How to achieve a great remote onboarding experience

Starting a new job is always exciting. You’ve a rough idea on what to expect, you met some of your new colleagues during the application process, but let’s face it: everything is new, everything is exciting, and you can’t wait to get to know everyone at the office. But what happens when a pandemic hits the world and you start your new job from home? Before I started my position as a Scrum Master at ePages, I worried a lot about my remote onboarding. How should I get to know my teams without interacting with them at the office? Will I have a lot of idle times between meetings? It turned out: I could have saved myself the worry and here is why.

Good planning is half the battle

A good onboarding plan is the key to every successful onboarding. However, an onboarding at the office allows you to be more spontaneous. You can ask the colleagues sitting next to you whenever a question comes up and there is always someone around to show you something new. While this happens, you automatically get to know everyone you work with better.

My onboarding was organized by my fellow Scrum Master colleague in Hamburg. After a warm welcome to the Scrum Master team, we started to collect and discuss important topics for my onboarding – via video call. Since we are Scrum Masters, my onboarding was also done in Scrum: We created Jira tickets for each topic and sorted our backlog from the most important to the less important tickets. The question was: What needs to happen, so Elena becomes a fully functioning Scrum Master, since this was our first sprint goal. This approach was a great way to get familiar with each other’s expectations towards the onboarding, while practicing Jira and Scrum at the same time. Going from there we scheduled our onboarding meetings. As one important ticket was “Getting to know your teams” I also booked individual meetings with each of my team members to get to know each other. With two teams – 17 developers and 2 product owners – my weeks were filled pretty fast. I also started attending the meetings of both of my teams from the second day onwards, this included facilitating a retrospective on my second day. Why did I even worry about sitting at home and having nothing to do during my first days, right?

Always stay connected

To keep in touch when working remotely is important to stay connected with your team members – not only during the onboarding but especially then. It’s possible to create an office feeling when working from home. Here is how we managed to do so:

  1. Our Scrum Master team created a remote office space, which is basically an MS Teams link where we can meet up.
  2. We introduced a daily office hour in the mornings where the Scrum Master team meets up, has time to discuss important topics, and shares the first tea or coffee of the day.
  3. Talking face-to-face whenever we can. Of course, we also have a chat system which is frequently used by all our teams, but in the Scrum Master team we got used to mostly video calling. So, whenever we are not participating in other meetings, we meet up in our remote office.

And what can I say? I have not met one of my fellow Scrum Masters in person since I started, but we established a close working relationship in no time. Sometimes we just turn the video call on while working on our topics and I can just ask my question, as I would do while sitting in the office. I prefer to call my dev team members as well, instead of writing. This gives me the chance to get to know them better and see how they are holding up at home themselves. I also introduced remote team lunches and game hours to spend more time together as a team.

Home sweet home?

Having all of this said, I would lie if I said I don’t miss going to the office. Yes, it is possible to have a successful onboarding at home and let’s be honest: Saving yourself an hour every day to go to the office and come back home is also a big plus. But in the end there are disadvantages of a pure home office situation: Even with video calls you miss out on most of the body language during meetings and of course you don’t have these small interactions you would have at the office such as the chat at the coffee machine or eating together during lunch. Therefore, getting to know your teams takes much longer. I have also missed out on the open office culture we used to have at ePages as well as getting to know people from other departments just by sharing the same office space. Therefore, I’m really looking forward to times where our office will be full of ePagees once again and I can spend time with my teams and fellow Scrum Masters in person.

Takeaways for fellow newbies

To sum it up, here is my advice for anyone who is facing a remote onboarding:

  1. Don’t worry too much! Most companies have adapted to the new situation by now and tools for video calls have improved a lot during the past month.
  2. Prefer video calling over typing! Building relationships with people in a remote situation takes longer, so take every chance you get to talk face-to-face.
  3. Communication is everything! Since you are sitting at home, no one sees if you are bored or if you need help. Don’t be afraid to contact your team and ask for help! You will probably find that your co-workers are eager to support you.
  4. Remember that everyone is sitting in the same boat! You might be new to the team, but so are most people to remote working. So, if your internet connection breaks up or you need a little time to adjust to the technical tools, be sure that everyone understands and has probably been there him- or herself during the past months.
  5. You are new to the remote situation in general? Introducing a short walk outside before and after work imitates the way to walk and keeps you from staying indoors all day.

About the author

Elena Schröder is a certified Scrum Master and Business Coach. She is passionate about agile values and principles and uses her coaching skills for the personal development of her teams.