Line managers, according to human resources specialists, play a more crucial role in virtual onboarding. Tina Luo began the interviewing process 7,500 kilometers away from her new employment. She finished it a month later, in a foreign city and in an unfamiliar nation on the other side of the world. But it is far from the most remarkable aspect of her hiring. Luo had not met a single one of her coworkers two months after starting her job as a developer at Atlassian.
“I was hired in August and relocated from Los Angeles to Sydney to assume this position, but everything was virtual due to the epidemic,” explains Luo. “I conducted a series of virtual interviews, and then once I won the position. And I did remote orientation and virtual onboarding. But I didn’t meet a single member of my team during the whole process.”
Tina is by no means an isolated case. In reality, she is one of over 1,200 Atlassians who have been remotely onboarded.
“It was a little intimidating at first,” Luo admits. “There was a lot of stuff to learn, and it was tough to keep track of everything without someone sitting nearby in an office that you could quickly approach for assistance”. But my boss did a few things that made it a lot simpler, such as putting up private one-on-one Zoom conversations for me with everyone on our team and also creating an online buddy system, which was simply amazing. My buddy made all the difference for the first two or three weeks on the job.”
With so many new employees going through the virtual process – with more than 25% of Atlassian’s having never set foot in an Atlassian office – we decided to dig further into the remote onboarding process to uncover the methods that worked and the lessons that were learned.
Creating connections 30 days ahead of time
Tina’s Sydney manager, Ky Pham, has been with Atlassian for over six years and has lots of experience adjusting the onboarding process to these special circumstances.
“In today’s environment, the secret to successful onboarding is simply to plan and prepare more,” Pham adds. “Instead of just meeting people on the first day, we’re now actively pre-onboarding. A month before they start making them feel welcome, we’ll approach them via Linkedin or private emails. We’ll help them with any pre-planning, answer any questions, and pair them up with a far more experienced staff person — a ‘buddy’ or ‘coach’ – to assist. This not only helps the coach’s professional development, but it also speeds up the onboarding process.”
Robert Ordever, managing director of workplace consultants OC Tanner, sees a shift away from conventional leadership and toward a more modern, “connected” approach when it comes to employee integration.
“Doing everything remotely demands us to completely rethink our approach,” says Ordever, a former HR director at both Harrods and Premier League football club Fulham. “Leadership in a remote workplace is all about empathy and connection. It’s about connecting new employees with the correct knowledge, colleagues, and assistance.”
So, how should managers – and organizations in general – go about accomplishing this in the best way possible? We asked Atlassian’s top talent to compile a list of the golden rules of virtual onboarding.
Our top practices for virtual onboarding
- Ensure that the hardware is not difficult to use
“Your first step is to get a laptop into the hands of your new starts. It might be easier said than done,” explains Adam Flores, Workplace Productivity Manager at Atlassian. Flores had to invent new means of working because Atlassian offices were shuttered due to COVID. “One of our early answers was to turn my guest bedroom into a post office, with roughly 80 computers tucked under the bed or the winter coats in the closet,” he adds. “However, after a while, we discovered a reliable supplier that could handle our inventory from their warehouse, so they now supply computers straight to each recruit.” And my guest room is now usable.”
- Give people a guide
It may seem apparent, but if you urge individuals to discover their route, they will want sufficient supervision to avoid getting lost. “There was already a small number of Atlassians working remotely before 2020. So we took the pre-existing guide we had for them and filled it out into a fully self-paced onboarding experience,” Flores explains. “It focuses on a 30-page PDF booklet that leads people through the process of setting up their computer, and then things get a lot easier once they’re within the systems.”
- Inform your IT team: “Tag, you’re IT”
“With remote onboarding, your IT team becomes the face of your organization,” Flores explains. “Because they’ll be your recruits’ initial point of contact and the people they’ll interact with the most throughout the first week, make sure your IT team is ready and prepared for that, especially in terms of the kind of questions they’ll be asked.”
“Intentional communication is the key to effective remote onboarding,” explains Nicki Bellington, Atlassian’s Talent Lead for Onboarding. “Imagine it as a recipe, with a voiceover giving you the particular directions you need to prepare it.” There is no such thing as much detail or communication. You should keep in mind that some recruits will have never utilized platforms like Slack or Confluence before. Some people will have never used a Mac.”
- Avoid cognitive overload
“Zoom fatigue is real, so don’t overburden new workers in their first few days,” Bellington advises. “Instead, set a time restriction for Zoom and utilize it to focus on the most important information consumers require right now”. Then, to fill in the holes surrounding it, utilize Slack. It’s all about getting the correct information at the right moment, remember? It can wait if it’s not something they need to know in the first day or two.”
- Rely on your friends
“We’re trying out a new Slack bolt-on called Donut,” Bellington explains. “It connects new hires with experienced hands and partners you with someone fresh every two weeks at random. So you get to know individuals from throughout the business as they help you learn the ropes.” The initial reaction has been encouraging.”
- Supervise the managers
“We immediately recognized that we needed to provide materials for our managers as well. Because they, too, were not used to remote onboarding of workers,” explains Bellington. “As a consequence, we developed a manager’s manual to ensure that our team leaders knew exactly how to steer their personnel and answer queries during the onboarding process”. That way, the managers establish the tone, and everything flows from there.”
- Make team relationships a priority.
“Making someone feel welcome is critical. You must make a determined effort to do so whether they are starting remotely,” Flores adds. “In my team, we have group meetings every morning in the initial weeks of new employees. We explain what our schedule looks like, what our goals are, and how we plan to achieve them”. Then, once a week, we have some form of the social function to strengthen team bonding, such as costume parties, quizzes, or guess the song.”
- Make sure that everyone is on the same page
“To assist teams to cooperate more successfully, we designed a single playbook,” Bellington says. The Atlassian Team Playbook provides free training and resources to assist teams in communicating, overcoming challenges, and increasing creativity. “Each team member has their own ‘user manual,’ where they can fill out information like ‘how I work,’ ‘what I appreciate,’ ‘things that anger me,’ and so on”. This allows new employees to get to know their coworkers more quickly, even if they are not in the office.
“It’s just like any other relationship,” Bellington continues. “If you want it to grow strong, you must know how to feed, drink, and care for it.” And that’s what we’re going towards in the end.”