Onboarding a new remote developer is arguably one of the most important things you can add to your core competencies if you want to assure your new hires’ success. Here is how to onboard remote engineers — with a practical guide from an expert.
Today, with COVID-19 making every new hire remote, excellence in onboarding has become even more crucial. Unfortunately, I don’t see nearly enough companies with a structured step-by-step approach to bringing new team members online.
Have you failed at onboarding?
Failed onboarding usually looks similar regardless of the company. Most of the time, companies that do a bad job fail to do the following things:
- The new engineer isn’t briefed on the company, what they’re building, or what the mission is
- The company hasn’t communicated KPIs and OKRs
- Daily scheduling and communications policies are loose or absent
- Failure to have the new hire meet with key people in the company to get them up to speed
- The company hasn’t assigned a buddy to shepherd the new hire through their first three months.
- No one has made it clear to the new hire what success looks like in their position
- Checkpoints to evaluate onboarding success have not been established in advance, and the developer doesn’t know what’s going to under evaluation
When things go wrong with an onboarding process, the problems usually start one the very first day when critical information doesn’t get transmitted. Once things get off-track, you will lose hours of productive time for your team and the person you’re onboarding.
By the time you know you have an issue, a mutual loss of confidence between you and the new team member is likely. By then, you might be better of starting with a new candidate from square one. To avoid a predictable outcome, I recommend, and personally implement, a highly structured approach.
My company, Turing, specializes in the sourcing, vetting, and management of remote developers. We have over 160,000 developers on our platform from over 140 countries capable of writing code in more than 50 programming languages. We want to make sure that every time we match an engineer with a company, individuals get up to speed and seamlessly integrate into their new team as quickly as possible.
Here’s how we do it:
Remote Developer Team Integration Done Right
When I think of onboarding, I look at the process along three primary dimensions. The first is making sure they have the right business context. The second is making sure they have the right “people context.” And the third is making sure that you have the proper checkpoints in place to verify that the new hire is ramping up at the rate that you expect them to.
First, let’s talk about the business context. When I’m preparing a company to onboard new engineers, I want them to provide their new employees with certain key information. These include:
- A short description of what the company does and what product they are building
- The mission & core values of the company
- What is the strategy to accomplish this mission
- The high-level quarterly OKRs or goals for the business
- A copy of the org chart
Communicating this information makes certain your new additions will have the right kind of business context about what’s essential to succeed at your company.
I also verify that the right kind of communication expectations in place in terms of time zones. It is imperative to establish working hours, so everyone knows the hours during which the developer will be available and when they will be working.
Communication synchronization is of the utmost importance when you’re working with distributed talent. You want the developer and your team to be calibrated on the time window during which everyone is going to be available and reachable.
One of the most important things you could share is your company’s org chart in terms of the people context. You can also use high-level visualizations that show all the different projects in the company. The goal is to convey how those projects connect.
Who’s driving those projects, and who are the people in those various projects. Giving a developer this conceptual understanding of all the different projects that might be going on in a company is very important.
During onboarding, I also ask our clients to tell us who are the four people in your company that this new developer has to speak with in the first month to get fully ramped up.
Make sure that the developer has an assigned buddy and knows who that person is. Having a buddy for the first three months is incredibly helpful. A buddy is a person that the developer can ask any questions about the company that they might not know who or where to go.
Who managers this new developer? Have they been introduced? While I realize this should be obvious when someone is remote, this isn’t always the case. It’s good to be explicit by specifically letting the developer know, for example, who will be doing their weekly one-on-one, who makes sure that weekly one-on-ones happen, and how they will be evaluated.
New engineers should also know when performance reviews will happen. What’s the cadence? What’s the format? And essentially, the answer to the question, what does it take to succeed in this organization? You want the person that you’re onboarding to have a good idea of what to expect.
And third, in terms of successfully checking how well this person has ramped up, you want to do 30, 60, and 90-day check-ins with the person that you’re onboarding. You want to let the person know who does that check-in, and what will they evaluate during that point.
Conducting regular check-ins gives you a valuable opportunity to course-correct in case something hasn’t gone per plan.
Beyond Basic Onboarding
You’ll save yourself and your company from future headaches if you make sure that any new hire has completed any forms and that you’re aware of any regulations specific to that person or the country where they reside.
Also, decide if your company needs any confidentiality or IP assignment agreements. Is this expertise is outside the skills within your organization? Then invest in the services of a company that specializes in navigating what can be tricky territory. At Turing, we like Remote.com for this service.
As part of my communications onboarding process, I also deal with the somewhat mundane details of provisioning the new hire with all the team’s technology. Including setting up the developer’s email and ensuring they have access to the company’s Github account, Slack channels, Trello, Jira, Google Docs, Zoom, and any other mission-critical software you expect the developer to use as part of their workflow.
Think through security, access privileges, mailing lists, etc.
Another part of setting your new hire up for success includes making sure they know about staff meetings, company-wide meetings that this person has to attend, and Slack channels they should join.
You should also try to communicate to your developer what your company culture looks like and what’s unique about your company. By making sure that all these types of nuts and bolts are tight, your new hire will be more confident in their interactions with their team, and they’ll integrate more fully into your company from day one.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll typically face is developing and maintaining company culture when a large portion of your company is remote. Company culture is a tricky territory that deserves a separate post.
The most important thing I do to instill culture is to make sure people understand my company’s core values. For example, a Turing, we have three core values. The first is to move fast. The second is continuous improvement. And the third is a relentless focus on long-term customer success.
Know your company’s core values and make sure you communicate them clearly to the person you’re onboarding.
Finally, it’s crucial to make sure that any new hire has access to all the tools they need and is confident in their use. It doesn’t hurt to check to verify that your new hire is familiar with the tools you use and to train them if they’re not.
If you require a very high degree of proficiency for certain positions, be sure to demand and vet for that skill before making a critical hire.