Scaling a Remote-First Business: The Onboarding Process


Last month, Ian wrote an article about how our team has been adapting to the remote-first switch. Being 8 months into remote-work and actively hiring for multiple roles, we get asked quite a lot of questions about what our remote onboarding process looks like. While we in no way have perfected remote-onboarding, we’ve now gone through the process with 10 new hires and are pretty happy with the processes we’ve put in place. 

Before I dive into them, I thought I’d explain the importance that we put on remote onboarding and the reasoning behind this. As a company, we believe deeply in the power of good onboarding, it can make or break the experience that the employee has and their desire to stay with the company long-term. Because of this, we put a lot of effort into establishing a consistent in-person onboarding experience. When the pandemic caused us to make the switch to being a remote-first company, we knew we needed to prioritize developing a top-notch remote onboarding. It can be tough starting at a new company and not getting to meet anyone in person, especially with such a tight-knit team. 

When building out what it would look like we had two main goals. 

The first goal was to keep it as similar to what it was when we were doing it in person. This process was two-part: 

  • The first was making sure new hires had all the tools, training, and knowledge to do their job. 

  • The second was to have them feel part of the team by being introduced to and welcomed by all the teams. 

The first part would be fairly easy to do remotely because we have invested heavily in having great documentation, but it’s the second that would be a challenge. 

Our second big goal was to ensure a consistent experience for everyone, no matter where they’re located or what team they’re part of. This is so important because as we continue to scale-up, it will no longer be one person responsible for onboarding. The task now falls to a group of people including HR, the team manager, the Culture Manager, etc and without a strong structure, this can lead to varying experiences. As we continue to expand, we’re hiring people across North America so someone on the west coast of the US needs to have the same experience as someone in Montreal. We recently went through this as remotely onboarded our first west coast team member, Travis Batiza.

“Having gone through a 'Goldilocks' variety of onboarding experiences at startups, Breathe Life is by far the best; even with the added challenges of remote working and the time zone difference. I've never felt so instantly engaged and part of a family, nor so quickly up-to-speed for my role, and it speaks volumes of our entire team and leadership," said Travis.

I won’t dive into the entire process but instead will highlight a few key things that we do once the offer letter has been signed.

  • Every new hire receives all of their technical gear and a welcome package 1-2 weeks before they start. We want to make sure they’re fully decked out with a Breathe Life t-shirt and hoodie. 

  • A few days before their start they’ll receive a detailed welcome email that includes information about our Industry, Branding, and Competitors as well as a link to our company wiki so they can start exploring it before their official in-person onboarding. This email also includes all the information about their first week, such as scheduled meetings and when they will receive all of their logins. 

  • On their first day, they’ll get a more detailed walkthrough of our company wiki to learn about our history, purpose & values, company policies, the tools we use, and the feedback and review structure. We want to ensure that everyone is aware of everything and that no one is left wondering how to take a sick day or where to find certain information. 

  • The first week will consist of several training sessions, but the new hire will also have 1on1 video calls scheduled with everyone in their team, as well as 1-2 people from each department. These aren’t for training but are so that they can get to know everyone and all the different teams. This is something that is so important to us now that we are remote-first as you can no longer bump into someone while making a coffee or having lunch.The engineering team makes up 50% of the company and because they’re so many people, they go a step further.

Kenza Iraki, team lead said, “We are aware that there are challenges with remote onboardings, and that it's harder to connect with people you've never met in person. This is why we encourage the developers on the team to pair program and proactively reach out to new team members, to make sure they always feel supported through their onboarding journey"

  • Our Culture Manager will check in with them daily to make sure their onboarding process is going smoothly and that they're managing to meet with everyone. 

  • Finally, two weeks after the new employee’s start date, we send out an onboarding survey to gather feedback so we can continuously improve the process. 

While this process is always improving, it’s come a long way and we can definitely see the impact that a solid onboarding has on new hires. 



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