5 Tips for Onboarding Engineers Remotely
When you’re onboarding new tech team members (especially engineers), there’s often time pressure involved. Technical employees are a high-demand resource. “The faster we can get them producing, the better the results for the company,” says Aaron Gibralter, Director of Engineering at Greenhouse.
At the same time, your technical team members still need time to adapt to company culture and norms and build connections with their coworkers.
When designing onboarding for tech team members, here are five guidelines to keep in mind.
1. Don’t be afraid to delegate onboarding duties
Managers of technical teams tend to spend much of their time in meetings. This means you won’t always be available to help new hires with more time-consuming tasks like setting up their dev environment.
Overcome this challenge by adopting the “it takes a village” mindset when onboarding technical employees. Find other members of your team who can step in to help out with these tasks.
One such person on your team should be your new hire’s designated onboarding buddy. Onboarding buddies — someone who’s not the new hire’s manager who can help answer early questions — are even more important in a remote setting. When assigning buddies, decide what makes the most sense for your company. You might choose someone from a different team or department to help your new hire build cross-departmental connections.
Encourage buddies to check in frequently and schedule several check-ins throughout the first week. Microsoft found that the more a new hire met with their buddy during the first 90 days, the more likely they were to say the buddy helped them quickly become productive in their role.
2. Take a scaffolded approach
Start their first week with a lot of support and gradually give your new hire the chance to get some small wins under their belt.
The Zapier engineering team assigns a small task like a well-scoped GitHub issue or a tiny feature update. “That early win builds confidence and momentum,” says Brian Cooksey, the Platform Engineering Lead at Zapier. “It also sets the precedent for the expectation we have of shipping things.”
3. Introduce tools thoughtfully
Give new hires access to the tools they’ll be using in their roles and the chance to try them out as soon as possible. This is a key part of technical onboarding, according to GitLab. “Using tools, even for very small tasks, builds confidence and helps new employees to feel productive and empowered.”
4. Empower technical employees to answer their own questions
Help your new hires to adapt to asynchronous communication and learn to seek out information on their own. For example, GitLab maintains a detailed online handbook that teaches employees to be self-sufficient and proactive when looking for answers.
Zapier encourages tech employees to ask questions, but also to be intentional about when and where they ask them. “A new person needs confidence to ask a question in a 70-person Slack channel. They also need to know how to filter down all the available communication channels to the ones most relevant for their job.”
It helps to create a process or let your tech team members design their own. One new data scientist at Pinterest described her approach: “My protocol for asking a question: Google it; Search it in Slack history; Search it in our wiki or shared Google drives; if I’m still stumped, I’d ping my onboarding buddy…[I can also] search inside Pinterest’s internal tools.”
5. Broaden your scope beyond tech
Don’t forget to provide the broader context of your company’s business and culture. Make sure your onboarding includes time for new team members to connect with cross-functional teams outside your department so they get a big picture view of your company and current business initiatives.
You’ll also want to consider how to supplement technical know-how with essential soft skills.
Udemy course consumption data indicates four significant soft skills trends.
- Wellness skills like anxiety management and resilience build a healthy foundation. Employees perform better when they take care of their minds and bodies.
- Productivity skills help separate the signal from the noise, which is especially important when dealing with the distractions of working from home.
- Communication skills keep the remote workplace running.
- Leadership skills like decision-making promote organizational strength and agility.
Ensure your engineer onboarding is remote-friendly
Can you effectively onboard engineers in a distributed setting? Absolutely. The companies and tech leaders we’ve mentioned in this post are proof of that.
But this is not something that happens automatically. You must be intentional about creating an effective virtual onboarding experience for tech team members. Get more practical tips for onboarding tech team members remotely in The Definitive Virtual Onboarding Guide for Distributed Teams.