Onboarding A Remote Developer

Onboarding A Remote Developer

Whether you’ve been running a remote team for years or you’re just taking your first tentative steps into hiring a remote programmer, there is one big truth to consider. Onboarding a remote developer is as important as choosing the right candidate. Without a clear onboarding process and checklist to set expectations and boundaries, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

What Remote Developers Say About Onboarding Processes?

Researchers from the School of Computing at Clemson University surveyed 267 remote developers hired by Microsoft post-covid. What did developers say about their onboarding process? 

One of the respondents said: “Onboarding remotely is definitely more challenging. The inability to truly interact with coworkers, or to really have traditional team building, and the disconnection from everyone contribute to feeling like my work is kind of isolated from everyone else. It also makes it harder to get a broader, high-level understanding of the team and organization. Switching to remote right when I started working on feature development in a new language and environment. Support for learning was all of a sudden much harder.” 

Another respondent shared a similar impression: “Getting all of the software/hardware I need while being remote. Sometimes I need to wait for hardware to be delivered. Other times, I need to get software that I can’t easily access from home. Or, I often don’t know what software I need until someone can get back to me.”

This WeWork post easily recaps this survey about the remote developer onboarding experience

Why is Onboarding A Remote Developer Important

There are thousands of reasons why onboarding remote workers, not only developers, is something you can’t skip. And you shouldn’t be surprised. None likes to work in a (virtual) place where is hard to find the right tools or talking with colleagues is harder than the task itself. An organized workplace and connection with team members aren’t crazy requests. Just think about it. Would you stay in a place where the boss didn’t even welcome you and ask for feedback is a pain?

A good welcome to new hires isn’t just common sense. It’s a strategy to grow your company with your team. 

Let’s look at some numbers to get an idea with Workforce Institute 2021 Engagement and Retention Report

Employee Retention

Onboarding is crucial for retention. The report shows that onboarding is key to make employees feel engaged and stay in the company. Yet, only 21% of respondents think they had a good start with their company. Moreover, 66% would feel more engaged with better company culture and 52% would rather have more diversity and inclusion. 

Communication

60% of respondents had to ask more times for feedback on their initial performance, and 52% solicited feedback to improve company culture during the pandemic.

Disconnection from the team

After the first month, 46% of employees don’t feel connected with team members, of which 26% of respondents blame the lack of communication and 25% of the company lacking effort to create occasion for engagement. 

In short, onboarding a remote developer is important to speed up the workflow and hold your team together. Unless you aren’t a fan of endless hiring processes and HR paper works. 

If you are already bored because of these numbers, here I share some thoughts on the importance of onboarding new remote employees:

Do You Successfully Onboard A Remote Programmer?

Hopefully, you’ve prepared a to-do list for onboarding a remote developer – we all need one. If not, it’s time to do so in order to not forget any important part of the onboarding process.

What should your developer onboarding checklist have? Here are the core points to keep in mind:

  • Work agreement: The easiest one to remember is to send them a contract. If you’re hiring anyone remotely, it is best to send the contract as soon as possible to have transparency and clarity about the remote employer-employee relationship.
  • Introduction tasks: Create a checklist for them and send them the same over email. The tasks on the checklist could be spread out over the first month so that your new remote developer gets time to adjust and do things in a comfortable place. The checklist could have tasks such as signing the contract, downloading and signing in to all the apps the company uses for remote work and communication, etc.
  • Always give away a guide: Send the developer a guide on remote work and your company’s remote working policies. This will help them understand remote work and lifestyle better.
  • Face to face:Set up 1 on 1 virtual call for the remote developer in order for them to get to know the team better.
  • Mentor: Pair them up with a mentor who can work with the new remote developer for the first month. The mentor will help them understand their work and your work culture better.

Tips For Software Developer Onboarding

Is that enough? Of course not! That’s just the start:

 Onboarding A Remote Developer

1. Start With an Onboarding Checklist

Before you start looking at hiring a remote developer, make sure that you’ve everything in order and all the necessary paperwork in place. Don’t forget to check our remote onboarding checklist do’s and dont’s here – your aims is to create a sort of developer onboarding template that you and your team can follow and improve over time.

In addition, never forget:

  • Health & Safety of Remote Workers
  • IT Security Issues
  • Provision of Equipment/Stipend for home office
  • Remote Working Policy
  • Communication Policy

Remote workers can often feel ‘out of sight, out of mind, so it’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t impact their performance. Talk to your IT department, in particular, to make sure any cybersecurity concerns they might have can be addressed prior to the new programmer starting; there’s nothing worse than paying someone to do nothing because they can’t log in.

2. Point Them To The Right Tools

Everyone needs tools to work. When your developer lives overseas, though, it’s easy to take for granted that they are using their own tools. And fair enough, most people have their own processes. Everyone has tools they use to get their work done on their personal workstation.

However, your team is set to work on specific tools, and your brand new developer should at least be familiar with that. 

At DistantJob, this is the first thing we take care of as soon as a new person comes in. We give them a list of tools we use to get work done. For remote communications and tasks planning, all our departments use Slack, Basecamp, Zoom, Coda, and Google Docs, among others. When it comes to programming, your developer needs to align with the rest of the team.

For example, if your team uses Rubix or New Relic to monitor the application performance and your developer prefers Munin or Nagios, it’s not ideal. It’s not necessarily a problem, but as a team leader, you need to put extra effort to coordinate code check and server-side projects. 

In addition, if you have more developers working on the same project in a different location, you want everyone to use the same tools for remote pair programming. In the digital era, there are multiple options to pick from. For example, Motepair is an Atom editor package to run remote pair programming sessions with Github’s editor; or Teletype for Atom, created by GitHub, allows real-time rooms for sharing workspaces; or Tuple for those using a Mac. 

What does matter is that your brand new developer is familiar with your tools to start working as soon as possible at full speed. We request them to download/sign up for those apps ASAP and get familiar with them. When everyone’s on the same page, and in this case, on the same app, things become a lot more streamlined and easier!

3. Set Expectations

Once you’ve got your communication policies right as well as the tools, the next step is setting expectations for your new remote developer. You need to think about things like:

  • Will they be expected to keep head office hours or their own office hours?
  • Can they work flexibly or are they expected to be online for core hours?
  • How will performance be measured? Some productivity tracking tools can be intrusive, but there are some good options – we recommend measuring deliverables.

You’ll also need to take some time to consider any accommodations that your new team member might need. For example, if they are not native speakers of your company’s primary language, will they be familiar with all the jargon your company uses? A glossary of unusual terms is useful, but asking your team to try and use ‘plain English’ is going to help everyone.

Non-native speakers can also benefit from seeing written materials ahead of meetings, so start getting your team into the habit of circulating agendas and reports at least 24 hours ahead of any meetings. This way, your non-native speakers have a chance to familiarise themselves with the content.

4. Introduce Them To The Rest Of The Team – and Assign A Mentor

There’s no reason why your standard onboarding process can’t be followed remotely. In an office setting, you usually go through the HR policies and basic training. After that, you give a tour of the building and introduce your new hire to the rest of the team. 

And who would have expected that this process can happen virtually using Zoom or a similar video conferencing tool?

Getting to know the team is the most important part of the onboarding, particularly if your developer comes from a different cultural background. Because as enlightened as we all like to think we are, we have an innate tendency to be less comfortable with people we see as different – have you ever heard of unconscious bias? 

Your job here is to make sure that your developers familiarize themselves with the team dynamics and their way of working. Working remotely can be isolating, and programmers tend to work independently. So, introduce your new hire to team members, engage in casual conversation, and assign a mentor.

The next stage of regular onboarding is training and/or shadowing – and yes, these can be done just as effectively across the internet as they are when people sit side by side. You may have to ask for some flexibility from your team members in terms of scheduling if you cross time zones, but tools like World Time Buddy make sorting that out a breeze.

5. Get Them Started With the First Project

Make sure that whoever they shadow or train with explains all the essential tools, like task management, communication, your version control solution, and where the #watercooler channel is for those hilarious cat memes. Then, give them something to do.

If this is your first remote developer, you may have some anxiety around having a new starter but not being able to peek over their shoulder – that’s understandable, but have faith in your own hiring choices and let them do what you hired them to do.

The traditional way for a developer to cut their teeth is to give them a small, self-contained project; a genuine piece of work but one that doesn’t affect anything critical. It will give them the chance to use your version control software, get familiar with your company coding standards, and produce something of value. At the same time, you get to learn more about how they approach problems, and whether there are any gaps in their training that could be filled.

6. Over Communicate

When you’re talking about remote employees, there is no such thing as too much communication. There is always room for more communication within the working hours and with all those tools that we just mentioned, it should be faster and easier as well. Getting regular feedback is the next best thing.

Communication is important to any team member, but if you have a distributed team member, you really need to make the effort to ensure they hear everything they need to. Your policy should make it clear to your new starter which channels they use for what; you don’t want urgent requests for help getting lost in all those cat memes.

If your development team uses the Agile Development Methodology then you’ll be used to daily stand-ups; if not then a quick daily meeting where everyone shares what they’ve done, any sticking points, and where they’re going next can be really useful. Not just because it keeps everyone on the same page, but also because hearing what others have done and helping each other out is great for team cohesion.

A word of caution, though; don’t check in so often that you interrupt your remote programmer and they can’t get anything done! Asynchronous communication tools are great for this, as they let your developers answer when they’re ready.

7. A Further Note On Escalation: Encourage It!

You know when you were a kid, and your parents got annoyed because you never tidy up your room? You used to say that one day more wouldn’t make a difference. And after a week, you are buried under your dirty clothes – which, at least, saved you from your parents shouting. Now you are an adult, and you know that postponing doesn’t lead anywhere pleasant. And yet, you’re still doing it sometimes, as well as your team members.   

So, communication is key to avoid little steps go neglected or postpone to turn into emergency tasks to take of. What if the new developer on your team gets defensive? What if people shove the problem back your way? Sometimes you feel that they have too much on their plate and you should not bother them. But you gotta start somewhere. 

You have to make them comfortable with escalation. Between them and you; them and their managers; them and their colleagues. Make sure they know that your business is a business where problems should get talked about. Where problems will get talked about, incessantly, until fixed. No matter how uncomfortable that makes people feel.

This is not a free pass to be rude, of course. Most companies cannot survive employees not liking each other.  People won’t do their best work if they feel they are in a hostile environment. It is especially even more true for development teams. Coding needs a collaborative environment so that your website or app is created quickly and efficiently. If the team doesn’t get along and isn’t comfortable with difficult conversations, you’ll have more bugs in your team than in the app.

Tell your employees to be polite, to be gentle, but to be firm and unwavering. Uncomfortable conversations do not only need to happen. They are the most important ones to have. Always escalate, or tiny problems will grow to swallow the business whole.

8. Socializing

You might take a new start out for a drink at lunchtime, or at the end of their first week. This gives everyone a chance to get to know each other in a social setting and is a great opportunity for team bonding. It’s also something that you should think about doing with your remote team.

Giving some time over to chit chat at every meeting goes some way to meeting this need, but for milestone events like a new starter, or delivering a big piece of the project then a virtual get-together to celebrate wins is in order. What you do will depend on your team; you could order everyone pizza, ask everyone to put on a Hawaiian shirt and make a cocktail or enjoy a few hours playing Fortnite together.

The Biggest Secret to Onboarding Remote Developers

At the core of any developer onboarding best practice, there is one crucial step: hiring the right person. That’s the secret. Remote working is great. However, even when 90% of workers want to work from home, not everyone is cut out for it! If you want to be sure the remote programmer you’re interviewing is truly remote-ready, we can help with that.

Make questions to understand how much the candidate is used to remote communication and distributed teams. It may seem obvious, but sometimes it takes more time to get used to remote work than actually get tasks done. It’s never a problem if someone is new to remote work, but you need to know who to hire to prepare the right onboarding process. 

If your new developer is new to remote work, you want to spend more time showing around tools, daily reports, and internal communication strategies. If your guy is an old remote soul, you can put more effort into socializing, virtual water coolers, and team introductions. 

The biggest secret for a successful onboarding process is to make your remote developer feel part of a family, and slightly adjust your system to each candidate. And when they become an active part of your team, it’s time to get the job done! 

Get Experts for Hiring and Onboarding a Remote Developer

By now, you might be wondering how to find the perfect remote developer among 7 billion people. Guess what? You don’t need to go far to find someone that can give you a good answer. That’s because we are specialists when it comes to making sure the developers you hire get set up at your business. 

We prescreen all applicants for technical skills, proven ability to work remotely, and cultural fit for your business. That’s why we are so much faster than other recruitment options; our shortlist is all ideal candidates. 

We’re not about the transaction. Our work isn’t over when we find the perfect people for your remote programming jobs. We’re about getting your team into the future of work. Need that awesome employee? Get in touch with us.

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Luis Magalhaes

Luis Magalhaes

Luis Magalhães is Director of Marketing and editor-in-chief at DistantJob. He writes about how to build and manage remote teams, and the benefits of hiring remote workers. He‘s been managing editorial teams remotely for the past 15 years, and training teammates to do so for nearly as long.