Onboarding remotely? Lessons learned from our newest team members

Marlo Oster

Since the global switch to hybrid work, the team at Charma has grown and adjusted to an entirely distributed workplace. We knew that in order to succeed in this new digital environment, we would need to create and maintain virtual onboarding workflows that allowed our team to remain connected even as we expanded. 

Over the last year, our team has almost doubled! We’ve hired 6 new employees over 4 different departments (Engineering, Sales, Customer Success & Marketing). That’s 6 remote onboardings with entirely different functions. As hybrid work models become the new normal for many employees, we decided to round up some tips from the Charma team on onboarding remote employees. 

Anisha, Software Engineer

What about onboarding remotely was the most challenging for you? 

As a recent grad -- having my first serious position start remotely was particularly strange because it was my first workplace in general. It was tricky to create communication/working patterns because I had no in-person experience I could compare it to. Building professional relationships was something already new to me, and having the entire process start remotely meant that I had to be more purposeful with how I communicated with coworkers. The water-cooler conversations were not an option, so I had to purposefully set up one-on-ones or remind myself to check in with people on topics beyond specific task-level conversations. Meeting agendas in my one-on-one workspaces helped provide a basic backbone/structure for a lot of these conversations

📚 Uncover the secret to building rapport in one-on-one meetings

What was something about our culture or an established process that made remote onboarding smooth?

Feeling like I could ping someone to chat about something if I was stuck was so important. The team was so responsive and always willing to jump on ad hoc zoom calls outside of scheduled meetings. Those ad hoc meetings created a sense of cohesion where I felt very connected to coworkers and knew what they were generally up to -- similar to (how I imagine, but never experienced lol) walking up to someone's desk whenever something small comes up. This flexibility helped me acclimate to my coworkers' unique work styles. At the same time, my workspaces with my manager and my other coworkers was a convenient place to drop non-urgent questions that came up throughout the week that I wanted to discuss but wasn’t immediately related to what I was working on at that moment - it took some of the pressure off of having to ping someone and interrupt them. We also had an ongoing lunch roulette each week. It was nice to spend time w/ coworkers in a space dedicated to socializing rather than work stuff

What would your advice be to someone joining a company remotely?

If you’re a software engineer, pair programming! Pair programming is one of the rare coworking activities that's actually more convenient to do remotely than IRL (unless you have 2 monitors/keyboards set up to the same computer in the same room, which I used to do in college when I was new to pair programming). Whether you're working on a new task together or doing a walkthrough of existing code, screen sharing over virtual meetings is actually a great way to onboard into programming teams. While you hope that your team's code is super readable and easy to understand, onboarding onto a whole codebase can be super overwhelming. Pair programming is a great way to take it all in because you have the ability to ground conversations in specific code files and dig around with a coworker walking you through the process. Tackling a new problem during pair programming also helps you get to know others' working styles better and pick up some of their habits like how they set up their screens or use various development and debugging tools. Learning simple stuff like that is a huge accelerant to feeling established and a part of the team.

Marlo Oster, Head of Marketing

What about onboarding remotely was the most challenging for you? 

For me, as the first marketing hire, the most challenging part was figuring out where to start. Coming into the role there is a strong desire to have some quick wins but when you’re building out the foundations of an entire function that takes time. To overcome this, I set mini-goals every week for my first 30 days which were shared across the entire team. At the end of my first 30 days, I created a quarterly plan and roadmap. I was crystal clear about what was a priority and what would come later which I think helped the whole team understand what marketing at Charma would even look like. 

💡 5 strategies for effective Goal management 

What was something about our culture or an established process that made remote onboarding smooth?

Well, Charma is literally building tools to help teams of all shapes and sizes transition to the new normal. The fact that this topic is so ingrained in all of our conversations and decisions puts us at an advantage. When a remote working challenge presented itself not only was it encouraged to talk about it openly but, that would evolve into a “How could our product solve this problem for all our users?”. 

Having said that, Charma is one of the most transparent companies I’ve ever been a part of. Staying connected and aligned remotely is more difficult so, not having to “read between the lines” eliminates stress. Additionally, I really didn’t have a lot of meetings or disruption during my day. This was a huge contrast to what was normal for me. 

What would your advice be to someone joining a company remotely?

My advice would start with the interview process. Make sure the interview is going two-ways. You should also be interviewing potential managers and organizations for cultural fit. Candidates shouldn’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Your happiness in your role is directly related to your performance and ability to make an impact. It’s a big decision so, make sure you feel confident it’s the right one. 

Jessy Preston, Account Executive

What about onboarding remotely was the most challenging for you? 

Onboarding at Charma was actually one of the smoothest onboardings that I have been a part of, and it was entirely remote. I was fortunate to join a team that included a couple of folks I already knew well, which helped quite a bit. The teammates I had not previously worked with were extremely welcoming and showed me the ropes. I joined the company right before a quarterly offsite, so I was able to meet my colleagues in-person early on, and that made all the difference. Oh, and it helps that we are building a product that makes working remotely and asynchronously easy!

📚 Off-sites are the new on-sites! Pick up some tips for planning your team’s next offsite.

What was something about our culture or an established process that made remote onboarding smooth? 

We are a small team, and everyone is very welcoming and friendly, and some of the smartest folks I've worked with. What made onboarding so smooth, and something that truly blew me away, is the level of transparency that everyone gives and receives across the board. We are all on the same page about how we're doing and where we are going, and that makes it easy to ramp in a remote environment quickly. 

What would your advice be to someone joining a company remotely?

First and foremost, trust your leaders and colleagues, and know they will do everything they can to make it a positive experience. And second, ask a lot of questions and dive in headfirst.

JP Baerston, Head of Customer Success

What about onboarding remotely was the most challenging for you? 

For me it was breaking the ice. I thrive when I get to build rapport and make a few nervous jokes when meeting someone. I’ve found it helps both parties build a quick foundation on which to start asking questions and favors - which is pretty much all you do when you’re new. So starting with a fully distributed team and only getting to meeting people in group Zoom meetings presented a challenge for me to find ways to be personable at first. 

What was something about our culture or an established process that made remote onboarding smooth? 

Charma having always been a distributed company, the veterans went out of their way to get to know me by scheduling meetings where the only agenda was to chat outside of an interview setting. Additionally, each teammate shared context and history on subjects preemptively so I wasn’t out of any loops during discussions. Whenever I had a question, the team was quick to reply knowing I was trying to ramp up. 

Another element of Charma culture that helped me onboard remotely is transparency and authenticity of work styles. Each team member had made a “personal user manual” detailing how they like to collaborate, make decisions, do heads-down work, and even when their most productive hours of the day are. I was encouraged to create one of these manuals about myself early on, and I found it beneficial to take accountability for my preferences as well as learn what was behind what I saw in our Zoom meetings.

What would your advice be to someone joining a company remotely?

My advice would be three-fold: 

This may be obvious, but it goes against my own paranoias. The people at your new company (especially anyone your manager introduces you to) are excited to have your role filled. No one begrudges getting to know you or helping you get familiar with the information you need to be successful. So (if you’re like me) don’t worry that you’re “bugging” people; they benefit from your onboarding as much as you do.

With that out of the way, schedule 15-minute introduction meetings with your teammates where the agenda is just to chat as people. I’ve found that calling these “virtual coffees” sets the right expectation, and offering these as walk-n-talks can further put people in the right frame of mind. 

Lastly, I never thought I would like these as much as I do, but after using them I now advocate for “personal users manuals”. 

📚 Learn more about how Charma uses personal user manuals to foster team development. 

Ours include these 5 key sections:

  • My typical daily routine (highlight my most productive working hours)
  • Communication preferences (emails vs chat messages vs meetings)
  • Working Style (e.g., I like active brainstorms vs. I prefer to collect my thoughts before contributing)
  • What you see as your personal and professional strengths
  • Admitting elements of your work style that you’re trying to improve (be honest, you already got the job)
  • An honest example from mine: “I talk too fast - I know it, and I’ve gotten this feedback many times. This is typically when my exuberance or nervousness gets the better of me. Please interrupt to tell me to slow down at any time 🙏 - I won’t be offended, and I’ll ultimately be happier to have taken the breath and communicated better.”

Emerald Nwanne, Growth Marketer

What about onboarding remotely was the most challenging for you? 

I assumed the most challenging part of onboarding remotely would be surfacing information on the tools and technology the team was already using. Most startups have a bundle of tools with their own specific use cases and I expected to have trouble gathering all the information necessary to use those tools effectively. Fortunately, Charma had a shared document with all necessary tools, the use cases for those tools, and who the internal subject matter expert was so you knew where to direct questions. This made it really easy to reach out to the right people when I had questions about a specific workflow.

📚 Actionable strategies for driving team development.

What was something about our culture or an established process that made remote onboarding smooth? 

WorkPattern’s process made remote onboarding much simpler than I expected. I had an onboarding buddy who walked me through the tools she was familiar with and pointed me in the right direction for everything else. I also had the opportunity to schedule individual calls with different departments to understand their processes. This helped me develop relationships with my coworkers and build a mental catalog of who to speak to for whatever workflow I was having trouble with.

What would your advice be to someone joining a company remotely?

My advice to someone joining a company remotely would be to make it a priority to build relationships with your new team members. Charma had a virtual happy hour a few weeks after I joined that helped me get to know my coworkers better. The informal interactions before and after meetings also helped to thaw the virtual ice and made it easier for me to work efficiently. Virtual workplaces are built on shared trust so establishing that trust early on is my biggest piece of advice. 

Pek Mahajan, Lead Product Designer

What about onboarding remotely was the most challenging for you? 

The most challenging part about onboarding remotely was being able to form relationships and get to know my coworkers on a less formal level early on. Things like watercooler conversations and in-person lunch breaks felt a lot less natural when you had to schedule them. This, in turn, made being more outspoken and comfortable take longer than it would’ve if I was onboarding in person. However, having an onboarding buddy early on and scheduling virtual coffees with my teammates helped break the ice. 

📚 Quick tips for breaking the ice & a list of fun virtual team-building activities.

What was something about our culture or an established process that made remote onboarding smooth? 

Having an onboarding buddy was extremely helpful. Mine wasn’t a designer so while I had my manager to help onboard me to my function—my onboarding buddy helped me understand how the team works together and was able to fill in a lot of gaps. 

Also, something I really liked was that the first 5 minutes of every meeting tended to be conversational. It helped me to get to know my coworkers. Also, Charma was pretty great at documenting processes (especially for a startup). 

What would your advice be to someone joining a company remotely?

Make sure you’re invited to all the meetings beforehand and that you know what their purpose is. Spend your first few days gaining access to and getting familiar with all the tools the team uses to get work done. I would also suggest you request an onboarding buddy, that’s something we do with every new hire and it’s really helpful to have someone to go to that isn’t your manager when you have a question and don’t know where to direct it. 

Our working patterns as we continue to expand

While we have been fortunate enough to be able to meet for quarterly offsites, we are a remote team the other 90% of the time. Continuously learning better ways of working and collaborating together has enabled us to build a product that automates best practices & encourages personal connection. If you’re reading this article because you’re about to start a new role remotely, we wish you luck! If you have any questions for our team, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn. We’d be happy to chat!

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