The Keys to Onboarding for Distributed Teams

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Onboarding new members into an in-house team can present challenges. But when it comes to onboarding  into a distributed team, the difficulty is turned up a notch.

The statistics sound a clear warning. According to these studies, 90% of newcomers decide whether to leave or to stay within the first six months of joining a company. Another one claims that 23% of newcomers leave before their first anniversary at work. A thought-through onboarding process can help you lead distributed or remote newcomers through the challenging first few months, and increase retention rates.

First meet-up with teams

Technology is still no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Initial, personal meetings are the nuts and bolts of onboarding.

With that in mind, an ideal scenario would have distributed newcomers spending a month or two working as in-house employees. Yet, not all companies have the financial (or legal) capacity to host distributed teams for long periods. Furthermore, not all remote newcomers feel thrilled about being away from their homes and families for an all-too extended amount of time.

In reality, onboarding members of distributed teams usually boils down to short introductory meetups. They are essential, so make sure they are a priority on the schedule of onboarding activities.

When writing this article, I wanted help in understanding what stood out for some of our team members when they joined the team. I caught up with Roman Melnychuk, one of our Front-End developers, and Elena Rolska, our Kyiv office manager.

“My first meet-up with the team was exciting and very out-of-the-box”, remembers Roman Melnychuk, “I was invited to join a quiz in a local pub. But plans changed on our way and we ended up just drinking beer and chatting. At some point, I was chatting and joking with two guys, who seemed to be getting along especially easy with everyone. The next day I found out that they were the Beetroot founders. It was a great experience! I was blended into the team so naturally. Of course, later on I’ve been walked through other onboarding activities, but I think sometimes even one evening without titles and work-talk can help you feel like a part of the team”.

Technology

According to the study by Bamboo HR, 59% of newcomers consider well-functioning equipment to be the most important thing when starting a new job. And it’s easy to see why. A malfunctioning internet connection or broken laptop cam means, in practice, that extended teams are isolated from the rest of the company. And we all know that isolation is the worst way to spend your first day in a new job.

As technological opportunities grow, you should choose gadgets which suit the roles and responsibilities of your extended team. Are they involved in a lot of sales conversations? Make sure they have the best video conferencing tools available. Do they need access to the company’s documentation? Set up a VPN to let them into your internal network.

Use the fruits of tech progress to support an unimpeded dialogue within the team. An important thing to consider here is the regularity of check-ins. For instance, daily Skype calls are vital for some of our developers. Their team is working on the same project and regular updates help them avoid overlapping tasks or other misunderstandings. On the contrary, designers and illustrators are often more independent. Their projects are individual and having a weekly check-in can be enough.

Share a piece of your company

With good reason,you probably won’t hand out company stock to all the newcomers that join your team. In some countries, like Ukraine, equity is often even seen as a negative; there’s an innate scepticism towards some types of intangibles. Giving team members a branded, welcome-on-board present is however always a good idea. The purpose of this is simple—we all love presents and when it comes to onboarding, welcome gifts have a much larger impact. Depending on your creativity, they can visualize brand colors or symbolize a company’s values and goals.

Here at Beetroot, we welcome our new arrivals by giving them slippers, cups, cozy blankets, and t-shirts. First of all, these things are practical and useful. But more importantly, they illustrate and convey core parts of our philosophy—being the home of great teams. Using this newbie starter pack, new employees can put slippers on, cocoon up in their blankets, fill their cups up with coffee and feel right at home.

Talk about company culture and rules

Convey company rules and guidelines to newcomers right off the bat. And we’re not only talking about the official code of conduct. We’re also talking about unwritten rules.

We once had a client who was zeroed in on punctuality. We can’t say for sure, but they might even have turned down Jibo, the Robot if it wasn’t presented on time. Bearing this in mind, we’ve made it our number one priority to get this point across to team members as soon as they come on board.

Another example concerns Swedish companies culture. Swedes are known for being exceptionally polite and tolerant. They appreciate grounded criticism but don’t like to hear a bold “no” in their received response. The thing is, you would never figure this out unless you have previous experience working with Swedish people. They are usually too conflict-averse or outwardly tolerant to let you know. At the end of the day, it’s an HR rep’s job to lead newcomers through the jungle of diverse cultures and ensure that all values are being honored.

Here is what Elena Rolska remembers about her first days at work. “During my onboarding, I heard a lot of talk about Beetroot’s culture. I was told that the company strives to create a home-like atmosphere, to give everyone freedom and personal responsibility and that there was a minimal hierarchy. On my first day at work, I saw it with my own eyes. I remember seeing Swedish books scattered around the office, slippers on feet and under desks, toothbrushes in the bathrooms, colorful wooden things with birthday dates on them… it was so home-ish, so cozy. But if I hadn’t been told about Beetroot’s culture in advance, I would probably have been slightly taken aback. I mean, it’s so unique and unconventional that I definitely needed that brief introduction before seeing it personally.”

Whatever onboarding technique you choose for your extended team members, make sure they are welcomed and properly nurtured during those initial days in the workplace. If you treat them as a distant appendix of your real team, things are going to fall through the cracks. Distributed teams are a natural component of the modern, global business world. Well-planned onboarding contributes to making it one of the most effective models.

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