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Virtual Onboarding - The New Normal

As we think about a new starter joining our team, I wanted to collate what has worked both for members of my team as well as friends’ teams to try to design the best onboarding possible for a new starter. I categorized my thoughts into 3 pillars; the practical, the cultural, and the social, but for now, I’m going to focus on the practical. I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts, too, on practical elements to onboarding. What do you physically need to do your job? Obviously, you need functioning tech, your laptop and email etc… After that, I think the real key to success is a workplace that is well documented. Where you can see the goals, the teams, and the processes, simply and intuitively. Being transparent and well documented takes a lot of work and is often the luxury of larger companies where there is bandwidth to achieve this. Of course, the more rigorous your structure is around documentation and training, the easier it is for everyone to do their job well. Take company wide transparent OKRs or KPIs, they make it very clear for a new starter where the organisation is heading and who’s in charge of what. As distributed teams demand distributed work, this documentation rigor only becomes more necessary. What can you do in the short term? How’s your org chart? Up-to-date is a good start but what does it really say about who’s working on what. I’d love to see a world with interactive org charts leading to a kind of internal myspace-esque page for each employee, with a little about the person. Most critically from a business-standpoint would be a clear explanation of what they are working on, who they work on it with, and any public KPIs, dashboards, or goals. For the purposes of networking and team cohesion, I’d also like to see a clear photo, some fun facts or personal photos, etc... to create a 360 view of who they are. This more robust org chart helps new starters remember who’s who, figure out who to go to for questions, and better understand how things get done. Clean up your calendar: You want the new hire to go through each meeting with an understanding of the purpose and attendees of every meeting in their first month on the job. It’s a good time to look through your schedule as the hiring manager for this role and figure out which meetings are relevant, which might benefit from a refresh, and ensure they each have useful agendas/slack channels/working documents. Give them a guide: What are they going to do on their first day? Their first month? Sitting all day in a zoom call is tough, why dump that on your new starter. Training should be a mix of committed VC events and self-directed learning. I like to think of it as a series of to-do lists, linked to each of the first four weeks on the job. You want to give them as much clarity as possible while allowing for flexibility, e.g. a list of people to meet the first week, then the second week, etc… but allowing them to schedule these meetings themselves. And this guide also allows for agency over your days, so if they have a necessary two hour video call, they don’t have to follow that up by watching two hours of training tutorials. One idea I’ve heard which, for some roles, I thought sounded good was assigning the new hire a “fake project” to give them something to start working on immediately. Possibly a project that’s been done before, to give concrete structure to their work and allow them to ask the real questions and discover who to ask for what in a less stressful but more structured way.

Find your documents: Run through the processes and operations this person will encounter and try to collate all the necessary documentation as best possible, if you don’t already have this in order. Who has access to the important documents and why? When were they last updated meaningfully? Which ones are important? There’s a lot of digital clutter in all of our folders and every new starter (assuming they aren’t coming at you too fast!) is an opportunity to see which documents really serve your needs. Have them take notes: There are two ways to think about taking notes. One, as a new hire goes through documentation, they should be flagging anything that’s unclear, that is laid out in the wrong order, or that could’ve been done better. It’s good to get their reflections immediately, but also a few months later, since with time they might better understand why a choice was made in one way or another. And hopefully subsequent new hires will benefit from the iterations these insights drive. The second goal is using their perspective as an outside, fresh pair of eyes. They should be looking critically at all of your processes and documentations and flagging any opportunities for improvement. It’s great to get someone with limited knowledge to look over your work and highlight issues and ideas you aren’t seeing. Secondarily, It also allows them to provide value early on as well as revealing what kind of feedback they like to give, a key insight into their workplace behavior and attitude. Comment below with your thoughts on best and worst remote onboarding. And stay tuned for follow up posts on the cultural and social element to onboarding!

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