Four months ago, Cheryl, our HR manager, never thought she’d be telling Raymond, our newest hire, that she had to pause one of the onboarding video calls to go deal with a popsicle crisis happening in the next room over. Granted, no one could have predicted the shift in day to day life that was about to take place. But here we are, about to enter into Phase 1 of reopening, and we have an almost entirely virtual onboarding program. Our onboarding process is already quite comprehensive. We make it a priority that each employee is set up for success both with their physical gear and with understanding the business and colleagues. In normal times, our onboarding process takes four weeks. As with many big changes, it’s been an iterative process; each time we go through it, it gets better.

The process of hiring a new employee is always going to take some time and planning. One pain point that we immediately recognized upon switching to remote work was our reliance on paper. It’s a fact of starting a new job: you have to sign so. Many. Forms. After the first few times that Cheryl had to do a back and forth dance of sending forms, she decided that it was best to make the switch to a new HR system. (Wading through iPhone images of forms filled out by hand got old very fast.) We made the switch to a new human resources information system that allows for email document delivery and e-signatures and have benefitted from the fact that we were able to use this time to reevaluate the technology we had been using all along.

We’re still learning how to adapt our process, it’s important that we hold on to the core components of what it means when we bring on new people. One part that hasn’t changed is sending the new hires a welcome packet; we send everyone a ping pong paddle, a welcome note from the team and some PDXnet swag in the mail. That way they can hit the ground running from their first day.

Our office has been open through the last several months; we were lucky enough to have the resources to make that available. Due to the physical layout, we were able to keep our office coordinator in the office, along with our CEO. Having 13,000 square feet of office space to work with made social distancing between those two quite easy. This meant allowing the new hires to go in on their first day to meet with our Director of Technology, John to pick up and set up their laptops and get a quick tour of the office from our office coordinator, Sarah. The new hires’ first day is set up to include travel time to and from the office; after the tour, they head back home and are given time to set up their equipment at home.

One big change between the current process of onboarding and how it was before is the amount of communication with the new hire prior to their start date. The current process takes much more coordination of schedules than before. Cheryl stressed the importance of setting up the new hire’s expectations in terms of their first few weeks of work. We took a four week onboarding program and condensed it down to two weeks. Cheryl noticed that there would have been significant gaps in the new employee’s schedule had we kept the process at four weeks. Whereas before we may have given a significant amount of time for the new hire to connect with their new colleagues, we are relying more heavily on self-paced trainings and have invested in tools to aid in virtual job shadowing. We still put an emphasis on the social and cultural aspects of being a new Portland Internetworks employee; our virtual happy hours happen each Friday, and we make sure to give a big shout out in our all hands meeting.

We’ve benefitted from this process being taken to the virtual realm; we recently had a new hire bring to light a gap that may not have been so obvious before this time. Never before had we given a training on Slack, but this was a new tool to one of our recent hires. If we were all in the office, it would have been easy for this person to swing around at their desk and ask someone to explain Slack. This created an opportunity for us to create a training around a program which we had previously taken for granted; maybe the new hire doesn’t know that a 10 PM @channel message maybe isn’t the best idea. And, yes, #pure-randomness is for fun, but don’t forget the CEO is also looking at those posts as well!

We’d be remiss if we say we weren’t sad that the team lunches, new hire happy hours and secret field trips (!). We are, that’s part of the fun of being on a Portland Internetworks team, and we’ll find a way to include those fun activities when it’s physically possible. Until then, we’re learning to be grateful for this time and how it’s changing our interactions. We’re learning to have more grace in our interactions, and to be more understanding of mullets. It humanizes us and allows us to see sides of our colleagues that otherwise may have had the opportunity to see in the office. Until we’re all back together again, we’ll continue to iterate and improve our onboarding process.