Survival instructions for remote onboarding

Care to share?

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, companies all over the world are now in remote-only mode and it is set to continue through the fall and into the coming year, as companies like Google and UBS have already announced globally or regionally that employees will be off-site until 2021. 

As business operations continue, HR departments are working to make sure that companies have solid onboarding processes for remote workers and that the goals, vibe, and processes of the company are all clear to a new hire. People should feel welcome and motivated, not disconnected from their new job by physical distance. 

As someone who has vast experience working remotely and joining new teams, I want to share with you the other side of this discussion: what you as an employee can do to survive and thrive during remote onboarding. It’s still not my preferred method of joining a company, but I believe it is possible to onboard successfully from the home office if you know the potential pitfalls and have a strategy in place. 

Other articles from Marta Ciesielska on the subject of remote work:

- Which tools to use for remote work? Part one

- Which tools to use for remote work? Part two

Make a good first impression

A slight hint of anxiety, a pinch of excitement, a good dose of fresh energy. The first few days in any company are a mix of emotions as employees overcome their shyness and get into the work of the team while also getting to know their co-workers by laughing at a few of their bad jokes and sharing chats about dogs, children, and hobbies over the occasional coffee.

When onboarding is conducted remotely, many of the most important, small details of the process can be missed—especially the personal touch. It is somehow embarrassing to ask a new colleague for a 15-minute non-work-related chat on Slack, because it feels like you are interrupting their work, while in the office it would be the most natural thing in the world to do.

The tendency not to nurture the soft side of in work relationships while operating remotely comes from the fear that many people working at home have of being accused of not being productive. Don’t let this stop you from being assertive in building friendships by asking new team members for a chat to get to know one another.

Ask the right questions

Do your homework. You have chosen your new employer for a reason. You probably have a list of questions that will help you find your way around the structure of the company and show that you are taking the onboarding process seriously and proactively. If you don’t have such a list, below is a fragment of mine. No matter what your skill level is, asking questions is very important. Pretending to know everything is the quickest route to failure. 

  1. Who magically makes different things happen in the company? (question about the handyman)
  2. What is the life cycle of our organization’s project / product / service?
  3. From whom can I learn the most? 
  4. Who can best train me in my duties? 
  5. Who will tell me about the biggest mistakes made in the company in the last 6 months?
  6. What are our business goals?
  7. What is the “perfect” working week?
  8. How much involvement in improving processes and life in the company do you expect from me? How much of my time are you willing to assign on this? 

These sample universal questions are the starting point. Build your own database and show that you want to make the most of the implementation period. 

Be visible

First of all, I will recommend two methods. The first one, which I like very much, is writing your own manual. I am convinced that this is an extremely important tool for remote work and deserves a separate post. In a nutshell: it tells about your communication methods, preferred working hours, or the most common sources of misunderstanding: e.g. from assuming bad intentions or wrongly interpreting to your behavior. It’s a phenomenal tool not only for working with a team but also for self-analysis. 

The second method of ensuring visibility is finding your niche as quickly as possible. Are you going to be the person who others look to for process improvement? Maybe education and knowledge sharing? Or supporting soft skills in the organization? Whatever it is, identify people who can help you carve out that niche. 

Also, remember to utilize the remote work tools that I wrote about here and here. Make sure your Slack status is up-to-date and your calendar is in order. Your virtual contact space is your desk, so it is important to communicate clearly when you are available and when not to ask for your support. 

Establish connections

If you join a team, you’ll definitely have group meetings. The first is probably a slightly embarrassing performance with some  loud clapping [side note: I recommend clapping in sign language on calls as it is equally cool and not so destructive to the ears] and probably a few clichéd words about yourself. 

Maybe instead of the same tired old narrative, you can tell people how you can help them? Even if you come to the company as a complete newbie, you can, for example, teach them to play the guitar, bring a fresh perspective to projects, or call for a beer after work and knit together. Show with your performance that you are available to others and open to making contact. Say something that will be remembered by the team so that they can identify you. 

In addition, make 1-on-1 meetings with the people you will work with on a daily basis and discuss:

  1. Mutual expectations of the roles you play
  2. The vision and mission of your cooperation
  3. Your hobbies, interests, and personalities

I even recommend playing two truths and a lie; it’s a great game that allows you to share anecdotes from life and establish a more personal relationship 

One last piece of advice: try to remember everyone’s names as quickly as possible. When they are mistaken, turn it into a joke. 

Take care of your own vibe

Motivation to work efficiently in a new company comes from drinking in the atmosphere of the place. If you are afraid that you will not feel the vibe as a remote worker, remember that it is all firmly in your head! You need to direct your thinking towards that same sense of excitement. 

First, get caught up in the company’s values and goals. How do these values resonate with you? What do we want to achieve? Switch your thinking from “you” to “us” as quickly as possible. This can be a challenge but one way to achieve it is to observe the successes and celebrate them publicly with others (e.g. through the kudos channel on Slack). Share the vibe.

Second, change the colors of the tools you are using to one that is compatible with your company’s branding. Cover your laptop with stickers that will remind you that you are part of something bigger. Maybe the organization you work in has some branded sweatshirts or t-shirts? I know that not everyone is a fan of corporate gadgets; however, I believe that surrounding yourself with useful everyday objects helps you feel part of something bigger. Every time I grab a thermo-bottle or a folding coffee mug with a company logo with me, my thoughts go back to the cool moments I spent in that place. 

Third, find a way to build little habits and create a positive atmosphere around you: praise people, say hello and goodbye on the project channel, do your morning daily with your team, post silly memes or gifs on Friday. Happiness research shows that you get what you give and that people prefer to surround themselves with people who are positive. 

Enjoy your new challenge

Every change is as exciting as we allow it to be… and we get back from most things the exact amount that we are willing to give of ourselves. A new job—whether you start in the office or in the home office—is no different. The first days of work show what kind of people you have met and what kind of person you are. A decisive part of the success of remote onboarding is your positive attitude, willingness to maximize your knowledge, and courage to bother others.

One last piece of advice is to take the pressure off yourself. You don’t need to get everything correct right away, so don’t expect it from yourself. The information you get during the onboarding process was worked out by others for months, if not years. The company is leading you through a set of carefully choreographed steps, while your part in that dance is to be as open as possible and move with the music.

Read more on remote work in Divante:

- Stories of our remote employees by Krzysztof Basel
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Published August 20, 2020