Onboarding remotely during a pandemic – Pair-blog #4


In case you haven’t read about my pair-blogging idea before, a short summary from the first post:

A while back I asked on Twitter for people who would be up for pair-blogging. The idea was that we agree on a topic and a date and then we each write a post about that topic. We publish on the same date and promote each other’s posts. 

Next up I get to pair with Lisa Crispin who has been a huge inspiration for how I modeled my understanding of testing. Very exciting! Just like me, Lisa has started a new job recently so we both have had experience with onboarding not only remotely but also during a pandemic and we agreed to explore that topic.

Make sure you read Lisa’s post here as well – I truly loved it. It is vulnerable, full of hands-on tips and I just love Lisa’s writing style.

Onboarding remotely during a pandemic

I started a new job February 17th, 2020. It was a very exciting new role that both included a new business area and a new focus. Not only was I taking a side-step away from pure testing focused roles, I was also moving into unknown territory in a type of company I had never worked in before.

My new role included leading a pretty large number of people divided into a number of different more or less permanent teams. The responsibilities of the teams cover multiple brands, multiple tech stacks and a large number of new stakeholders. A lot to learn!

March 11th we instructed everyone to go home and plan for working from home for at least 2 weeks. Those two weeks turned into months and potentially will change how we look at remote working in the long term. I expect this is my new normal and that I will have to expect to do at least some onboarding with new employees remotely.

How my onboarding and start was affected

So, first of all: what about my own onboarding? Well. I would say that has not been affected that much. I got about 3 weeks in the office, which I think was a very big help for me personally. I got the chance to at least get to know some people, and I had the chance to have my first 1:1 with almost all of my reports, face to face. I also learned a bit about other parts of the company and made some alliances.

I tend to prefer written communication for a lot of tasks so having to hunt for information by asking questions on slack suits me well. I have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of channels and different sources of information (slack, intranet, google drive, email…) and I feel there is a lot of practical stuff and process-related stuff that I lack but to be honest – I don’t think that has a direct relation to the transformation to remote, it is something I recognize from being new on the job before.

As a leader however, the pandemic part of this has been a nightmare. The first weeks I spent in flight-or-fight mode. The days flew by with almost constant crisis planning, trying to find and mitigate all possible risk scenarios. What if people suffer mentally and we are not there to see it? Add continuous check-ins. What if schools shut down and people have to take care of kids? Create a number of scenarios and the impact it would have on delivery. Reprioritize. Reprioritize. Reprioritize. Are we informing and communicating enough? Too much? Clearly? The right things? In the right channels? Ask for feedback more. Even more. Follow up more thoroughly. How does the impact of the economy impact us? How do we make sure to protect our employees as much as possible for as long as possible? Which consultants can we get by without? What other costs can we cut? What is the most important thing to do now? How can we increase revenue? It has been draining, exhausting and, weirdly enough – extremely rewarding. I feel like I’ve been forced to level up my leadership skills in a speed that would never have been possible in a ”normal” situation.

In general – a lot of good has come out of it. I’ve had to communicate more clearly, more often, more directly. I’ve had to specifically ask for things I normally read from things like body language. I’ve had to learn to trust what people actually say instead of what my intuition tells me.

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Experiences with onboarding new hires

How about onboarding new people then? Well. I have found it both more difficult and smoother.

The first remote interviews were extremely weird. I do not believe I did very good interviews. It has become easier and I expect it to become natural with time but there are so many things lost when you are not in the same room. I do however think that is not only bad! I think at least two good things will come out of it: First – as we always pair for interviews, we have to learn to sync better. Discuss before what our focus will be, what type of questions we will go for and not least: what are we actually looking for. Same goes for following up our impressions afterwards. Secondly – I honestly think this will force me out of a few of my biases. It might introduce, or increase the impact of, others but I have noticed a slight shift in my attention during interviews.

My very first new hire started a week after me and I can honestly say that onboarding I did not do well at all. Pretty darn crap. I didn’t know half of the stuff I was supposed to do, I hadn’t had time to plan. Thankfully it has turned out well anyway but it was really bad. I do not, however, think it would have been much better in the office.

My second new hire started a few weeks back and I do believe that one has been a lot better. I have been structured, I had a better understanding of what parts were expected in the onboarding and I had set aside more time in my calendar for checking in. I doubt that could have been done better at the office, even if there is always room for improvement!

The effect of the pandemic part of all this

Overall, it seems like my reports are generally doing well. Some miss the office, some would prefer never to go back again. Most are somewhere in-between. We have a lot to learn and improve but we have also done a lot of very fast, efficient and pretty big changes already. I am very positive about the future of this.

As for the pandemic part, that has of course had a lot of impact but not as much as could have been expected. Schools in Sweden didn’t close, but even for the people working with kids, working from home has been more efficient than expected. I believe it helps that we have had a very pragmatic approach to things and trusted people to work as much as they could, when they could. Most seem to have followed the guidelines which means we have not had a large number of people falling ill (Not talking Sweden here, I’m talking in the company). We have encouraged people to exercise and be outside, a lot of walk-and-talks. We increased the ”friskvårdstimme” (time an employee can spend working out during working hours). We made sure to find digital alternatives to the physical gyms. People overall say they are less stressed, have more time for hobbies and family and workout more. Some however feel the complete opposite and those will need more love and attention moving forward.

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We have been impacted by decreased revenue in some areas, but we’ve also seen a large increase in traffic in others. We have found new innovative collaborations. We have made a difference in our society. We have been able to connect companies looking for help with companies that have people without enough work. We have been able to broadcast new jobs in important sectors, such as healthcare. And of course, the blocket brand is based on circular economy. We see our employees being proud of being a part of this. I see good scores on my own leadership as well as leadership within the company.

I have slowly started to de-stress. As they say: The kids are alright.

End note

Thank you so much Lisa for a great topic! It was fun writing this.
If someone is interested in reading more, I have written about my reactions to starting a new job and leading remotely bort in an article on Linkedin and in the Leanpub book ”Software People … Work From Home”.

And again: Lisa’s post can be found here.