  3. Set fair expectations for when team members should expect to receive responses and where.
  • Before new hires even begin our formal onboarding process, they are assigned an ambassador from the company in a role similar to theirs in a close timezone. They can ask any questions about the company or their position during the first 30 days and beyond. It’s like their personal dedicated guide. An intro meeting is set up for their first day.

  • A 30-day onboarding process that moves through a kanban board that includes coffee chats (or video games, beer, whatever) with other team members across departments, posting an intro video in Slack, sharing a fun fact, all wrapped up with an official welcome gift that includes something of identified personal interest to the new team member. We have documentation and/or videos for everything, so they can learn and look back at whatever time works for them.

  • Sometime soon after their onboarding is complete they are asked to submit feedback about their experience. We wait until we have at least a few new hires in this phase to send out the survey to ensure anonymity. We continuously improve this process through this input.

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Love this piece: Allow greater flexibility for work hours and to establish work/life boundaries and therefore balance.

Do you find that people work more or less when they are given some freedom here? How do you ensure that the people who are working more hours aren’t rewarded for the fact that they may burn out?

From my experience, in general, people work fewer hours but get more done because they’re taking breaks when it suits them and working during the hours they feel they are most productive.

For hourly positions, I have learned that productivity sometimes drops off after 40 hours if the team member is trying to get in more hours. That’s the burnout threat. If that’s consistent, it’s worth looking into raising the pay for a good employee to try and alleviate their need to work too many hours while also helping to retain them on the team. If it’s not about a paycheck and they just need more hours to get work done, that’s a workload issue a manager should work on them with. Help them prioritize and reassign tasks as needed. A time tracking app is great for spotting these issues.

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Here are some practices that have worked really well for us at Doist:

  • Welcome thread. Each newcomer is introduced within Twist, our team communication app, prior to their first day so everyone knows who they are and they arrive to lots of friendly messages and warm welcomes from other Doisters.
  • Fun facts post. Newcomers are invited to share a post with 10 (interesting) facts about themselves. This gives them a chance to introduce themselves on their own terms, socialize within the team (by identifying shared interests and experiences), and learn how to create a new thread in Twist.
  • Todoist onboarding project. Each newcomer gets a premade onboarding project that includes tasks to take care of early on, things to read, reminders, and helpful tips. This way, regardless of timezone differences, they never get stuck in a situation where they feel like they don’t know what they should be doing.
  • Mentoring program. We pair each newcomer with a mentor, typically on their team, who helps facilitate their early learning and acclimation within their role, team, and company.
  • Initial 1-on-1’s. Within the first few days, each newcomer meets with me, their mentor, and their team head so we can get to know each other and share more about how we’ll be supporting them.
  • Mentoring trip. Under normal circumstances, within the first month or so, we invite newcomers to travel to their mentor to spend a week working alongside them and getting to know them.
  • Small projects. Early on, we get newcomers involved in smaller projects so they can work at a more reasonable pace as they acclimate to our communication and workflows. This also gives newcomers some “quick wins” to minimize the imposter syndrome that they might experience after starting a new role.

Opportunities for improvement:

  • Structured feedback. Currently, we collect feedback on the onboarding experience on an ad-hoc basis which has served us well, but I would love to build a more intentional, structured way of collecting feedback on the process so we can better identify and prioritize opportunities for improvement.
  • Company swag. Currently we give every newcomer a welcome budget to spend however they like, but I would so love to find a good solution to ship company swag globally as a way to welcome newcomers.
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Thanks for sharing, Andrew! Typically, how long is the onboarding process a Doist?

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The “official” onboarding last for 3 months (which is the duration of the mentoring period). It’s not a very structured process, but one of being very intentional about communicating feedback to help newcomers learn the ropes at Doist and acclimate to the culture

“True” onboarding can take up to a year or longer before people really find their rhythm within a company though.