[A Recipe for] Onboarding in the Time of Corona

Written by: Andrija Burlic – Engineering Team Lead on May 11, 2020

The growth of a well-managed company is an evolving process. When incoming projects increase, growth is manifested by hiring new employees. 

Viruses also spread naturally. Due to the evolution of the virus’ genome, it’s ability to survive can often be measured in the number of people infected. 

Evolving, well-managed companies emerged much — much — later than viruses, but it doesn’t mean that these two can’t cross paths. Eventually, when they do cross paths, new, revolutionary forms of growth can take place. 

Viruses and companies can exist and live together, but we can hardly call it symbiosis. Despite their size, viruses are surprisingly hard to neglect. But well-managed companies have developed a way to fight back. Despite popular opinion, companies DO care about their employees! At least, well-managed companies do. With the invention of high-speed internet, well-managed companies have a very strong weapon to deploy against a fast-spreading virus that requires social distancing: work from home (WfH). 

Teamwork, really good teamwork and state-of-the-art teamwork are the three most important ingredients other than know-how skills and a we-can-do-it attitude that make a delicious WfH dish. (Of course, humor is an excellent spice to add — no one says, “Oh, please don’t put humor spice in my WfH dish.”) There is also one critical technique not previously mentioned in any of the old WfH cookbooks — one that I am proposing for a new chapter titled, “Meal Planning for a Pandemic” — which is how to onboard new fantastic members of your state-of-the-art team.

Here are some new directions, but the principles are universal, as always:

  1. First wash your hands with soap and tap water. Remember, the World Health Organization suggests washing hands at least 20 seconds.
  2. Make a “super, optimal plan for onboarding new colleagues.” Be optimistic here, since you do want super, optimal onboarding for your new colleagues. This plan will serve you as a reference point, reminding you how much you are falling short of your optimal plan.
  3. Believe in yourself. Trust that you made the right hire. Because the connection between you and the new hire is more tenuous, it will be easier to second guess yourself. This is true for the new hire as well. But as is the case with anything you cook, you won’t have confirmation that it is good until the dish comes out of the oven. In the meantime, you must have faith in the recipe — and help your new hire have faith as well.
  4. Insist that the first couple of calls with your colleagues be on video, if possible. Face-to-face conversations are essential for a quick glimpse of someone’s soul. Video calls are the best face-to-face method we can get now. Video calls are especially essential if your team is large, because once people start remembering a person’s face, they start considering that someone as a person — not just a first and last name on emails or request tickets.
  5. Do your homework. Learn a small piece of personal information related to the new friends you are onboarding. Note I use the term “friend.” Maybe you feel this is too early, but how else would you describe someone with whom you will spend at least two hours a day, every working day? And this is important, really important in the beginning. If you think you have a tough time battling with corona and isolation and your noisy neighbors, imagine that you are a new member of a “state-of-the-art” team, but you don’t know anybody yet, have to onboard online and battle against corona, isolation and noisy neighbors. Invest all the time you can in your new friends (with good luck you’ll still call each other friends after some years). Also, get other colleagues to help you. Never let a whole day pass without checking in with new colleagues, since even a day without contact might start to feel like loneliness to new employees. I mean, friends.
  6. Give clear tasks that are not too time-consuming at the beginning. Later on, try to push their limits, but not too early. Do detailed task reviews with personalized and encouraging feedback — even if things are not as you wanted. And give them clear tasks!
  7. Always start meetings with small talk, to relax both you and others. Make jokes, try to make people smile, and they will want to join you. During the time of corona, I’ve noticed that the most popular meetings were optional ones because most people are in need of human connection. If you start with small talk, make sure it lasts enough to be efficient but not too long to endanger your onboarding effort. With time, you will master this skill. This “skill” also works in the outside world and is called “conversation.”
  8. From time to time ask people if they need anything. Often this will lead to helpful conversations — you’ll learn if someone really needs help. Sometimes it is just more time, sometimes it can be something much greater. If you are asked for help, deliver it. If someone has trouble with something — whether completing a task or a broken internet connection — give them a hand, even if it doesn’t seem like a significant step forward toward onboarding. It will be a signal of your growing friendship.

All good things come to an end, so our WfH will end, eventually. Bear in mind that, after all this madness and isolation and sourdough starter and videos of penguins touring museums, the day when we all will meet again in the office will come. Do the things that will allow you to walk in proudly — be honest, dedicated and helpful. If you build healthy work relationships online, that’s the best starting point to make long-term friendships. 

Of course, sharing penguin videos can wait for a little while. Your new friends don’t need to know everything about you!

Andrija has been with Seven Bridges for more than 3 years. He is leading a team of five people within the Seven Bridges Quality Assurance department.