Starting a job is always nerve-wracking—but even more so when you’re joining a distributed team. How can leaders help new hires have a smoother, less stressful onboarding experience when everyone is working from home?
On a recent webinar, our CEO Laszlo Bock joined Humu People Scientist Leslie Caputo and Data Scientist Mark Freeman, a new remote hire himself, to find out.
Laszlo: What can leaders do to make remote onboarding a success?
Mark: Onboarding starts before the person actually starts. Before my start date, my manager sent me a very kind email saying, “Hey, I'm really excited to have you!” It also laid out exactly what to expect for my first day and week, plus some questions to think about for later.
I also received my laptop really early, with a personalized PDF teaching me how to log in to the systems. I’m used to startups waiting until later and saying, “Oh, we’ll figure it out as we go,” but Humu was on top of it from day one —in fact, even before my first day.
Leslie: Research shows that a primary predictor of onboarding success is what we call a critical event: one particularly negative or positive event can change the entire tone of onboarding. Imagine an employee sitting there on their first day, unable to get into their computer, with no clue who to reach out to. Something like that can really set the wrong tone, especially in a remote environment where the employee can’t walk over to the coworker and ask for help.
Each hiring manager needs to have a 30-60-90 day plan for each new hire to help them understand the role, the expectations are, and how they’ll get ramped up. That plan will need to be more baked than if the employee was coming into the office.
The other two factors in remote onboarding success are the social factor and the psychological factor. Because employees aren’t in the same physical space, those serendipitous moments aren't happening. Coworkers aren't seeing new employees like Mark and saying, “Hey, come to lunch with us,” or “Why don’t you join this meeting?” And so managers need to be much more proactive than usual.
Laszlo: At Humu, we're obviously big believers in nudges. Mark, what’s a nudge you received while onboarding that made you feel supported?
Mark: My favorite was definitely the nudge, “Make your manager the best coach,” which gave me a list of questions to ask my manager in my first 1:1. One question I used is, “Can you give me an example of what great performance looks like in our company?” That sparked a great 30-minute conversation where my manager not only highlighted what great work looks like, but other people in the company who are doing that great work.
Leslie: The research shows that it's really important to meet people in their day to day work. People are well-intentioned, but they get stressed and are busy trying to prove themselves. That’s why giving people a small suggestion they can digest in the moment is the best way to build a habit.
Laszlo: We’ve heard from a lot of folks who are going through remote onboarding themselves right now, and it’s not as great as they’d hoped. One asked, “What if you’re onboarding yourself and you're feeling alone? What tips do you have to direct your own success?”
Mark: I think the biggest challenge when you're onboarding, especially remotely, is that you don't know what you don't know.
One of the first things I did when I was onboarding was to digest all the current documentation I could. Then, I went to my manager and said, “I want to learn more about this. Who's the best person in the company to talk to?” I’d reach out to that person and say, “Hey, I heard you're the best at this and I’d love to learn more. When can we chat?” Now, when I come across problems in my work, I have a network within the company I can reach out to.
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