These Companies Have Perfected Remote Onboarding

Companies that have continued to hire throughout the pandemic relay the results of the great remote onboarding experiment of 2020-2021.
Quinten Dol
April 16, 2021
Updated: April 19, 2021
Quinten Dol
April 16, 2021
Updated: April 19, 2021

For human resources and people team leaders, the pandemic has been a once-in-a-century stress test. Building remote culture, running productive virtual meetings and maintaining the personal connection we all miss from the physical office have all been discussed at length over the last year. 

At the same time, some businesses have continued to hire, posing yet another challenge for people leaders: How do you onboard someone who has never met a single one of their colleagues in person, and likely won’t for at least a few more months? 

As the American economic recovery begins to kick in, Built In checked in with companies that have thrived throughout the pandemic — including a sales enablement company, a tech consultancy and a remote events platform — about the lessons they’ve learned about virtually onboarding new employees. Some, like fintech company Happy Money, have done so well over the last 12 months that they’ve decided to stay remote even after social distancing requirements ease. 

 

Lisa Hennessey, Chief People Officer at Happy Money

happy money chief people officer
Happy Money

The company: Los Angeles fintech company Happy Money helps users pay off credit card debt and figure out their finances using behavioral psychology and gamification. Though Chief People Officer Lisa Hennessey has had a multifaceted career in the people management space — she previously led HR teams at Amazon — the pandemic posed a unique challenge for a company centered around a physical headquarters. In response, Hennessey said Happy Money revamped its onboarding process, sending out welcome packages and interspersing Zoom trainings with introductory sessions and team-building events. 

 

What are your “golden rules” for remotely onboarding new colleagues? 

Our learning experience team has done an amazing job forming an onboarding experience that is built around connection. They’re focusing on exposing new team members to as many people as possible to give them a representation of people all over the company and being as interactive as possible through breakout rooms, Zoom annotations, videos and activities. They’re also focused on making new hires feel like a party is coming to their house with personal welcome videos, a “party in a box” welcome package at their doorstep and a team lunch. We want them to feel like their team has been eagerly waiting for them to join — which they have. 

Another focus for us is helping new hires get a taste of our culture through workshops focused on our values as well as our DEI pillars. We want to get talent talking about cultural topics that are important to them and to us as an organization. Creating safe spaces for people to have these conversations is critical — especially in a remote environment where there is less opportunity to simply observe leadership or DEI strategies in action. To that end, we have really doubled down on creating experiences that people can touch, see, taste and smell. We’re engaging all the senses with events like REVEL — our weeklong celebration of cultural diversity during which we hosted roundtable discussions and invited talent to showcase their cultural pride with workshops, cooking demonstrations and more. 

 

With the belief that distributed work would continue to be a competitive advantage and a boon for our people, we made the decision to shift to a distributed-first company.”

 

How has your company culture changed since the start of remote work? 

I think it’s important to share that I didn’t have any initial expectations of how our culture would change — good or bad — when we went remote in March 2020. It was probably part adrenaline from a quick pivot due to the pandemic and part energy from the idea of having to do things differently. However, over the course of several months, we found that we were actually thriving in a distributed environment — and we recognized that a remote workforce offered significant strategic benefits for Happy Money and our talent. With the belief that distributed work would continue to be a competitive advantage and a boon for our people, we made the decision to shift to a distributed-first company. As an executive leadership team, we aligned on a set of beliefs that guide our approach to remote work as we continue to learn and adapt.

Overall, I think our culture has continued to get better and more engaging. We increased our communication companywide and now have weekly notes from our CEO, ongoing conversations on Slack and, as of last month, a brand-new virtual HQ where our talent can connect, learn and engage every day. As a result, our teams feel more connected to the business, to leadership and to each other. We have opened a dialogue around challenging and important topics including mental health, diversity and how to rally each other to get through this pandemic together. I’m excited to see how we continue to evolve.

 

The Results Are In:50 Best Remote-First Companies to Work for in 2021

 

Jonathan Killeen, Head of Remote at Hopin

jonathan killeen hopin head of remote
Hopin

The company: Hopin has fielded unprecedented demand for its remote events platform over the last year, fueling its growth from six employees 12 months ago to a workforce of around 400 today. To support this growth, the remote-only company built Hopin Academy, an internal onboarding initiative that includes an on-demand version for employees to view video presentations at their own pace. The company’s Ireland-based Head of Remote Jonathan Killeen explained that Hopin will always be remote-first, so the lessons it has learned over the last year will continue to apply beyond the pandemic. 

 

What are your “golden rules” for remotely onboarding new colleagues?

Hopin has been on a journey over the last year — we like to bring the hype and celebrate our story. We take time to explain our history, where we’re going and outline our mission. It’s also important to cover our values and ensure that our employees understand how and why we operate the way we do. In a remote world, we have to be even more intentional about cultivating our culture than we would in a physical environment, as we can’t rely on things like ping pong tables and free lunches to make people feel excited to be there.

We have purposely designed Hopin Academy on our platform and run it as a week-long event — right from day one, we live and breathe our product. This has an added bonus in that it ensures our employees can all better understand the needs of the client. The platform functionality offers us great variety to cover our content: we host live presentations, network, build context on how we operate through self-led and pre-recorded team videos, run product demos and tests, play games and, overall, create a great event space for our new hires to roam.

 

We onboard people from every corner of the world but manage to achieve the same great experience no matter where you are, which is special and something we’re proud of.”

 

What lessons did you learn from remotely onboarding new hires over the last 12 months, and how will they inform your approach going forward?

Hopin is a remote-first forever company so, for us, building a thriving remote culture isn’t a temporary goal or an interim solution. We onboard people from every corner of the world but manage to achieve the same great experience no matter where you are, which is special and something we’re proud of. We’re never going to run in-person onboarding, so we’ll continue to invest in Hopin Academy as we believe getting our employees off to a positive start is integral to the success of our company as we scale.

 

Jennifer Palecki, Vice President of People at Highspot

highspot
Highspot

The company: Seattle-based sales enablement company Highspot has continued to grow throughout the pandemic, bringing in a $200 million round of funding this past February. To build the company’s culture as its headcount grows, Palecki said it has been important to weave in chances for team members to get to know one another across roles and functions. “Embrace opportunities to spotlight the nuances of company culture, from business rhythms to fun traditions,” she said. “During sessions, bring in unique voices and perspectives and allow time for questions, discussion and engagement.” Highspot backs this culture-forward approach by investing heavily in its people: Palecki said the company’s onboarding process takes four weeks in total.

 

What are your “golden rules” for remotely onboarding new colleagues? 

While many companies may be eager to get their new employees up and running on the job as fast as possible, we believe in investing in people for the long term. This means setting them up for success from the very beginning, helping them reach a deep understanding of the company and its mission — and at Highspot, this comes to life in the form of GROW, our four-week, comprehensive onboarding program, delivered via our own sales enablement platform.

Being a “learn it all” is core to our culture, which is one reason why we’ve chosen to invest heavily in onboarding. Four weeks of pure ramp-up time is unique, but we feel that giving our employees a 360-degree view of the company, product, industry and customers benefits our people and our business. Through the onboarding process, the team gathers regular feedback on what’s working and what's not and then uses that feedback to iterate and improve on a constant basis. This makes for a dynamic, ever-evolving program that continually works to meet employee needs. 

Another unique and beneficial aspect of GROW is the cross-company involvement. Our CEO Robert Wahbe and leaders across functions give presentations on various topics. Not only does this provide valuable content from the sources themselves but it helps build connections and establish collaboration across roles and levels. 

 

The more we can prioritize our initiatives and programs — from onboarding curriculum to employee wellness — to care for the entire person, the more successful our people and our company will be.”

 

What lessons did you learn from remotely onboarding new hires over the last 12 months, and how will they inform your approach going forward? 

The last year brought about a shift in how companies view their workforce — it’s no longer a question of “how do we support our people as employees,” but rather “how do we support our employees as whole individuals.” In terms of onboarding, this means finding ways to help your new employees feel welcomed, equipped to excel and supported inside and outside the virtual office. The more we can prioritize our initiatives and programs — from onboarding curriculum to employee wellness — to care for the entire person, the more successful our people and our company will be.

 

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Stephanie Lyons, Recruiting Manager at SPR

spr stephanie lyons recruiting manager
SPR

The company: Tech consultancy SPR helps guide clients in auto manufacturing, medical devices, e-commerce and other industries through tech modernization projects. Founded in the 1970s, the company went private again back in 2002 and remains a fixture on the Chicago tech scene. As an organization that traditionally works in its office, SPR has developed a more intentional onboarding process to make sure new hires are getting the kind of face time with peers that they would normally get in person. 

 

What was the biggest unforeseen challenge your team encountered when remotely onboarding new hires, and how did you handle it?

One of the biggest challenges was incorporating new employees into our company culture, and helping them acclimate and introducing them to their colleagues in a personalized way. We weren’t able to give them the face-to-face interactions and introductions to their colleagues throughout the organization. So instead, we incorporated more written communication and prepared a virtual onboarding process. We implemented a virtual lunch with the new hire, their manager and some of the teammates. In addition, we started announcing new hires before their first day and sent out a companywide email about them personally and professionally, to welcome them to the company. We have focused on creating a sense of belonging. On their first day during a virtual onboarding, we designate time to speak about our company messaging, our benefits, overview of employee experience, our clientele and an overall breakdown of the company organization.

 

Conversations that were happening one or two times a year pre-COVID are now happening on a much more consistent basis.”

 

How has your company culture changed since the start of remote work?

We act with intention. It starts with paying attention to the small details to provide a more personalized experience. We make sure to go out of our way to message someone via Teams and schedule virtual social hours and events. We also implemented one-on-one employee and manager check-ins on a frequent basis to connect regarding their project work, current and future goals, their well-being and to assist with any training and support that they need. Conversations that were happening one or two times a year pre-COVID are now happening on a much more consistent basis.

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