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5 things we’ve learned about remotely onboarding new employees

14 May 2020

It’s your first day at your new job. Clutching a coffee in one hand, you nervously enter the building and wait for your manager at reception. They arrive, show you to your desk and introduce you to your team, and your workday begins.

This is how first days tend to go for the majority of us. And most companies have a plan in place for onboarding new employees under normal circumstances. But for anyone starting a new job since the end of March, and for any company welcoming new employees, the reality has been very different. 

At Octopus we’ve learned that the same principles still apply whether a new person is joining remotely or in the office: we want to make sure every new starter has the knowledge and equipment they need to do their job to the best of their ability, and we want everyone joining Octopus to feel valued, welcomed and at home. 

To help make future remote onboarding the best it could be, we asked our remote new starters to tell us what has had the biggest positive impact on them over the past month. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Technology

Technology has allowed most people at Octopus to carry on doing their jobs with minimal disruption. Any new starters must also be properly equipped with the tech they need to connect with the rest of the company. We’ve been checking in with our newbies ahead of time to see what their set up is. If needed, we’ve posted out laptops, or helped people get set up on their own equipment. And to make sure all the systems are running smoothly, our IT team has a call with every new starter on their first morning.

“The technology has made it really easy for me,” said Dave, who recently started in our IT Ops team. “Having a video link makes you feel like you’re in the room with someone, so calls aren’t too tricky at all.”

Instant messaging (we use Microsoft Teams) is a tech highlight for Stella, who joined our Customer team in April. “You can meet people very quickly using Teams,” she told us. “And it makes you feel connected. As soon as I logged on on my first day, it’s like I was sitting next to someone. I was worried about getting to know some of the more technical parts of my role without having someone to train me in-person, but it wasn’t difficult at all. You can just share your screen for training and it feels like you’re there.” 

2. Communication is key

“We always want new people joining Octopus to feel welcomed and cared for,” explained Kathryn, one of our People team who has been running remote onboarding. “Communication is a big part of this.”

Kathryn recommends managers set up a morning check-in with new starters to explain what they will be working on and make sure they have all the information they need to get started. She also suggests planning a first-week lunch with the entire team so the new member gets to know the people they’ll be working with daily.

After the first day, it’s a case of checking in regularly. “I’ve been speaking to my manager about how I’m getting on very regularly. Everyone around me understands this is a difficult time to start a job, and my team has prepared for that,” said Kewei, a new joiner in our Labs tech team. 

Stella has also benefited from regular interaction with her manager and immediate team. “Having a daily meeting with my team has been really great,” she told us. “Even if we’re all busy during the day, we’ll see each other at least once in the morning. I’ve received lots of emails from people asking to meet with me too, so I’ve gotten to know everyone very quickly.”

3. Make time for non-work chat

When in the office, we don’t spend all of our time talking about work, and often we get to know our colleagues more during non-work chats. But when everyone is working remotely, it’s easy for this casual chat to be lost. 

A great way to combat this is to build some social activities into the calendar. Dave has gone along to weekly quiz nights and breakfasts with his team so far. “There’s no agenda for these ‘meetings’,” said Dave. “You just chat. It’s really helped me to feel included. I’m three weeks in and I already feel like I know loads of people. That’s largely down to the social activities where we can just talk about our weekends or what we watched on TV last night.”

Kathryn echoes the importance of planning social activities. “It’s so important to make sure new starters feel like part of a team, which is much harder when everyone is spread out. Social events are key. We do a lot of social stuff when we’re in the office usually. It’s just been a case of encouraging Octopus people to think of ways to translate things like yoga club, meditation, breakfasts, or quiz night into virtual events.” 

4. Buddy up 

Working remotely lessens the chance of bumping into new people who don’t necessarily work in your team. Aisling, from our People team, thinks this is one of the biggest problems with working from home: “You don’t get to talk to the people who sit a couple of desks over, or say hello to the person who brings the post around. It’s very easy to spend days just seeing the same few faces.”

Pairing new starters up with a buddy from another team can help them get to know more people in the company, quicker and more organically. Plus, it gives newbies an extra point of contact if they have questions or want to chat. 

You could take it one step further and plan company-wide competitions, splitting into smaller groups. Stella has been taking part in an Octopus fitness challenge since she joined, and members of her fitness team come from all over the business. “The fitness challenge has been amazing,” she said. “Not only does it remind me to stay active every day, but it’s helped me meet and get involved with other people from around the company.”

5. Don’t overthink it 

While working remotely is logistically different from working in the office, there’s no need to do anything drastic when it comes to onboarding remote employees. 

“We’ve not really done anything particularly out of the ordinary to cope with remote onboarding. We’ve just adapted what we normally do,” explained Aisling. “We’ve stuck to the same principles, helping new starters settle in, making sure they feel cared for, and ensuring they have all the most important information when they need it. We’re just having to do a lot more things, like our induction training, virtually.” 

Kewei has appreciated the focus on normality during his first month. “I get the impression that people in my team want to stay calm and carry on with work as normal. It’s really helped me find my place quickly.” 

Give it a go

Over the past couple of months, we’ve learned that onboarding new employees while working remotely is not that different from working with new joiners in the office. The same principles apply, it’s just the logistics that are a little different. 

Stella summed up her experience at Octopus so far by encouraging other companies not to be afraid of the challenges of remote onboarding. “With the right tech and people who are willing to help, there’s no reason you can’t start a new job from home. I’d tell businesses who are worried to just give it a go – it can work really well.”

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