Over the past few months, the world has been grappling with a pandemic which has unfortunately led to layoffs by some organizations and has resulted in others finding alternate ways to augment their team distribution, hiring, and onboarding. Both situations are challenging, logistically and emotionally.
At Backblaze, we feel incredibly fortunate that we’ve been able to continue employing our full staff and add some talented new employees to our roster. Thankfully, we’ve remotely onboarded employees in the past, which gives us a solid foundation to build out a process that can support a fully-distributed model.
We expect that there are a lot of companies out there who have never dealt with remote employees or onboarding before, but now have no other choice. With that in mind, we wanted to take a moment to share our experience with virtual onboarding processes to help those of you who now need to pivot in that direction.
Our Human Resources Generalist, Vanna Ngo, manages the onboarding processes at Backblaze and is a great resource to managers who may need ideas or advice. When someone accepts an offer to work with us, Vanna sends them a welcome email along with a “Getting to Know You” form that asks our new co-workers for some interesting facts. These range from their favorite foods and “Star”-related entertainment (like Wars, or Trek?), to their T-shirt size (so that we can give them swag when they come to the office, or ship it to them), and their favorite pastimes. Our Office Administrator, Judith Pimentel, uses this questionnaire to develop a personalized welcoming package of merchandise and goodies to help the new hire feel like a part of the team from day one.
Managers are informed of all required training and they build weekly plans for the new hire accordingly. The manager also determines an onboarding buddy, who is a resource for the new hire throughout the onboarding process and beyond. The buddy is chosen based on their role and their interest. They’re there for the new hire whether they have questions, need help with a project, or simply just want to have a casual conversation.
During the employee’s first weeks, managers are especially mindful of creating early social ties between new hires and a broad array of the Backblaze team. Normally, new hires have coffee with a few staffers from other teams. During our time working remotely, however, managers have vastly expanded this program by setting up a large number of virtual meet-and-greets. In addition, Vanna does 1:1 Slack calls with herself and the new hire for a few minutes during the first week or so of the new employee’s onboarding, simply to ensure they’re doing okay.
Tips and Tricks
Here’s some advice that we have compiled during our remote onboarding journey. We hope that your HR and IT departments will be able to carry them into your company’s onboarding processes.
- 1. Welcome and introduce the new hire in an email and/or Slack channel. At Backblaze, when we have a new hire, the hiring manager emails the entire company and welcomes the new employee by describing who they are and how they will use their professional background to help at Backblaze. We also have Slack channels like #social and #virtualwatercooler where employees send welcome messages. These initiatives can help new hires feel more included.
- 2. Turn on your video when doing an onboarding call. This is a best practice for any remote meeting, but especially true when onboarding a new hire. You want to reassure them that they still have co-workers even if they may not be sitting right next to them.
- 3. If you are using Google Hangouts, take advantage of the presentation feature. This tool allows you to share your screen with the new hire, which can make training sessions a bit easier.
- 4. Develop booklets to go along with virtual training sessions. At Backblaze, we created booklets and pre-recorded videos for our expense report training with accounting, security training with IT, and time card training with payroll. New hires can reference these booklets later, in the absence of being able to incidentally ask other staffers for help.
- 5. Install necessary applications on the new hire’s computer before handing it off. Our IT department does this either by using system images or manually installing relevant software and configuration files. They also set up the new hire’s accounts with temporary passwords, so the employee can change their password later. This ensures that IT never knows the individual’s password.
- 6. Implement and teach new hires about best security practices. Every computer that is given to our new hires uses Full Disk Encryption. Our IT team helps the new employee set up an account with a password manager so that they only have to remember one strong password rather than multiple vulnerable passwords. IT also teaches the new hire best security practices and they cover topics such as creating secure passwords, using a VPN, and keeping private information out of view during a video call.
One initial roadblock to virtual onboarding during the COVID-19 epidemic was getting equipment shipped to new hires. Laptops were out of stock from our normal supplier, but our IT department worked quickly to procure a stock from elsewhere. If you have a certain hiring target, you may want to consider buying some amount of buffer stock even before new hires come on board. We likely haven’t seen the end of supply-chain disruptions for laptop manufacturing, which means out-of-stock situations could be a problem again.
Simran Kaur, our recently hired product manager—who began her role here after Backblaze had shifted to a primarily work-from-home status during the COVID crisis—explained, “I got my laptop, keyboard, and an extra monitor a day or two before my start date. I had everything I needed before I even started working.” Our IT department planfully pulled together instructions so that new hires could easily assemble their work stations on arrival.
Simran’s experience of receiving everything she needed in a timely way is our ideal. But because we expect supplies of different work-from-home essentials to be constrained, Vanna has started asking new hires regarding what equipment they already have on hand. With this approach, we’re able to not only control our supply, but also accommodate limited spacing in employee’s homes. Some new hires already have a workstation at home, so sending them more equipment will only take up their space.
When onboarding employees remotely, it’s crucial that they have the backup tools they need. We set up each employee with a Backblaze Business Backup account on their laptop so that they can access their files from any location. The Business Backup product also allows for both IT-side and physical restores as well as groups-level file sharing. If you are interested in learning more about the advantages of implementing Backblaze Business Backup into your remote workflow, please read our blog post here.
Once an employee is effectively onboarded and their workstation is ready for daily use, the most important aspect of their orientation begins: ensuring that they’re able to be productive. To help with this, hiring managers create schedules for their new hires prior to their start date. This way, new hires know exactly what they need to do and when they need to do it each day.
Backblaze’s benefits package also includes an equipment stipend which employees can use on anything that would improve their productivity, whether in the office (eventually), or now at home. This includes home office furniture, an extra monitor, or any other tools that may help productivity.
Backblaze offers this perk because we understand that each employee has unique needs for doing their best work: for some it’s noise cancelling headphones, for others it’s a smartwatch to keep them active during the day. We strongly recommend providing your employees with some flexibility in customizing their workspace—especially as they work to make a place (their home) into something it likely wasn’t intended to be (their office).
Advice From One New Hire to Another
On the flip side, there are some things that new hires themselves can do to improve their remote onboarding experience. Shannon Gerard, our new director of Marketing Operations, has worked remotely for the past five years. Her first piece of advice for new hires is to upgrade your internet connection. In an effort to assist with internet costs and upgrades, Backblaze has given employees (who were not remote prior to the shelter-in-place) a monthly stipend/allowance to cover that cost. Shannon said, “When it comes to your internet connection, you need to have a backup plan of some sort, whether that’s connecting to your mobile hotspot or just dialing into the call using your phone. You also need to be prepared to execute your plan quickly because there’s nothing worse than getting kicked off a meeting and taking a while to get back in.”
She also recommends scheduling brief meet-and-greets with people who you may not be formally meeting as part of your onboarding. “It doesn’t have to be anything super formal,” she explained. “Just a quick introduction so that you can actually meet the person before you start working with them.”
Whether or not someone is a new hire, working remotely can take a toll on their social life. It can also be difficult to share the company culture with the new hire. To solve this challenge, Judith created various virtual social events throughout the week.
We suggest you create similar events that can help your employees socialize with their work friends and help new hires get a sense of the company culture. We have listed a few of the events that Judith initiated below. Feel free to use them as inspiration for your own virtual social events!
- We start off every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with “Brewtiful Mornings,” where employees gather on Google Hangouts to socialize over a cup of coffee or tea. During these 15-minute sessions (but they always go long), employees talk about everything from their coffee mugs to current events.
- On Monday afternoon, we have an all-hands meeting where managers introduce their new hires to the rest of the company. We also have virtual yoga and meditation on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, where employees can bond with their co-workers while resting their mind for a few moments. On Wednesday afternoon, employees enjoy a virtual lunch break together.
- To end the week, we have a virtual happy hour on Friday evening. This is another chance for new hires to introduce themselves and to get to know their peers. Simran said that though these social events were virtual, she was still able to learn everything she needed to know about the Backblaze culture by participating.
New Practices for On-site Onboarding
Remote onboarding may be a challenge, but there are some aspects of it that you can transfer to your onsite onboarding processes. We highly recommend you keep video training materials and have new hires watch them as part of their onboarding process even when everyone is back in the office. Training videos are more time efficient because the IT department will no longer have to conduct a training for every new hire.
Another practice that can be carried into onsite onboarding processes is virtual meet-and-greets. This is especially useful if you have employees who work remotely full-time even when there is not a pandemic happening. Traditionally, new hires only meet those who work onsite and they don’t get a chance to meet remote employees or get much face time with them. Virtual meet-and-greets can help your new employees connect with your full-time remote staff. They can also help remote staff feel like they are still in the loop even if they may not be physically in the office.
We’re Still Hiring!
The pandemic is not something we can control, but what we can adjust is how we respond to it. By being proactive and thinking outside of the box, we were able to pivot to a fully remote onboarding experience for our new hires. We hope some of the tips above are helpful for other organizations in the same boat.
If you are currently seeking a new role, we are hiring at Backblaze. All of our interviews are being done virtually for the time being, but we are still committed to hiring and expanding our team. If you are interested in working with us, please feel free to apply through our Career Center or send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org! We look forward to hearing from you.