What Remote Onboarding Looks Like at Gem
In recent weeks, we’ve been fielding a lot of questions from recruiters and talent acquisition leaders about how we’ve altered our onboarding process at Gem during shelter-in-place. There are plenty of questions about logistics, sure. But above all, talent teams are asking how they can ensure new hires quickly discover that they’ve signed up for an inclusive team; that they have easy access to all the resources they need; and like they’re not only starting a new role, they’re also entering a community. How can existing Gems feel as “present” and available for new hires as they would be if we were working in the office right now? We have a tight-knit team and an energetic culture at Gem; and we didn’t want that lost in the translation to remote.
Culture has been a top priority at Gem since the company’s earliest days, which means we put a lot of care and attention into our onboarding program from our very first (in-person) hires. The onboarding experience affects performance, feelings of inclusion, employee happiness, and ultimately, retention; so it’s something we committed to iterating on until we got it just right. Under remote conditions, of course, having a strong onboarding process is as critical as ever. So—of the many working groups Gem has organized and launched during shelter-in-place—we created a Remote Onboarding Working Group. It’s a cross-functional group that includes both new and old Gems, which means we get perspectives from folks who’ve very recently gone through remote onboarding with us. Together, we’ve been researching and thinking through what best practices are, and what the experience should look like, for Gem’s new hires.
Of course, some things about our onboarding process have hardly had to change at all. New hires have always been introduced at our All Hands meetings, where they’re asked a few silly questions to help the team get to know them personally. Those introductions now happen over Zoom. Our onboarding sessions—which include our CEO, Steve Bartel, presenting Gem’s values; Joe Totten, our VP of Sales, discussing sales and customers; and Nick Bushak, our CTO, presenting our product roadmap—happen at a regular cadence, now virtually, within new hires’ first two weeks. We’ve always worked closely with hiring managers to ensure their new hires have a great onboarding experience; we’re doubling-down on that now. But below are some things our Remote Onboarding Working Group has put in place for new hires this last month:
Remote Celebration Dinners
Hiring managers and teams are now setting up remote celebration dinners sometime between closing and when new Gems join. We send new hires $100 in Postmates credit so they can “go big” on their celebration dinner; and we give every member of the team who is joining the dinner $25 in credit so they can also order something fun. (Our sales manager recently said it was a great way for the team to get to know one of our new reps. The team opted not to talk about work at all, and instead discussed Tiger King over their food and drinks of choice.)
“Onboarding” Starts Before New Gems’ First Day
Once an offer is accepted and a start date is confirmed, it’s more important than ever to maintain a connection to new Gems before they even start. We now set new hires up with one “team buddy” and one “cross-functional buddy” right away (more on these buddies below). Buddies touch base at least once a week to take the pulse on how new hires are feeling, give them company updates, and generally develop rapport. We also send new hires our “Gem’s Gems” document, which allows them to put a face to every name on the team and links to each team member’s LinkedIn profile, so new Gems can start making those connections right away.
What’s more, we add new hires as “optional” to any All Hands meetings, additional company-wide meetings, or team happy hours that are on the calendar, in case they want to join in before their start date. This feels especially important for events like All Hands because we so transparently discuss how things stand at Gem, how our customers are doing, and what the industry looks like, broadly speaking. This visibility gives new hires confidence that they’ve made the right decision before they even begin their official, day-one onboarding process. Finally, we now share a customized onboarding doc prior to new Gems’ first day of work. These docs include detailed breakdowns of what their first few weeks at Gem will look like. It feels especially important right now that new hires have early access to that information, so they can mentally prepare for a lively and full first few weeks!
One change we’ve made to our remote onboarding template is a specific section on “tips for working remotely,” since onboarding remotely is different than onboarding in an office. It calls out things that might not be intuitive, but are important in a remote environment. Plus it’s got resources like a list of virtual fitness classes to remind new hires (and everyone, really) that this is a critical time to take care of ourselves.
Complete Work-From-Home Setups
Many folks aren’t fully equipped to work from home, so we make sure to ask about their entire WFH setup and get them as comfortably set up as we would in the office. Do they need a desk? chair? keyboard? monitor? Do they have good Wifi connection? A good WFH setup is more than just shipping a laptop; so we make sure to cover all the bases.
Cross-Functional Onboarding Buddies
We’re also piloting a cross-functional onboarding buddy program. Gems who want to participate sign up to be paired with a new hire. (In the signup form we ask questions about things like hobbies so we can pair buddies with overlapping interests). Hiring managers then select a cross-functional buddy to introduce the new hire to over email immediately after they sign their offer letter. We’ve written an email template the HM can use for that introduction because we know team leads are working double-time right now to support their respective teams.
The buddy’s role is to check in regularly with the new hire: our suggested cadence is once a day for the first week, then 2-3 touchpoints/week in the weeks following. The new hire will also have regular 1:1s with their team lead; but the point of the cross-functional buddy is to ensure new Gems have a second strong resource to pose questions to about things that might not be related to day-to-day work. (Buddies also make sure the new hire is joining the right Slack channels! Love dogs? Join dogs@! Have or love children? kids@! You like Chipotle? Meditation? Travel? Food? We have Slack communities for each of these things (and more!)) These cross-functional relationships don’t often happen organically in remote teams; and we wanted to ensure new hires had access to them. They help the new hire remember they’re part of a much bigger community at Gem that’s working together to make our company tick.
Remote Onboarding Cohorts
Gem has always had onboarding cohorts; but we decided to specifically carve out time to foster more connection between cohorts based on feedback we got from our first round of remote hires. Those hires felt they were getting plenty of face time with Gems who knew the ropes, but very little with brand new Gems who might be struggling with the same issues they were. New hires are great resources for each other: if one new Gem has a question, another has probably already asked it. And because we’re continuing to hire across nearly all our teams at Gem, new cohorts tend to be organically cross-functional, and can teach each other what they’re learning about—and learning from—their respective teams.
So we schedule agenda-less hangouts for onboarding cohorts to get to know each other better. Each cohort has its own Slack channel and gets a stipend for a new cohort dinner. Their first task is to come up with a cohort name. (Our first remote cohort called itself “The OG Quarantine Crew” because they knew Gem was hiring quickly enough that there would be at least one more cohort before shelter-in-place was over.)
Gems use Tandem to meet virtually for lunch and other spontaneous events. On a new hire’s first day, we set them up on a Tandem lunch with their direct team. (If the team consists of more than five people, we schedule multiple lunches of smaller groups during that first week. We know how overwhelming it can be to meet a lot of new folks at once; and it’s essential for us that hires feel comfortable in all their virtual meetings.) On the new hire’s second day, it’s up to the cross-functional onboarding buddy to schedule a Tandem lunch with themselves and Gems from other teams. Sometime toward the end of the first week, the new hire has lunch with their onboarding cohort. In other words, no one eats lunch alone in their first week! This structure encourages new hires to reach out to other Gems and invite them to lunch as the weeks unfold, so they can develop rapport with the broader team.
We use a Slack app called Donut that automatically schedules virtual coffee dates for team members. Existing Gems use it to keep in touch cross-functionally (the cadence for existing Gems is 1 coffee/week with another Gem); but it’s even more important for new Gems. In a new hire’s first week, Donut sets up four different coffee chats with direct team members, and four different coffee chats with cross-functional team members. The cadence slows after the first week, until new hires are scheduled for 1 coffee/week like their peers. Donut proposes prompts to keep the conversation going; but Gem has introduced its own competitive element: a weekly “Donut theme” in which coffee pairs take photos of themselves and compete for a prize. Recent themes have been favorite musicians, Disney… and of course, Tiger King:
New Hires are Invited to BetterHelp while They Enroll in Benefits
Transitioning to a new job in the middle of a global pandemic is a lot; and we want to make sure that all Gems feel supported. We know that benefits might take awhile to kick in for brand new Gems; and in the meantime, we want to ensure that they have a resource for their mental health if they need one. So we’re using BetterHelp to give our Gems a teletherapy option. Gem covers the cost, and the service is completely private: we get billed centrally but we won’t know which Gems are using it.
Onboarding has Become a Team-Wide Initiative
The People team, managers and Remote Onboarding Working Group are primarily responsible for ensuring that new hires have an excellent onboarding experience. However, everyone at Gem contributes. “Old” Gems proactively reach out to new Gems to introduce themselves, offer to be a resource for questions, ask to grab virtual coffees, invite new hires to relevant social Slack channels (#dogs, #aviation, #gemriders, #kidsarehilarious) as those interests come up, and encourage them to partake in company-wide virtual festivities (trivia nights, virtual workouts, and so on). Steve, our CEO, and Nick, our CTO, also have 1:1s with new hires during their first week of onboarding. A lot of new hires have called these individual meetings out as being pretty special.
New Gems are especially encouraged to join one of our new culture initiative groups, which allow them to start working on a project outside of their role (virtual Spirit Week, game nights, happy hours, “Gems Giving Back,” and more) with team members from different departments. Our Remote Onboarding Working Group has put together an initial list of ideas for how everyone at Gem can help onboard new hires effectively—but we’ve got an “open door policy” of welcoming additional ideas for how to make our virtual onboarding process even better.
Check-Ins and Feedback Loops
New Gems have a check-in with our onboarding team at Week 1 and Week 4 so we can take the pulse and find out how things are going for them. At one month, they also check in with Steve and Nick. Within the first few weeks, they have the chance to give feedback to their managers and their cross-functional buddy. We do everything we can to find out what’s going well, and what we need to do better. For now, these are open conversations; but we’re working on an anonymous channel to ensure new Gems can say whatever they feel they need to say about how the process has been for them.
Our Remote Onboarding Working Group takes this feedback every week and uses it to iterate on our remote processes. This is an unprecedented situation for all of us; and at Gem, the only thing we’re sure of is that we need to approach virtual onboarding humbly, with curiosity and complete open-mindedness about what works best for our people. I’m so grateful to work alongside a team that was willing to pivot, offer suggestions, and volunteer to help us re-imagine the onboarding experience. Shout-out to Gem’s Remote Onboarding Working Group; and special thanks to Priscilla Usmani for coming up with a remote onboarding MVP so quickly, and for helping me get it off the ground in its earliest iterations. If you’re interested, we’re happy to keep letting you know what we’re learning along this journey. Just reach out and ask.