Speaker 1 00:00:05 Typically when you join a company in person, for those of us who can remember, at least, you're taking through an onboard experience that is carefully crafted, and it's probably been there for a while with the company. From that first moment when you receive your badge, uh, to being walked through the halls where you're shown where everyone is seated. And as you're introduced from desk to desk, you're shaking hands, smiling, waiting. You might even have your first lunch with some teammates, and you're meeting people very organically. And finally, you end your day going home, feeling very special, maybe even taking a few gifts with you.
Speaker 2 00:00:44 Welcome to the Remote Culture Club podcast. On this show, we inspire and equip leaders to build remote culture that works. I'm your host Alex Dunn, and even though I've been leading remote organizations for over 10 years, I'm always learning more. It's really nice to have you here. And without further ado, welcome to the show.
Speaker 3 00:01:10 Imagine your first day at an office job. You show up and get toured around. Maybe you have a coffee, coffee with your line manager. It's easier to get oriented because you're in an actual physical space, <laugh>. Um, but that's not the case when you're in remote. Um, so when someone starts a new job and they onboard, it can be really difficult to get oriented. There is no physical space. There is no desk. There is no desk mate. Um, really what you're doing, um, is orienting in a bunch of digital spaces that, um, aren't necessarily very welcoming or easy to process, um, what you're meant to know and sort of where you're meant to go. It's even harder to pick up on cultural cues, um, and values and this vibe of an organization because you're in this kind of vacuum of remote spaces. And that can be really disorienting.
Speaker 3 00:01:56 It can be demotivating, it can be deflating when you're starting a job, which should be a really exciting time for anybody who is doing work that they care about. So in this episode, we're gonna talk with Dave Chan from Sono and Sono helps new hires have magical onboarding experiences as they describe them. I met Dave, um, uh, a few years ago, um, when he was at Shopify, um, and was just deeply passionate about the onboarding experience for people joining remote organizations. And in this interview we dig deeper into what he thinks that should look like and how you might be able to improve your onboarding process for new hires.
Speaker 4 00:02:39 Um, hi everybody. I am excited today to do a little bit of an experiment and, um, conduct an interview with somebody I'm really excited, um, to talk to about remote onboarding. So we have Dave Chan from Shopify who is really interested in this topic and has a lot of perspective and ideas for improving the experience of new team members when they join your organization, if that onboarding process is happening remotely. I'm gonna ask him, um, a set of questions. We are not doing this synchronously <laugh>, so he's gonna be answering each of those questions separately. So if it feels like there's not a flow here, it's because there isn't, he's reviewing these questions and answering them. So without further ado, I'm gonna ask, uh, Dave to introduce himself. Um, so Dave, as you're watching this <laugh>, if you could tell us a little bit about your background and what makes you so interested in remote onboarding.
Speaker 1 00:03:36 Hi, my name is Dave. I'm a UX manager at Shopify, and Shopify is the first company that I've ever remote onboarded to myself, and it's also also the second company where I've remotely onboarded members of my team, the other company being Adobe, where I've also remotely onboarded someone. Now, my interest in remote onboarding comes from my belief that the beginning of an employee's journey with a company is probably the one that is the most important, uh, throughout all their experiences, uh, at a company. It really sets the tone for what follows, whether it's delivering value to the business, developing a great team culture and chemistry, understanding processes and adjusting to company culture. Interestingly, often what happens is when people leave a company, a common thing that they'll talk about is what their first few weeks were like and how special that feeling was. And as a manager and a designer, getting that experience right is very important to me.
Speaker 4 00:04:43 Okay. So the next question I have for Dave is, why do you think onboarding is so difficult in remote environments? So sort of what makes it different than maybe we traditionally think of onboarding when we think of physical offices and in-person time and work.
Speaker 1 00:05:00 So for me, remote onboarding is so challenging in remote environments because of some obvious reasons we aren't able to connect in ways that we could in real life. Typically, when you join a company in person, for those of us who can remember at least, you're taking through an onboard experience that is carefully crafted and it's probably been there for a while, uh, with the company from that first moment when you receive your badge, uh, to being walked through the halls where you're shown where everyone is seated, and as you're introduced from desk to desk, you're shaking hands, smiling, waving. You might even have your first lunch with some teammates, and you're meeting people very organically. And finally you end your day going home, feeling very special, maybe even taking a few gifts with you. That experience you take with you and it continues on for the next couple weeks until gradually the training wheels are taken off.
Speaker 1 00:05:59 And that's typically how I, how I look at it. And with remote onboards, all of that sort of gets taken away. Um, and it's being delivered to you in, in literally zeros and ones in a very digital binary way. The bonds that you make online are very different from those that you make in real life. Quite literally the the chemistry is, is missing. You know, there, there are studies of, you know, neurotransmitter dopamines being released from physical connections, but when you make them, but I think besides the obvious, remote onboarding is still so new for so many companies and, and not done correctly. It leads to issues like isolation, imposter syndrome, and, and a lack of focus. And as a manager, it's challenging to not know from things like physical, physical cues, how well a new te team member is adapting to a new environment. For example, most experts will agree that 70 to 93% of all communication is nonverbal.
Speaker 4 00:07:08 Okay. And through your time working at Shopify or reflecting on remote organizations, what have you learned about remote onboarding that you'd like to share with folks?
Speaker 1 00:07:20 So what I've learned is experiences can be widely different for, for employees, even on the same team in the same company. It all really is contextual. Uh, and it depends on, you know, who that person, who that individual is, what, what culture they're used to, how they prefer to be onboarded. That's something that I've learned. Um, you may have the same onboard, but, uh, each employee will react differently to people always remember how onboarding makes them feel. This is something that is, uh, a constant, I think, across people that I've onboarded. Even the people that I haven't onboarded. Um, when I speak to them and talk about onboarding, they tend to also remember that employees share that, um, share that onboarding via, you know, social media. Um, and so it's critical to get it right. What I've learned is that, is that they will share that in social and so indirectly it impacts how a company and its culture is perceived. Lastly, you know, I think done right, what I've learned is that a remote onboarding experience done well has an impact on retention. It also has the ability to help employees navigate an org. It helps them build trust more quickly and it helps their ability to contribute, uh, more effectively to an organization immediately.
Speaker 4 00:08:43 And if we were to kind of take those learnings and work backwards, what do you think good remote onboarding looks like?
Speaker 1 00:08:50 Well, I think, uh, from my experience, it has to be well planned, but it has to feel organic. Like that's the tricky part. Like you want it to be planned, you want it to be thoughtful and you want it to be intentional, but it can't feel like a script. It has to feel organic and, and, you know, you have to try your best to bring back some of that in office onboard by. You need to have a good mix of socializing and learning, whether it's independently and as a group, you have to mix those together. And it should be interactive and it needs to be fun because, um, you know, onboarding is a, is a very arduous task. And there there are a lot of things that an employee is thinking about as they onboard. So to make it fun, you know, it sounds like a small thing, but I think it really does, um, make the onboard just a tad more engaging.
Speaker 1 00:09:43 And, you know, even consider gamifying it. Uh, I think that's another way to sort of make it more interactive and, and get employees to go through the onboard, but enjoy the process of going through it. What else does good look like? Well, I don't think it should be condensed into too many hours if possible. Be, be thoughtful about the employee and, and what their day and schedule might be like. Uh, you shouldn't try to cram too much, uh, information within, uh, the first few weeks. Try to spread it out and, um, you know, really try to invest time into it for the employee. Managers should be checking in often, if not personally, at least through peers, to know how your, your new team member is, uh, fitting into the, the new team, getting a sense of the culture and how their onboard is going and whether there are any blockers in that onboard, any questions they may have.
Speaker 1 00:10:40 Um, not everyone is, uh, as vocal when they have questions about the onboard consider a buddy system. I think buddy systems are really helpful. I think it's a way to learn about the company in a very organic way. Sort of like, you know, when when you are, when you're in the office, it's your first day, uh, and you meet someone in the cafe, you might ask them just casually, you know, how, how, how are things? How do things work at this company? As you tell them about your first day, they'll share what their first day looks like and, and maybe you'll find ways to navigate the company in a, in a very organic way that you might not even have thought of as a manager. And buddy systems are always also a good way for, uh, employ new employees to, you know, find new friends, find new, um, partners who can support them in ways that, uh, feel more, uh, like, you know, less employee manager related and more just as a, as a, as a peer.
Speaker 1 00:11:35 The last thing that I, what I think looks like what a good onboarding looks like would be to have good documentation, but be not overwhelm overwhelming. I think, uh, there's a tendency to document a lot when you're asynchronous, uh, asynchronously onboarding someone, you wanna list everything out. I think, I think it's okay to list everything out, but just be conscious of like how long that document needs and you might want to consider breaking those documents up and, and, and giving that to the, uh, new hire, uh, progressively as they go through each part of the onboard. It is very, uh, overwhelming if you give everything in, in, in one doc because you also have to consider what other documents the employee is onboarding onto, not simply your own document. You know, there's, there's company policy, there are HR documents, there might be engineering product, uh, documents they're reading through. So just be mindful of that.
Speaker 4 00:12:31 And then kind of thinking about people that might want to improve their remote onboarding processes and sort of how they approach it. What mindset shifts do you think people need to have about, um, remote onboarding and how to make it a, a strong part of your organizational culture?
Speaker 1 00:12:47 So I think we need to get away from thinking about onboarding as a one and done type activity where, you know, you get through it and, and you don't have to think about it again. I think the future of onboarding remotely is an onboard that is continuous, that is sort of goes along with the employee as they go through their first few months. Even, even for through their first year. Remote onboarding can be isolating. So I think we need to also get that part right and find ways to connect on a human level. And sometimes that means a longer, more intentional onboarding. And so that's what I mean about going back to the onboarding as not a checklist item, but something that is, uh, continuous, um, and, and, and kind of like goes with the employee as they complete their first year. I also think we need to think about re onboarding as a process and, and how working from a dynamic environment such as a home changes the equation, uh, of onboard where, you know, the office used to be a constant, you know, place where someone would work and you know, you've gotta think about, you know, now that the employee's working from home or maybe a home office or it could be a WeWork.
Speaker 1 00:14:07 Um, that environment is very dynamic. And so how do you, how do you onboard someone in that environment? Um, and you know, thinking about, uh, uh, someone that has personal needs at home, such as a child, maybe a pet, um, maybe they're living with their parents. So you know, you no longer has an, you no longer have employees that are, uh, in the office that have fully dedicated attention to an onboard, um, when they were, you know, in headquarters. Now they're at home. So how do you make this onboarding as flexible and as dynamic as possible?
Speaker 4 00:14:46 And then any parting thoughts that folks should think about when they're designing onboarding processes or any questions that you are left with, um, when reflecting on this topic that I'm sure you'll continue sort of engage with and, uh, and work on?
Speaker 1 00:15:00 So I have a couple tips here. One, I would say define for new hires what their first project will be about. New employees typically feel lost or they suffer from imposter syndrome when they first start. So to combat this, try to find some low hanging, uh, fruits like projects and help them ship it because nothing beats learning by doing. And in addition, it's a great way to feel connected by working on something together with the team. So this will significantly boost their confidence. It'll just help them figure out how to work with their team and help them, uh, ask the right questions if they have any. Um, in terms of like shipping our projects, the next thing that I would consider is maybe provide them a list of Slack channels. If your company uses Slack, you know, list a few channels that your team members should go to, uh, and join to get context quickly.
Speaker 1 00:16:01 You might not want to give them too many channels, but at least give them the critical ones so that they can start orienting themselves at the new, at the new job and new company. There's no need to overwhelm them at this point. I think a few channels just to start is sufficient because, you know, naturally they're gonna be added to the right channels through those connections they make, whether it's through the project or through, uh, new teammates, uh, that they meet or through the one-on-ones. So just focus on, focus on the core ones that will help them get through the onboard and achieve the goals for the onboard. The next advice I would give is to give new hires a brief summary of the team they're on, what the project is about, and include links to documentation such as diagrams or structure and product roadmap.
Speaker 1 00:16:50 I know this seems like an obvious one, but you'd be surprised how many onboards uh, how many people onboard with without these. This is really important. If there's anything out of the other things that I've asked, uh, I've, you know, uh, mentioned, this is probably the most important one. Try to keep this document, uh, as concise and as possible and keep it at a, at a high, at a high level. New employees or new hires shouldn't be overwhelmed, but they like a sense of direction. And so if you give them a brief summary of the team they're on, um, and, and, and an idea of what the project's about, it'll help them quickly orient themselves. Um, and it's give them a few links to look at so they, uh, can see what the project is all about and include some diagrams too. I would also suggest using new metaphors, it's a great way to help new hires draw mental models. The new hires typically create direction in their first month at a company and, and helping them set direction in the early days ensures that they feel confident in understanding what, what your priorities are and what their priorities should be as well. Projects, preferably smaller, like I said before, are a good way to help new hires settle into their new roles and, um, start exploring the problem space, uh, and getting a sense of, you know, the context through an assignment.
Speaker 4 00:18:10 Great. Okay. So thanks to Dave for taking time to answer these questions. Um, I am, even though I'm not actually, uh, seeing the answers as I ask these questions, I'm really confident that we're gonna, um, we will have seen really interesting responses and have gotten some good, um, bang for buck in terms of time spent with Dave. Um, if you have any questions you wanna ask Dave directly about your onboarding experiences that you're designing in your organizations or any other general questions about remote onboarding, feel free to drop them in the space and comments below. Um, otherwise, thanks so much for listening and, um, see you soon.