What do you do when your growing company needs to continue hiring during a period of historic uncertainty? We had that challenge last year, and it was a big one at first.
When we first transitioned to a fully remote “work from home” (WFH) model, we told our team, “Go home, be safe, we’ll see you in a few weeks.” Little did we know!
Shortly after we went home, we experienced turnover in a few positions. At the same time, our clients were hungry for more projects, so we needed to fill those open positions.
As we filled the open positions, we added additional positions, and our headcount quickly grew. In total, we have onboarded 25 new teammates since March of 2020 – that’s a full third of our current workforce.
Here’s an inside look at what worked for our growth:
Cast your net a little further and a little wider. We have historically recruited from a geographic area within an hour or so from our Amesbury office. When we decided to be open to hiring permanent staff from anywhere in the country, the results were striking: We suddenly had an improved, diverse candidate pool from all over the country. It became faster and easier to zero in on the best fit for our team. One downside of that was increased overhead for state employer registrations and payroll tax and compliance issues. We use one service to manage our payroll and another service to solve a lot of the complexity of the tax and compliance issues at a reasonable cost. It was totally worth the effort because our team is the best it’s ever been
Audit your benefits package to ensure it’s fair to all employees and competitive in the marketplace. Prospective employees are examining this closely, and so should you. In our case, we found that our healthcare offering was not so great for teammates outside of our home state. We worked with our benefits agent to come up with a national plan that delivered a much better overall plan for our entire team wherever they live. The remote people “felt the love” too.
Create a better process for onboarding and stick with it. We made a template in our project management software to ensure that we cover all the items we normally would when onboarding a new hire in person. This includes everything from the elections for payroll, benefits, and retirement accounts to sending computers and other hardware to get folks set up in advance of their start date.
Give the new hires a running start. When someone decides to join your team, that’s a big deal in their lives and yours. They are often eager to dig in, get set up, and learn their way around. We set up email and network accounts, ship out their laptop and some company swag to their home, along with a company handbook and some other job-specific items at least a week ahead of their start date. We also chose to onboard new folks on Tuesdays – it may sound like a small thing, but we’ve found that our hiring managers are more able to focus once they’ve had Monday to get their teams spooled up and running for the week.
Don’t neglect the social aspects of onboarding. New people are eager to make connections with their colleagues and to get a sense of the atmosphere, culture, and norms of your workplace. We have several social elements included in our process, including the assignment of a mentor in their discipline, plus a second contact that acts as senior management’s “Ambassador”. This person is a go-to for all the questions that crop up that are unrelated to a person’s actual job. Our office manager is the third contact, and checks in to ensure that any logistical barricades are overcome, like getting supplies or resources sent out, etc.
Make time to make connections. We use an app on Slack called“Donut”, which randomly pairs people for introductions and ice-breakers across the company. New teammates are also assigned a task to schedule a conversation with senior management, and that’s been positive too.
Have shorter meetings. This benefits everyone, but particularly the folks that don't come into the office. We shortened up the default meeting lengths by 5 minutes in our Google Calendar to 25 and 50 minutes. This allows for some time for humanity in between meetings. It also creates a little wedge of time for the valuable “stand-up” conversations that often occur at the end of in-person meetings too.
Create and follow “remote first” workstyle policies. Mostly this means that you should ensure that your remote staff can be and just as importantly feel they are on an even footing with those that are “in the room”. We are careful to communicate agendas and findings of our meetings in shared Google docs so everyone has references and can find the resources they need to do their work. Other meeting space upgrades are also in the cards to ensure that video and audio meeting experiences are on par for everyone.
Make space for humanity when you’re online. I make a point out of starting every one of my online meetings with at least a few minutes of “humanity,” the same as I would if I were greeting a colleague or client in person before getting to business. We Easterners have earned a reputation for being in a rush to get down to business, get things done, but my friends and colleagues in the rest of the country have shown me a little more grace when we slow down, share, and listen. We have time to be human in our online interactions, and everything is better for everyone when we take it. Related: If you’re leading a long meeting, offer everyone a 5-minute "bio-break" every hour.
Remember to have some fun. At our best, we’re having some fun in our workplace as we’re kicking butt and getting stuff done. Make some room for fun in the online space too, so the remote employees can make the social connections that bind us together and get us through the rough spots together more easily. We encourage the creation and use of social channels in Slack. Here, those channels run the gamut from music and culture to food and sports and the news of the day. We hosted a few virtual social events each month this winter when our people were the most isolated from each other and their loved ones. We’re even planning a get-together this fall and we hope to bring all of our remote colleagues in for some fun and socialization!
Ask for feedback, and then act on it. We’re in constant communication with our team. Our HR team sends out surveys at 30 and 90 days for new hires that ask a consistent set of questions. The responses are shared with senior management and the HR team. These have led to identifying gaps or shortcomings in our onboarding process that we were able to address and improve. The feedback and overall happiness of our new teammates have steadily improved as a result of this effort, and that has benefited everyone involved. Commit to getting better at this by measuring your outcomes, asking for feedback, and then acting on it.
Looking for more tips on how to improve your remote workforce? Check out these other blog posts: