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How a Successful Remote Onboarding Works

Project Management

After more than a year of on-off lockdown, remote work has become a familiar term. From one day to the next, one's home has become a workplace, and even the colleagues can only be seen on the screen day in and day out. This also creates challenges for training new employees.

When the world changes abruptly and hardly a stone (or pixel) remains on the other, you can no longer enjoy the (alpine-)view from the office, there is no delicious coffee or fresh fruit basket – what differentiates one company from the other? What keeps it together??

One thing is that you suddenly see your colleagues on a computer screen only. After all, the shared experiences of the last Christmas party or the last birthday in the office are still vivid in everyone's mind. So there's no shortage of things to talk about remotely. And yet something is missing, even if you keep each other up to date between two online appointments. There's no virtual substitute for a casual chat at the coffee machine, a shared lunch, or an after-work beer.

But it's a different story if you only join the new team when you're working remotely. Is it still possible to settle into the new environment without the chance of these brief but important conversations in the coffee kitchen or the shared memories of the last company event?

Several times, we asked ourselves at COBE: What is it like to start a new job remotely? Now, after almost two years of on-off lockdown, we not only have some wonderful new colleagues on board, but are also taking the next step – with seven full-time remotes who join their project teams every day from Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Berlin. We asked them and summarized the most important things:

Collaboration is Key

First things first: The work itself must also function smoothly remotely – starting with the exchange within the team as well as with clients, through the development of new designs to workshops. So it shouldn't make a difference whether you're standing at a white board with your colleagues or sitting at home using tools like Miro.

With the right tools, working remotely can work just as well as in the office. This is where COBE, as well as the entire team, is called upon to find and provide the right tools to make collaboration as easy as possible for everyone.

What sounds simple in theory often turns out to be a challenge in practice, because there is no single solution for smooth remote collaboration. Rather, it helps to take an individual look at the team and its members: How is the joint work in the digital project space? How do they communicate? What are the requirements and expectations of the tools?

Our tip: Digital work requires the right tools. However, these must be individually tailored to the team.

Whether on- or offline, the right tools are important.

Never (have to) work alone

All the tools are ready, you could actually start right away – but how do you learn to work correctly with each other? The inhibition threshold to simply call someone you don't know well is higher than to briefly stop by the next room.

There are various ways to create a pleasant working atmosphere. The following have proven successful for us:

  1. Chief Happiness Officer

The focus is on people – from the very first contact. That's why we have our Chief Happiness Officer Dominik at COBE. As a safe haven, he is the point of reference for everyone – the glue that holds us together at COBE. He is the first face a newbie meets in his application process, and from then on always the go-to person for any topic.

  1. Mentoring

No one knows the stumbling blocks of the first days, the pitfalls of the tools, and the various idiosyncrasies of colleagues better than someone who has experienced it firsthand. Especially in the beginning, there are naturally many questions. A regular exchange with your personal mentor can be enormously helpful. For this reason, every newbie at COBE is assigned a permanent mentor who accompanies them through the first few months. For new employees like Adrian, this was advantageous: “The weekly feedback meeting with the mentor lets me know where I stand at all times and gives me the opportunity to raise my own issues.”

  1. Team-Up

Only teamwork makes the dream work – true to this motto, we make sure that every newbie becomes part of a permanent project team in his or her first week. Ideally, mentor and mentee are in the same project team. “I felt comfortable right from the start”, Luis tells us, “that was simply due to the super open team, which always has an open ear and offers help.” So the key to a dream team is a pleasant communication culture.

Our tip: A Chief Happiness Officer, consistent mentoring, and a good team-up create optimal conditions for good teamwork.

Chief Happiness Officer Dominik is onboarding a newbie.

Talk to me

So far, so good: Hardware & software are set up, team and mentor are ready to go. Then nothing more should go wrong, right? Even though these are the basic building blocks, the success of remote onboarding depends on other factors.

In the office, you pop your head through the door, but the question “Do you have 5 minutes?” is much less likely to be asked remotely. Communication is delayed, you can't see if the other person is busy. As a result, people are more reluctant to approach each other. In Adrian's opinion, there's just something different about sitting in a room together and looking each other in the eye than just seeing each other through a screen. “Plus, remotely, you can never be sure if you might just pull a team member off task with your question.”

Exactly here lies the problem, because only those who speak can be helped. A permanent contact person, a mentor and the necessary tools do support communication – but only to a certain extent, because the crucial thing is a good communication culture that is promoted and, above all, lived.

"We talk a lot and, if necessary, repeatedly about topics and so, as a newcomer, you really don't need to have any fear of contact or the feeling of disturbing someone in their work." - Adrian

It is important that this dialogue takes place from the very beginning. Especially for the remotees, common formats are important to get into conversation with colleagues away from the work talk. Accordingly, the onboarding formats must be organized in such a way that a dialog is already created here, which is then continually expanded over the following weeks

Our tip: A good communication culture ensures successful onboarding.

Closeness despite distance

Even if they are not physically present, colleagues also like to join gatherings online.

Keyword “joint formats” – how can that work between Berlin and Munich, Frankfurt and Salzburg?

Here, it's worth taking a look at what shared activities already existed before Corona: for example, digital game nights or coffee dates in randomly assembled groups can bring the office feeling into your own four walls – as best they can.

"What I find difficult about remote work is, that the social aspect is different. It's worth so much to sit down with colleagues in the office for an after-work beer or two, have lunch together, or even just a quick coffee. But through our culture touchpoints, which also take place remotely, you have a good exchange and feel integrated quickly." - Isabella

To achieve this, new online formats have to be developed to replace the former offline events. At COBE, there is a permanent team that takes care of this in addition to Brand & Culture. Definitely a plus for Marcus: “Christmas/birthday gifts, poems and many other small details bring everyone closer together even in such times and make a good working atmosphere!”

So, in the past two years, we've added a few new team formats that are specifically designed to keep us close despite physical distance. They even have the opposite effect: we sometimes get to know each other even better!

Our tip: Every company is different – what helps is regular exchange with each other.

Making Memories

Even the best remote set-up reaches its limits somewhere. Because there's one thing no tool or digital event can replace: personal, physical contact. Spending workdays together in a project room, enjoying a break in the sun at lunchtime and toasting with an after-work beer in the evening have a completely different social aspect. For this reason, it makes sense (depending on the current situation) to establish an “onsite time” – i.e. presence times in the office – as part of onboarding. Here, the newbie can get to know the office and the vibe in the first few weeks, as well as build a personal relationship with his or her new colleagues.

“I was fortunately in the office for the first few weeks, but had many onboarding sessions remotely. I felt super welcome and would say the difference from a non-remote start has been minimal." - Luis

Being onsite doesn't just make it easier to get started. It reduces inhibitions that might arise from working remotely later on. This acclimation period is the perfect opportunity to arrive at a new company and its culture.

Our tip: Face-to-face periods during onboarding make the acclimation period easier.

Conclusion: Culture beats anything

Regular get-togethers after work are a natural part of our office life.

A good company culture is not demonstrated by the beautiful view from the office, the free coffee or the debauched parties – even though these benefits are certainly not bad. It's the people who make up a company and the communication culture that is cultivated and, above all, lived there. So if you take what works well in the office, transfer it to the remote world, and add the necessary team spirit, remote working becomes not a duty but a pleasure.

Our checklist for successful remote onboarding:

1. the right tool set-up

2. solid mentoring

3. a pleasant communication culture

4. constant exchange

5. create rituals

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About the author

Julia is a project manager at COBE. Always attentive to the needs of clients and teams, she is a real problem solver. After work, she likes a good party as much as a long walk with her loyal and fluffy companion Jamie.


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