Remote and hybrid work: 4 tips to ease onboarding

Onboarding can be especially challenging in today's remote and hybrid work environments. Consider these tried-and-true tips to foster positivity and engagement
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virtual onboarding tips

Onboarding new team members has been a struggle for many companies that rapidly switched to remote work or hybrid work. As an IT leader, you know that business success depends on having reliable and talented colleagues working together, whether virtually or in person. So how do you overcome the remote onboarding challenge?

Answering this question can be particularly difficult if yours is a "traditional" industry with a baked-in corporate culture. A company that’s been in the financial services industry for 100 years, for instance, is likely to have a tougher time revamping its onboarding processes than, say, a start-up that specializes in cloud services.

That’s not corporate ageism; it’s a trend that's been seen time and time again – and it will, unfortunately, inhibit your ability to onboard talented developers and other technologists with a diversity of backgrounds and experience.

The good news? Any organization, in any industry, can successfully “virtualize” its onboarding practices. In doing so, they invigorate their IT teams and add collaborative, innovative people.

[ Want a primer on hybrid work? Read What is a hybrid work model? Read also: Hybrid work: 4 best practices for fairness. ]

Remote and hybrid work onboarding tips

Our company has been doing this for years, and here I’ll share some of our best practices. The following four lessons have helped us build a team that’s geographically distributed, culturally diverse, and driven to perform.

1. Figure out what makes you attractive

What makes your team different? Perhaps you give developers the autonomy to be creative and think outside their normal work zones. Maybe they’ll get to work on some cool public-facing applications. Will they get to use modern tooling and develop world-class technologies? Contribute to the development of mission-critical applications? Be free to engage in cross-functional scrums?

In short: What makes your team unique when it comes to empowering your fellow developers and making it easier for them to excel?

There are likely plenty of things that make working with your team an attractive proposition. Learn what they are. Even if you’re not a hiring manager, you should be able to sell your organization to a new developer who may have just joined your team.

2. Create 90-day user journeys

As we all know, the first few weeks of any new job can be difficult. You’re meeting new teammates, learning new responsibilities, and simply trying to fit in. That’s even harder in a remote or hybrid work environment where in-person facetime is limited.

It helps to implement a 90-day onboarding plan. We call these "user journeys." Within their first 90 days, we make sure new employees are exposed to as many people in our organization as possible. That includes not only the team members they work with daily but also people outside their immediate circle. The idea is that the more connections a person makes during their first 90 days, the more comfortable they’ll feel reaching out to someone if they have an issue or a question. During those 90 days, the employee receives touchpoints from different team members and managers to help ease them into the process and make them feel welcome.

The more interaction people have with their colleagues, the more they will understand and learn from them, and the more comfortable they will feel collaborating with them on projects.

This practice exemplifies a form of design thinking, where your first order of business is putting your new colleagues first, but it also benefits the organization: The more interaction people have with their colleagues, the more they will understand and learn from them, and the more comfortable they will feel collaborating with them on projects.

3. Commit to internal engagement

Building a culture that’s committed to internal communication and engagement becomes even more important when you’re working in a remote or hybrid environment. Whether your fellow developers are halfway across the world or the next town over, you need to find ways to come together so that everyone’s connected and invested in the work they’re doing.

We’ve set up internal groups in which people in different locations and with unique skill sets can come together virtually to bounce ideas around and learn from each other. The concept is to get people together regularly so they can interact with one another and feel connected with the greater whole.

4. Asynchronous work: Making it work

By their nature, hybrid or remote office environments encourage asynchronous collaboration, as not everyone will be online or in the office at the same time. To make asynchronous workflows more manageable, consider the following tips:

  • Minimize context switching by muting unnecessary communication channels, not feeling the need to respond immediately, and using messaging apps like Slack asynchronously.
  • Set up Slack channels for different languages so people can easily communicate with one another on their own time (this is particularly helpful if you’re working with developers from around the world).
  • Use project management tools, such as Jira, which allow everyone to provide input into projects on their own time. These tools also help reduce Zoom fatigue while giving team members the chance to complete tasks irrespective of their time zones.

Working in a remote or hybrid environment can be challenging for many teams. But these recommendations can help you reap significant benefits. You’ll have a chance to attract, retain, and get the most out of other talented developers and IT managers with unique perspectives and different backgrounds – and that will help everyone succeed.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Pat Sheridan is Co-founder and Managing Partner at Modus Create. He is focused on the intersection of design, technology, and business. He saw the need for a high-end product consulting firm built with open source team design and the concept for Modus was born.