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A Guide For Onboarding Remote Engineers

How do you set up newly hired engineers in your team for success? Start with a great onboarding process.

Research by Glassdoor found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. When you’re an engineering lead, one of the important jobs you do is helping other engineers grow and setting them up for success. That means making sure they have the tools and processes they need to have an impact from day one. How do you make new team members feel supported and included when they don’t have any face-to-face interactions? How can new employees get to experience the company’s culture when they are in a distributed team?

While we understand that every onboarding process is unique to an organization, and there’s no one right answer, today we want to focus on how remote engineering managers can set up a process for their teams.

Manager Onboarding Checklist

Every manager should sit down and think about what your new engineers and developers will need to work remotely in the first 8-12 weeks. This cohesive checklist will help you onboard new employees and set a stage for success for the entire team.

Week 1 Admin Setup

  • Draft a digital contract

  • Set-up new employee across all internal systems (eg. payroll)

  • Create a data-driven review system for developer cultural fit, skills, project work and quality, and timeliness

  • Draft a welcome email, including links to intranet, software required, knowledge and policies documents, first week plans, etc.

  • Share the new remote team member’s details with your existing team

  • Have the developer conduct speed tests and test out hardware, and make sure a new employee is set-up in their remote office with all equipment they need.

Knowledge Sharing

  • Find a mentor or buddy for the new hire

  • Draft company and team workflows documents

  • Create an initial project for all new hires with defined success metrics.

Meeting Schedules

  • Schedule 1:1 chats with other team members

  • Schedule a weekly 1:1 meeting for the first month with the remote developer

  • Send meeting request for team-wide stand-ups

  • Communicate company’s remote culture and set expectations

  • Briefing about day-to-day expectations

  • Briefing on review processes, and how the new hire's performance will be measured

Next Steps

Now that you have a checklist in place for yourself, here are some pointers to consider on how to integrate your department and team’s onboarding process with that of the company culture. Managers need to become more data-driven, even across the onboarding process, and develop an induction space for remote workers that’s packed with all the information they need. This can be the intranet, Slack, Microsoft teams, or a platform where new hires can log in securely and adapt to the company’s culture.

Some additional best practices to consider as part of the onboarding process:

Be Intentional about Company Culture

As COVID-19 forces engineering teams into remote work, engineering leaders are encouraged to move all icebreaker events into a virtual format. For all remote onboarding, start with being intentional about your company culture and introductions to each member of the team. This is incredibly important, as you can’t bring a new hire around to everyone’s desk and introduce them -- so for them to get the vibe of the company culture, managers need to foster a sense of belonging from the very start.

“In my 20 plus years experience in the tech industry, it's become clear that when you hire an engineer no matter where they come from it’s imperative to help them through your organization’s processes. This can be as simple as getting the right equipment and login information for their first day, to educating them on how to review code. It’s the simple things,” says Christine Wood, Director of Product Engineering, Cox Automative.

Give everyone a buddy

According to HCI, 87% of organizations that assign a mentorship or buddy program during the onboarding process say that it's an effective way to speed up new hire proficiency. This “buddy” or “mentorship” system can at least guarantee that each new hire has someone they can go to with questions they don’t feel like talking to their manager about.

How do you implement a buddy program? Just match a seasoned employee with your new hire, and request that they check in once a week for the first month, and 1-2x per month thereafter, to make sure your new hire is acclimating to their new remote workplace.

Which organizations are doing this?

“At Zapier, we call this the "Zap Pal" program. Every new hire is assigned a Zap Pal, who reaches out to them in their first week, sets up at least one Zoom call with them, and continues to check in throughout their first month or so. It gives everyone a guaranteed 1:1 relationship, which is so important when you're spending most of your time alone in your house.” ~ Zapier

“We don't expect new engineers to have experience with our precise tech stack and so the first 3 weeks are allocated for ongoing education of architecture, frameworks, programming languages, and more. Beyond a new hire's first 3 weeks, we help define a roadmap and mentor engineers to be increasingly autonomous, self-sufficient, and driven.” Ian Logan, VP of Engineering at Drop.

Pair together for the first month

Many engineering leaders say the most thoughtful approach to onboarding new developers in a remote setting is by having them pair with seasoned team members. When employees code together, make sure the employee is actively making time to drive the session for the new hire. “[Pairing] naturally fosters alignment across the team, and largely prevents early performance issues… this process also empowers happy and productive engineers,” says Steve Pereira, CTO at Statflo.

Plan a weekly onboarding schedule

HCI states that most organizations stop their onboarding process just after the first week, leaving new hires feeling confused, discouraged, and lacking resources. Agreeably so, a week is hardly enough time for a new hire to become acclimated to their company, culture, and role.

As engineering leaders, have a week-by-week plan that ensures your new hires are fully supported in a distributed environment.

Ted Goas from Stack Overflow says their onboarding approach is now a comprehensive monthly plan in advance. “We now have an onboarding process that spans a new hire’s first month, broken out by week. Everyone now knows what’s expected from a new hire after their first week, after their second, and so on. A new hire can skip ahead if they want, but expectations are clear and what should be happening at any given point.”

Establish a code review process as part of onboarding

Once new engineers are up and running, managers should establish a code review process as a weekly task during the first month. This is an invaluable tool to ensure your team is consistently learning from each other, and recognizing any minor errors in the process. Code review presents an opportunity for cross-pollinating information and expertise between team members. And new hires need to be part of this team culture and engage meaningfully with new teammates.

Cassiopeia offers a solution that helps managers to lead remote teams effectively with data. Our technology equips leaders with actionable insights to improve team dynamics, collaboration, and work-life wellness.

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