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Building a great remote hiring and onboarding process for engineers

28 January, 2021

Tips from the Director of Engineering at Calm, Ellen Wong and the Director of Engineering at Venmo, Papanii Okai

During the pandemic, engineering managers have become instrumental in providing a great experience for new hires. As managers, we need to be deeply involved in the onboarding experience, and we need to give new hires visibility of your team's work and roadmap. Consider asking yourself these questions so your new team members feel comfortable and equipped:

“Do they have everything that they need?”

“Do they have the right support from various teammates?”

Often, engineers want to hit the ground running as soon as they join, but do they even know where the ground is? A well-designed onboarding plan is the key to getting quick wins fo new team members. Help them get better integrated within your organization by:

  • Creating an explicit onboarding plan for the first day, week, month, and quarter that goes beyond deliverables. For example, the onboarding plan could map out (a) who are the people you should meet and get familiar with, and (b) these are the Slack channels that you want to join and get familiar with conversations over there.
  • Setting up a good buddy system, so they have someone available for any questions or support.

The first two weeks of onboarding is critical of a new hire. Every company is a journey, and whenever someone gets hired, we need to make sure they are brought along on the journey. Once they are on the same page, then quick wins come naturally.

Things to consider before onboarding remotely

Assessing the values/culture fit - For your team and organization, we want to look for someone who's a values/culture fit. Step 1 is to ask relevant questions during the interview process to discern that signal. Step 2 is helping them immerse themselves in the company culture. Making them feel welcome and setting up an onboarding process to help build a sense of community. Having your new hires absorb the culture can be daunting and time-consuming, so even we in management need to broaden our minds and have more perspective of our teams. The CBTI framework, i.e., thinking of customers first, then business, followed by Teams and then Individuals, can help give you direction.

Interview process - As your new hires are getting ramped up, we should support them with all the answers they need to make a decision. One of the top questions to ask them is, “Do you have any questions for me?” Often, the questions they ask speak volumes about what they care about. Also, don't forget to foster two things that are critical to any team's success — empathy & psychological safety. Empathy creates an environment of safety, so during the interview process, we should try to make individuals feel welcomed and safe.

We should keep in mind that younger people might not have many questions, and they might be afraid of making mistakes in the interview as compared to other senior people. It's also a good reminder, from a cultural perspective, that questioning authority is not appreciated in some cultures, so you want to encourage people to ask questions if they're being reserved.

Things to consider while onboarding remotely

Creating an environment for social interactions - To help your new team members feel included and develop a bond with everyone, you can create non-work channels where they can share a piece of their personal lives. Especially in a remote setting, we need to manually create events that are otherwise organic. Your team may also experience Zoom fatigue, so going off Zoom and setting up regular phone calls for casual talk can be highly effective.

Creating quick wins - When onboarding an Individual Contributor, a quick win could be coding and shipping a feature. It's very concrete and they get an adrenaline rush when they've put something in production. Getting a quick win for a new manager is harder. One suggestion is celebrating the small stuff like giving positive reinforcement like "Great job driving that meeting today," "Great job putting together that proposal," or "You're doing a great job understanding this part of the business!"

Also, be aware that first-line managers may be among the most stressed out people in your org — they have to drive projects and they want to make sure every ICs on their team is doing well (all while everyone is remote). Self care is important so it's important to tell a newly-hired manager: "Hey, I really know that you care about your team, but take care of yourself as well."

Ironing out time-zone issues - If you company or team has key hours where meetings happen or real-time collaboration happens, communicate that to your new hires before they join. On a separate note, some companies need to follow certain data compliance rules (where employees outside of the US may not have access to certain data), so if the person's location limits their ability to do their job, that is something you need to consider. Ultimately though, if you look for people who are hungry and passionate, a time-zone issue will iron itself out through good communication.

Conclusion

Hiring and onboarding remotely has its challenges, but they keys are to foster a welcoming environment and capitalize on a new hire's excitement to come along for the journey.

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