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The supernatural challenges of onboarding remotely

Joining a new company during lockdown is no easy feat. It can sometimes feel like you're working with a bunch of ghosts, minus all the booing. As we grow and take on more people we're trying to be realistic about the challenges faced through onboarding from home, to learn more and continue improving for the new model of work we're adjusting to.

Growth is a big focus for us, especially at the moment as we’re sustainably accommodating lots of new joiners. But, we’re aware that now is kind of a strange time to join a company. Onboarding remotely is very hard! So, we thought we’d give an honest take on how our joiners have experienced onboarding SamKnows from home, and how we’re constantly working to make the process as efficient and stress-free as possible.

I’m Kiran, a copywriter/content creator. In February this year, I joined SamKnows. As it was 11 months into lockdown at this point, operating remotely was not new to me, but it was my first time onboarding a totally new company full-time, remotely. The best way I can describe onboarding from home is… it was like working with a bunch of elusive nerdy ninjas. (I mean that with love.)

From studying Linguistics at university I learned that immersion is the best way to learn a new language. Starting a new job in tech feels a lot like learning a new language. And, as you can imagine, joining remotely means it’s impossible to be immersed. The immersion was compartmentalized to half hour meetings that usually ended before I could digest and ask questions about some pretty complex information, not by anyone’s fault - they were already very busy and learning takes time!

I know that if I were in a filled office from the start, I’d be picking up things all the time, popping into meetings, finding it easier to ask questions impromptu. It’s impossible to do a vibe check beforehand if you feel the need to ask someone a question spontaneously. If they’re busy and closed off to distractions or if they’re free and open to having a chat, it’s hard to know.

Joining a company remotely is like having your home office suddenly become happily haunted (from the restricted hours of 9 to 6), and before you know it, you’re accompanied by lots of friendly, hard-working, and well-informed ghosts. You know they’re there, but you can’t see them or talk to them most of the time. Unless they choose to make an appearance - in the form of a Google Calendar invite. I’m telling you, they’re very polite ghosts with considerate forethought.

Maybe one day a few developer ghosts will schedule a meeting with you, you’ll get to see them, interact with them, and realize that they’re real. Then, they might mention another mysterious UX researcher spirit, someone who may not appear on a computer screen in your happily haunted office for weeks to come. Until that first chat, they're more of an amorphous concept than a person. Luckily, in the few months I’ve been here, many of these ghosts have become real, and they’re still as friendly as ever. I’ve even seen some in the flesh! And am pleased to find out they are not transparent or phantom-like in any way.

When I first started, I had a lot of issues with my internet. Taking video calls at the same time as my housemate seemed to be too much for my connection to take. While I found it pretty ironic to have poor connection on work calls for a company that specializes in internet performance monitoring, they were also the perfect people to help me wrangle with my connection issues. They sent me a Whitebox and taught me how to use RealSpeed so I could check out my internet performance on my own, plus it was a fantastic first-hand intro for learning about one of SamKnows’ most popular products.

Speaking to a few of the others at SamKnows that onboarded remotely, they felt the lack of socialising was their main struggle. Having a delicate balance between work chat and some social chat is really important day to day, and starting remotely doesn’t naturally accommodate that well. A recently joined UX designer had actually onboarding remotely during the lockdown before and made sure she was better prepared to ask for everything she needed this time around, even using her user research experience to help!

Future tips for onboarding from home:

  • Know the right questions to ask - and don't be afraid to ask them!
  • Switch between video and audio calls, so you’re not always staring at your screen for chats
  • Schedule in your free time in a calendar and feel confident to say no if you’re busy!
  • Write things down, it’s easy to have your memory impaired by having such a constrained space

Comparing our latest joiner’s experience to another who joined mid-2020, we’ve definitely learned a lot about making onboarding for new joiners a lot more smooth. But more importantly, we’re open to learning about more ways we can improve the experience. If you happen to be one of those joiners, we look forward to welcoming you and getting immersed as soon as possible. And maybe one day, if the stars align, celebrating with a ghost party.

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