Onboarding is a tough process to do right, both for the new hire and the team. For the new person, it’s not uncommon to feel like you need to play catch up and prove your value early on. For the team, it’s a hit to productivity for everyone, a new person to figure out how to work with, and questions about why the team works the way it does.

Onboarding remotely can expose these issues in a whole new light, especially without the help of “social freebies” to bolster belonging, like bumping into someone on your way to a meeting, noticing a cool knick-knack on a teammate’s desk, or catching a coworker at the lunch table. All of these are social events that give an excuse to break the ice and feel like part of the team in a lightweight way, both for the new hire and the existing employees.

When you work remotely, you only get to see the “office” through a lens, and it is a very narrow view. It isn’t uncommon to have teams only really see or talk to each other during regular team meetings where the focus is on getting work done.This can be isolating for new hires, and make the team feel more like a group of individual contributors rather than a team working to a goal.

With remote work more widespread than ever, onboarding onto a remote team has become ever more important. I’d like to share what my team has learned over the last 6 months of onboarding remote employees effectively and how we’ve addressed common obstacles along the way.

In our engineering organization, we’ve captured our new onboarding experience in 2 documents: our Onboarding Expectations and our Engineer Onboarding Checklist. Between these two documents, you’ll learn to design an onboarding process that is flexible and adaptable: everyone learns differently, or has preferences for how they get started. We use these as a guide to ensure our teams are in the best position to support new hires as they transition into their team or organization.

Onboarding Expectations outline
Engineer Onboarding checklist

Employee onboarding: expectations

Onboarding Expectations lays the groundwork for building two important components of successful remote onboarding: openness in communication and active outreach. Together, they capture some of those missing social freebies on a remote team and make a welcoming environment. I believe these are the most important things you can do for new employees and your current teams, and add little-to-no overhead. Let’s talk about why:

Openness in communication In the office, we simply walk up to the person best suited to answer our questions and ask away. Your team will likely notice and hear some of the conversation, and ultimately feel connected to what is happening. The remote analogue would be sending a private/direct message, which inadvertently hides the communication even if that isn’t the intent, causing a disconnect in what happens around the team. We go to lengths to bring that openness back by relying more on talking in our team channels and tagging who we want to see the messages. It goes a long way to making the team members feel like a unit rather than a group of individuals.

Active outreach. It’s hard to reach out to someone you don’t know while also being in an unfamiliar place. You can think about travelling to a new town and asking for directions. You may not know the customs, language, or anything really, and it can feel like you are asking for a lot. Having a local ask if you need help tells you that they are willing to take the time to help you get accustomed to your new surroundings. It works the same way when joining a new team full of unfamiliar people, or a new company with a whole new company culture to deal with. When the existing members reach out, it removes the stress and anxiety of breaking into a new place, and sends a clear message that they are here and willing to help. Who doesn’t want a guide that is excited to show you around?

See the Onboarding Expectations outline (hint: make a copy to use on your team).

Onboarding engineers: the remote employee checklist

Our second doc, the Engineer Onboarding Checklist, is there to provide direction for new hires during their onboarding experience. We don’t expect anyone to follow it to the letter, but instead use it to inform what they should be asking about or working with their onboarding buddies on. The timelines presented are to give a rough idea of when a new hire should move to the next set of topics, not a deadline to hit. Everyone goes at their own pace, and making sure people onboard effectively isn’t a race.

Read the Engineer Onboarding checklist (hint: make a copy to use on your team).

Creating a good onboarding experience for remote workers

We want to use this post as a way to kickstart a conversation around how we make hiring remotely a more comfortable experience for everyone involved. As such, feel free to use our process as your own, or tailor it to suit your needs. We plan to share how it evolves from our side, and would love to hear from you how we can collectively improve it!

PS: We’re hiring a lot here at CircleCI. If you are interested in helping us improve onboarding, hiring, or just evolving CI/CD in general, check out our careers page.