Hiring and Onboarding Employees in a Remote First World
Editor’s Note: Stelligent has been a remote-first company since 2013. All of our employees work from home, providing cloud consulting services to the public sector and corporations all over the United States. We love our remote culture, but the arrangement has its challenges. We’re publishing a series of articles to share our insights with everyone who may be facing those challenges for the first time.
Remote hiring and onboarding present different challenges than bringing a candidate into your office. For the foreseeable future, even if you continue to hire people that are near your office, you will still need to be able to hire and on-board them in a predominately remote process. Becoming proficient at this can give your company a significant advantage. Your company can interview candidates without them having to take enough time to make it to your office and back. You can also open the door to hiring people who aren’t near an office.
These are our methods for finding and onboarding the best DevOps automation talent in the market. We hope they help you as you deal with the current pandemic and potentially open the door to a more remote friendly hiring process.
Your existing interviewing process should not have to change much other than conducting them by phone and video conferencing. Hopefully some of your process is already occurring this way with initial phone screens with the HR team and first round interviews. The exceptions would be if you are using antiquated techniques like white boarding irrelevant problems or all day marathon interviews. If you’re doing those, perhaps read these articles about the interviewing process and reconsider if your methods are working for you.
First, don’t let small technical difficulties get in the way of hiring great people. Even for those who regularly do video conferences, things can and do go wrong. A candidate may choose to avoid using their existing employers’ resources to look for a new job. They may experience unexpected problems using their personal computers that aren’t doing video conferences every day. This happened to me during my first-round interview at Mphasis Stelligent.
In a group interview, try and limit the use of chat by the interviewing team. Focus on who is going to ask questions next or if the interview needs to continue further. It is very easy to get a side chat going and have it be noticed by the interviewee. This may create a very negative impression of your company or impact the candidate’s ability to interview well.
Practicing Remote Interviews
The remote interviewing process takes a few tries to get comfortable with. Being in separate locations feels different than having the candidate and interview team in one room. The biggest difference is lacking the visual queues about who is going to ask the next question. One option to help get comfortable is to find friends who are currently looking for a new job. Offer to do a practice interview with them. This is good for both groups as the friend gets a free interview and the interviewing team gets a chance to practice. Both sides can give feedback to the other making it a learning experience for all.
Issuing Hardware to Employees
As Virtual Desktop Infrastructure becomes more common, the need to ship hardware to employees may decrease. Unless you already have made that transition, you will need to ship laptops to new employees.
First, check in with your legal team to address any concerns they have. They should make sure the acceptance offer covers company assets and their return when employment terminates.
Wise Tips Before You Ship
Prior to shipping them a laptop, HR should contact the new employee and:
- Tell them what company assets will be shipped to them and when they will arrive.
- Ensure the address on file is the correct address for shipments
- Check to see if it would be better to use a “Hold for Pickup” option. If there is any risk of package theft, this is a better choice.
- Inform the employee what packaging should be kept for return shipment. All Stelligent employees are told to hold onto the shipping container and the Apple Laptop box. We use them to return the equipment when the lease is up.
- Tell the employee about any policies on applying stickers or other decorations to the laptop. We provide employees free laptop covers that stickers can be applied to.
- If the employee hasn’t worked from home before, provide links to helpful articles about it (like our article, 5 Practical Tips for Making Remote Work Successful).
When you issue a laptop to a new employee, prepare the laptop as you have in the past. Ship it early instead of waiting for them to start. Ideally it would get there 1-2 days before the employee’s first day. This allows them to start day one by turning on their new device. Consult with your HR and Legal department to determine if this is the right time. They may need it to arrive on or after their first day of employment.
New Hires First Day
Every new hire’s first day always starts with a meeting with the HR team. Through the hiring process, you’ve probably communicated multiple times already via email. A few days before the official start date, send the new employee a calendar invitation for their first day orientation. The invite should include a password protected conference. All new employees who are starting that day can be part of the same meeting. This helps them make initial connections.
After HR handles their standard orientation material, they need to add one extra step, distributing initial access tokens. We want to ensure that usernames and passwords never travel via the same method. Once we send the new employee their password, have them change it immediately. An example of this would be to tell employees their usernames on the call. Then send their passwords to their personal email address. Have a representative from the IT department join this part of the call. They should make sure everyone is able to login and change their password. Single Sign On is a huge benefit to your organization at this point since once they have their primary login, they have access to all systems.
It’s time for the new employee to meet with their manager once HR is done. Ideally, they can go straight from the HR meeting to this meeting, but that can’t always happen. If there is a break, the employee can take time to review the employee handbook and remaining new hire paperwork like insurance forms. The manager can also email the new hire links to start reading, perhaps locations of source code, documentation and ticketing systems. This allows the employee to start coming up to speed.
The purpose of the manager meeting is to set initial expectations. The manager can provide tasks for the new employee to start working on. This is a great time to introduce any key people the employee will be working with, too.
The final day one meeting is with the employee’s onboarding mentor. There is a significant section below on the process for mentoring new employees. This first meeting kicks off that process.
In Person Paperwork
One of the biggest challenges we face with each new hire is paperwork. We have to ensure that we complete the government mandated Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9). If it’s been a while since you started a new job, this is the form where you have to produce one or two identification documents. Another person examines the documents and then signs the form attesting to their examination. Companies have 72 hours from the time employment begins to complete this documentation.
A person must physically inspect the documents being provided. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) FAQ on the I-9 specifically calls this out.
Who can Verify Documents
We can hope for that to change given the risk of meeting other people currently. There are currently two options in the I-9 form, “Employers or their authorized representatives”.
- Employers – This isn’t limited to just people in HR. When we have another employee near the one we are hiring, we will see if they can find a way to meet at a coffee shop on the first day. It’s a great opportunity for the new employee to meet a co-worker and the easiest method we’ve found.
- Authorized Representative – When no existing employee is able to meet the new employee due to distance or scheduling, we are left with the option of an “Authorized Representative”. I found a local notary who was willing to complete I-9 paperwork. USCIS has specific guidance for notary’s on their Completing Form I-9 for Remote Hire page including these two key statements (Emphasis mine)
“If the employer hires a notary public, the notary public is acting as an authorized representative of the employer, not as a notary. The notary public must perform the same required actions as an authorized representative. When acting as an authorized representative, the notary public should not provide a notary seal on Form I-9.”
“The notary would need to physically examine the documents the employee presents to establish identity and work authorization and determine whether the documents presented reasonably appear to be genuine and to relate to the individual.”
Using a Notary Public
If you ask a notary to complete the I-9, make sure to be very explicit when you are contacting them. Some notary publics don’t perform I-9 paperwork. Others may want to talk with an HR representative of the company..
The new hire should scan and securely deliver the completed documents to the HR team. Secure upload services can be great for this. Make sure they are properly configured to encrypt the documents. Only employees in the company responsible for tracking I-9 compliance should have access to the files.
Mentoring New Employees
When an employee is remote, helping them get settled in and comfortable needs to be a very intentional act. Once on-site, a new employee might meet people by chance as they move through their day. When employees are all connected virtually, we must design a process that ensures new hires make meaningful connections with other employees. They also need to have someone they know they can talk to when questions come up. This is the first step to creating a vibrant and supportive community of employees within your company.
Your senior engineers are a great place to start creating a pool of available mentors. Mentoring is a skill that all senior engineers should be proficient at. Ideally, your mentors are just above the level of their new trainees, but peer-level relationships work as well. This ensures that they understand the position the mentee has been hired to and provide recent and relevant insight.
For this initial onboarding process, mentors should be separate from the direct manager. This separation provides two key benefits. First, it creates another connection for the new employee. Second, it ensures that the employee immediately has a peer they can feel comfortable discussing topics with more openly than they might with their manager.
It may be tempting to cherry pick mentors based on the specific employee, but this will likely lead to certain employees mentoring more than others because they are “Good at it” (see Technical Leadership and Glue Work by Tanya Reilly for problems this causes). Instead, cycle through your list of all mentors, assigning the next available to the new employee. Do it as soon as a decision to hire someone is made. Their mentor should immediately reach out to the hiring team to find out how they see the candidate fitting in. This also gives the mentor an opportunity to make room in their schedule for the first day meeting.
The On-boarding Mentorship
Every mentorship should have a goal and expiration. The goal of this mentorship is to be the first friend at the company. The expiration is in about 6 weeks.
The mentor should bring the new employee along to meetings they attend. This helps them understand how work gets managed at the company. Mentorship should also include regular check-ins. Initially, those should be on a video call to build the personal connection that is so valuable in mentoring.
For the first week, a daily check helps ensure that the new hire is finding everything they need. For the second and third weeks, have quick calls on Mondays and Thursdays. The mentor should find out what the new hire has been up to and provide any guidance needed. The 4th through 6th week should include a mid-week check in. Expect the employee to be settled into their job by this point. The checks may just occur via Slack or Teams instead of a video call. If there are issues to discuss, hop on a video call.
Adjust for Your Company
This plan is an outline and your company may need a different length for the initial mentorship. The key is to make this a very short-lived mentorship. If there are longer term needs for training (perhaps initial skills development), they should be separate from the onboarding mentor.
Moving Beyond Coronavirus
This article focuses on being a completely remote company. Your company may have a corporate office and staff there who will go back after the pandemic. Some employees may not want to return after trying out working remotely.
A hybrid model may be a great way forward. Some, most, or all positions can be hired remotely or in-office. I would recommend avoiding a situation where teams are all in office except for a single remote person. It’s easy for that single person to feel left out. An easy solution to this is having most team members work remotely 1-2 days a week. 25 to 50 percent of the team will be working remotely at all times. Discussions will be pushed into the team communication channels rapidly rather than springing up at the water cooler.
Having remote workers is even easier once you have your offices back. New employees can come on-site for several days and then begin working remotely after that. This solves the challenges above of providing company equipment, initial documentation, and issuing access tokens.
To hire new employees today, we all must adapt to our new environment. Continue with these lessons we’ve learned over the last number of years and you will provide a better onboarding experience for all of your employees. An experience that you have intentionally designed to ensure everyone starts on a solid path to success.
Featured Image: Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
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