Onboarding remote new hires asynchronously w/ Andrew Gobran @ Doist

Onboarding a new hire can be challenging. Companies are now doing it remotely which requires a redesign to the onboarding process. Now how about doing it asynchronously while ensuring the new hire builds authentic relationships and hits the ground running doing the job.



3/15/202121 min read

Here's the recap...In today's episode, we chatted with Andrew Gobran, who runs People Ops at Doist about onboarding new remote hires asynchronously. Doist ❤️ the idea of async communication and collaboration. So much so, they built a collaboration tool specifically for this use case. We talked about what their onboarding process looks like. How they can build authentic relationships with the team when not necessarily meeting video face to video face. We learned how valuable it is to involve new hires in the ongoing refining of the onboarding process. Not just sharing feedback, but getting specifically involved. And more....

Related References

Andrew on Linkedin

Andrew on Twitter




The 4 keys 🔑🔑 to onboarding

At Doist, the onboarding process is focused on 4 key principles: self-efficacy, role clarity, social integration, and knowledge of culture. Self-efficacy helps the candidate gain confidence they are the right person for the job and will be a champion 🏆 in the role. One way to do that is by helping the new hire achieve early wins to build momentum.

Role clarity focuses on the new hire understanding the makeup of the company and how they will help the company move the ball 🏈 closer to the end-zone. Whether by improving internal operations, building external facing products, or anything in between.

Social integration helps the new hire feel part of the community and gain a sense of belonging. Finally embracing and understanding culture. Helping the new hire understand how things work within the company and how all those pieces really come together.

The buddy system 🤜 🤛

New hires are assigned a buddy who mentors and coaches them during the onboarding period. This person helps train them for the job, while helping them acclimate to their new surroundings. Sometimes new hires are hesitant to ask too many questions of their hiring manager. Wanting to ooze of confidence and ability to hit the ground running doing the job. So having a buddy/mentor is an additional point of contact who isn't the boss. I've used this method across multiple companies and teams and find it more valuable than the hiring manager doing the same.

Remote culture must be intentional

For any remote company, so much more one that runs asynchronously, leadership has to be very intentional in building and helping refine the culture. There are no lunches with your friend at work, or beers 🍻 with the team after work. So leadership is required to create and continuously refine those opportunities to schmooze, have fun, and do team building.

That's no different during the onboarding process. Companies can use little opportunities to start that team bonding before the new hire joins. Some of those ideas can be: a welcome email sent the week prior to day one with fun facts, a similar welcome slack post in the team channel on day one, new hire standup intro on their 1st team meeting, alternatively sharing a video intro of themselves and more.

New hires offer the best perspective on refining the process

No onboarding process should remain static forever. You could be doing a great job now, but what you're doing will only get stale. As a company grows it's valuable to have a central team managing what that process looks like across all teams. The potential issue with that is that central team grow farther away from the onboarding experience each passing day. Their focus also becomes more engrained in building and managing the process versus going through the process.

Asking for feedback once a new hire completes the onboarding process is great. If the new hire is comfortable and presented with a transparent culture they'll share honest feedback. What was good and what wasn't. What made them happy and what put them to sleep 😴. So there is no better person or group of people to involve to continuously improve the onboarding experience. They just finished the process, so it's fresh in their mind. Get these people involved in refining the process. Not just sharing feedback.

Scott: [00:00:00] Hey Everyone. Thank you for tuning into today's episode of Leading from afar. I'm Scott Markovits, here with Tevi Hirschhorn. Today we're in for a bit of a treat. We're going to be learning how Doist does their remote onboarding process. I've heard many good things. Tevi has also heard many good things about the world-class onboarding process that you have. So we're lucky today to be joined with Andrew Gobran.

Who's the people operations generalist at Doist. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us today.

Andrew: [00:00:28] Thank you for having me, Scott and Tevi.

Scott: [00:00:30] You want to introduce yourself and tell everyone a little bit about Doist?

Andrew: [00:00:35] Sure. So I'm a people operations generalists at Doist like you said. I've been with the company for just over three years now. During that time my role has spanned a lot of different things. As a generalist typically does. So anything from, hiring, onboarding, employee experience, and everything else that happens in between.

Ultimately, it's really just stewarding the culture and the employee experience. Making sure that people have a positive experience and an opportunity to thrive. For those who maybe aren't as familiar with what we do at Doist, we create tools that help people live and work in a more productive and mindful way.

Our two products currently are Todist which is our task management or productivity app. And Twist is our our take on asynchronous team communication.

Tevi: [00:01:24] Very cool. Thank you for joining us. since your products are meant to focus on mindfulness, what are the top of mind things that a company should focus on when onboarding a new employee?

Andrew: [00:01:38] Great question. I often think about this in terms of four different adjustments that people typically make when they join our company. Those being self-efficacy, role clarity, social integration, and knowledge of culture. As we've thought about onboarding and that transition that people make as they join the team, we think about it in terms of those four areas. And how we can impact people and help them transition through each of those?

Tevi: [00:02:06] Can you elaborate a little bit about those four pieces? What they might mean to you or other companies?

Andrew: [00:02:11] Yeah. Taking them in the order and these actually aren't in any particular order. Self-efficacy really just thinking about how that person believes that they are meant to be in that role and that they can actually do it. In terms of that transition, really thinking about how you can help someone develop that confidence and maybe give them some early wins once they've joined the teams. So they can quickly see that, "Hey, I can do this." Role clarity. Really understanding the ins and outs of what they do at the company and how they contribute to both the short term goals and the bigger picture within the company. Whether it's product developments or or something that goes on internally.

Social integration. Really connecting to the people and the community within the company and feeling like they belong there. Then knowledge of the culture. Which I think can often be the most difficult thing to capture is really understanding how things work within the company and understanding how all those pieces really come together for them.

Scott: [00:03:12] As mentioned in the introduction, Tevi and I have both heard about the amazing experience there. Maybe you can give us a real peek into exactly what that process looks like. Maybe from the offer stage to the first couple of weeks. What exactly the onboarding process looks like and what really makes it world-class?

Andrew: [00:03:30] Yeah, of course. A lot of times when we talk about onboarding, that process actually starts during the hiring process which can often seem counter intuitive. At that early stage, people are already shaping their ideas of what the company is like. What their experience might look like once they join.

They're already meeting some people that they will likely work closely with. So for us, making sure that from the start as they're going through those interview stages or the test project phase, that they're really feeling like they're getting a chance to understand the culture and to get to know the people. Then once offered the role, I'm typically the contact person for them. I stay in contact with them up until they joined to make sure if they need anything as they're they're getting set up.

If they have questions. Anything they need to hit the ground running and feel successful. About a week before someone joins us is when things really kick off. I'll send them a welcome email and give them an idea of what to expect the first day. That first week I introduced them to their team heads. Their mentor, which I'll talk a little bit more about in a moment and Amir, our CEO. Once they join they're introduced to the whole company.

They get a chance to really see who else is in the company. They receive messages from people and introductions about who they are. What they do at the company and where they're from. At Doist, we're distributed across about 35 different countries.

So you really get a sense of just how spread out the team is and where people are coming from. Then once they get started they are assigned a mentor who is their go-to person as they're going through their day to day work. They'll meet with that person on a very frequent basis early on. Just to get trained up on different things within their team.

To have that support that they need on a day-to-day basis. Then they receive an onboarding project that's actually built in. This has everything, from what accounts to set up on the first day or week. Things to explore and read. People to connect with.

Just a lot of different things that we'll walk them through as they're onboarding in a kind of hybrid async and sync format.

Scott: [00:05:38] nice N'Sync. We'll throw some kind of N'Sync Gif in there. I wanted to unpack something that you started off with about the four principles. I had a debate on Twitter with someone who threw something out there regarding how most companies will focus their onboarding on the culture or integration with the team.

When that person's opinion was instead, they should be really focused on hitting the ground running with the job. being focused on doing the job from day one and then worry about the culture and all those things later. Personally, I'm not a believer in that. I think when you join a company, you have to know where the company came from. Where it is. how you fit within that piece, and how you're going to move the ball closer to the end zone.

It sounds like from what you said and correct me if I'm wrong, that the onboarding that you run is more of a mix. So focused on both integrating with their team and the culture and things like that and getting into the job. Is there a certain weight of a focus that you have?

Andrew: [00:06:33] All of these things happen simultaneously. It's pretty difficult to actually put a weight on how much to invest in each. But I would say upfront actually getting into the role and the actual work is Mentally and psychologically easier thing to do than to try to get someone to wrap their head around the culture.

Because if you think about it in terms of , traveling to a totally new country, for example. It's going to take time to just understand the culture there and to understand how things work. You can get into something that's more familiar. Within a company context, the role that you're hired for is something that you've likely already had experience in.

So it helps almost provide a foundation that you can learn through. Then as you're going through that work, you actually learn about the culture as you're going. Cause you have to interact with different people that you end up engaging with. Different processes within the company.

You have to face those things one way or another. You're able to learn about both as you're going through. So I guess I would agree with you.

Scott: [00:07:36] In a lot of cases you could be using the tool already. You could be using the internal product management tools. You're using Trello already or Asana. So you may already be used to the job and tools that are in play. Whether it's the company product or the tools internally.

there's less of a road to have to travel down to get up and running. It's getting that cultural piece and understanding within the company and getting integrated with the team, for me is where more of the bulk of the work is. Tevi, you have any thoughts?

Tevi: [00:08:01] Yeah, I see it like a relationship. if you were befriending somebody or you're wanting to get married, there is a level of productivity to making relationship proceed in life. it's the focus around the communication and how you treat each other and what your relationship norms are.

I think successful companies put that cultural aspect at the forefront. Because if Doist says they are a sync, then it's important that people understand how to communicate. Especially if they're not used to an async type of culture. So if someone just joins and they push culture to later and people start doing lots of face-to-face meetings and everyone's calendar gets booked up, you've changed the culture very quickly.

If you care about your culture, they have to be intentional about it. You probably want to put even possibly more effort into maintaining the culture. More than just helping one individual become productive a couple of days faster.

Scott: [00:08:57] Yeah, that's a great point. Doist is very well known for being a proponent of async communication with Twist. Thinking about that onboarding process and the culture integration. historically, it's been that 1:1 time that you've had with a mentor or buddy did that.

You said that you do get that face time with team leaders and other people in their divisions. When focusing on async it's a different experience. So how do new team members feel connected to the rest of the gang when they're doing the async communication? And how do you really help foster that authentic connection?

When people join, connecting and onboarding through async versus synchronous communication.

Andrew: [00:09:33] The biggest kind of difference that takes place in an async setup, is that you have to be more intentional about creating those moments. Otherwise, that may never happen or leaving it up to chance for those things to take place.

So we take two different approaches with that. One is creating those intentional spaces where connections will happen. A very simple way that starts is just with that welcome thread that we post about that person joining. So they joined the first day and they find, " Wow look at all these people welcoming them in particular." They're able to see some faces on the avatars and just get to know people that way. From there, the way that the onboarding project is actually designed to organically creates more interactions that take place.

Early on any person who joins, meets with their team head who they've typically already met during the hiring process. They meet their mentor, and they meet a member of the people ops team. So that kind of upfront creates some safe connections that they can go to for anything they need.

Then within the first week or so, I actually ask people to share a post which functions as a way of helping them wrap their head around Twist, of 10 facts about them. This is their official self-introduction. Which I've found to be way more useful and interesting than any introduction that I could share about them.

That gives them the opportunity to control and own their own introduction. It's pretty amazing to see the number of connections that take place just within those threads. Just by doing something that simple because people get to connect over things that are much bigger than work. They get to connect on interests and hobbies and experiences that they've had that maybe they share across individuals or across teams.

A lot of those kind of connections end up moving on. From that thread to an interest group within the company or a side conversation. These are some of the more intentional ways that we do that. We also have casual hangouts where we encourage or let people opt into to connecting with a random person or random few people within the company. Just to to have a chat about anything.

This is often a really good way for newcomers to make those connections across teams, as well. Because early on, they're typically so deeply ingrained in their work that that they're only meeting their team. Beyond that, it's just having an open culture where people are encouraged to reach out to each other and interact.

It helps create those connections. Even when you don't have the luxury of walking into an office and having those people an arms length away to to connect with. You can't just walk down the hall to interact with them.

Tevi: [00:12:17] That's so interesting. So 10 facts about yourself? That's a lot. I've heard 3, very rarely 5 or 10. You're really forcing people to be authentic and tell something interesting. That's cool.

Scott: [00:12:29] I don't think I could even come up with 10 things.

Andrew: [00:12:33] Yeah. I do make sure to mention if they don't have 10, they can share whatever they're comfortable with. Somehow people do end up sharing 10 things, and they don't have to be mind blowing. A lot of times, just very simple things.

Like I live here with my family, and this is what we do.

Tevi: [00:12:49] Cool. How has your onboarding evolved over time? You've been there three years, so I'm sure you've tweaked and changed things over time. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Andrew: [00:12:58] Yeah. So when I joined, we actually didn't have a dedicated people ops team. I was the first official dedicated people ops person to acquire everything that had been done before and run with that. So early on, the biggest thing that I noticed was that the onboarding was done by each team and there wasn't anything really centralized about it.

So each team owned their process. They were still doing the whole to-do list project upfront, providing tasks, and things like that. One of the things that I felt was really important was to both preserve that flexibility of having each team really shape different parts of their onboarding but also create some consistency. And make sure that the basic building blocks of the process are the same.

That way you ensure the quality is high, regardless of which team someone is joining. Because of course some teams are larger than others and have had more opportunities to build that out over time. Others might be smaller or just be starting to hire.

Then there's more growth that has to happen there. Some of the major changes that were made were really building out that Todoist onboarding project and trying to think of all of those early details that are important for anyone joining the company to know and have as they're getting started.

Things that are important to read or tasks that everyone has to do when they join. And then still leaving that space for each team to really think what is important on a team level for people when they're onboarding. What does the training and transition look like once they're learning the role and and getting into all of that stuff.

The aside from that, a lot of things have actually. Stayed the same we have the mentoring program was there when I joined and. The main changes we made there were thinking about how we can make the feedback loop more intentional there.

One of the funnier changes made early on, was our philosophy around newcomer feedback. No news is good news. Which at face value is okay, that's great. If I'm doing well, I won't hear any constructive feedback. But in practice, as you're going through your work and especially early on with the imposter syndrome that can creep in it.

It wasn't a good approach at all. So we definitely felt we're creating a lot of stress on this process. So we have taken steps to make the feedback loop more intentional. Make sure that people know when they're doing well and know when they have things that they can improve on.

As we've continued to build the onboarding overall, I've been very intentional about pulling in our newcomers to offer feedback. To really play an active role in shaping the process. So over the three years that I've been in the company, I really can't take a ton of credit for the improvements that have been made. I have my own thoughts about things that can be improved. But I really do depend on the feedback that our newcomers give us, and what they've experienced as they've gotten started.

I make them active participants in improving that for the next person. Each person who joins receives a similar message that, "Hey, the person who joined before you offered feedback that has improved this process for you. I'm depending on you to do the same for the next person."

I think that's another simple way of helping newcomers feel very involved early on and feeling like they're having an impact.

Tevi: [00:16:19] I love it. That helps solve so many things at once. You're improving your process. They're feeling they're having an impact right now. They're feeling probably a sigh of relief. You want their feedback and they're able to give that. That's probably a little bit distressing for them.

So that's pretty awesome. You mentioned the the Todoist list of tasks on people who are getting onboarded have to complete their tasks. I know one of those tasks is creating a personal highlights, reel. How did that come to be and what was something memorable in that task from past onboardees?

Andrew: [00:16:54] So that task was actually a response to people feeling like they were dealing with a lot of imposter syndrome. So I was thinking how can help people manage that a bit better. Of course, there's a lot that as a company we can do. At the end of the day, on an individual level you have to reach a point where you realize that, "Hey, I belong here and I'm not here on accident."

It's an optional task, so I actually don't know what people have put in there's. I can speak for my own if that's interesting to you. One example that I added to my own was an email that we got from a candidate.

This was someone who applied and I don't even think they interviewed with us. They didn't meet the initial requirements we had for the role. We try to offer as much feedback as we can to candidates. One of the ways we do that is just including an article that we've written about the biggest mistakes that people make when they're applying for remote jobs. There was a bit of follow-up with the individual. But they emailed us months later and said, "Hey this was really helpful. I learned a lot about my approach to applying for jobs." They ended up getting a job somewhere else.

Getting that feedback from them and saying we didn't actually do too much for them, but that little bit that we did made a difference to them. And, it sounds like it put them in a better place. Something like that sticks with you, especially in a people role where you're constantly being bombarded by feedback. Seeing the wins can be difficult sometimes.

Knowing that you've impacted someone in that way is a great feeling. Overall, the feedback that we've gotten from people who have run with the idea and decided to create their own has been positive. I think it definitely helps to have that personal record and something that you can always go to.

Scott: [00:18:36] Personalizing those mails is a huge thing. We'll have you back on a future episode about how to fix recruitment. As I'm a believer it's completely broken. But I wanted to go back to an idea that we brought up here before on bringing new hires into the onboarding process.

It's so much of a deeper step than just getting canned feedback for them. a fresh perspective from the ground. They've just gone through it. They just had the ups and downs of the onboarding process. So it's amazing to hear that. In the kickoff episode about onboarding, Tevi and I had a few opposing ideas around the onboarding process. When we unpacked it further, we realized that the root of the potential opposition came from a difference in our personalities of being extroverted versus introverted. So from your experience in your onboarding process, how do introverts and extroverts feel about the onboarding process?

Andrew: [00:19:23] That's something that I actually hadn't thought about a lot early on, but it surfaces itself in my conversations with people. One of the unique things about a sync work and a sync onboarding is that you are able to cater to either personality, right?

If someone is more introverted, you can back off a little bit more and give them a chance to approach you. If they're more extroverted than, they're able to engage with people as much as they want. And really get out there and connect with people very actively.

That's what we've seen in practice. Where members, a bit more introverted, early on will lay low. They mostly just connect with their mentor, with their head, and with me.

Supports that they have upfront. They're still communicating with people in Twist and in written communication. But they don't feel that pressure that you might have if you're in an office on your first day. You're constantly meeting new people, and people are stopping at your desk to talk to you.

You have no choice but to have those interactions. Of course, it's great to meet new people and everything but you're still shocked by everything new within the company. Wrapping your head around all the information that is being thrown at you can definitely be a big stressor.

So they basically get a chance to step back and ease into all of that.

Scott: [00:20:42] That sounds precisely what Tevi and I spoke about of myself being extroverted. Throw me to the team. Get me as many people in front of me and let me have coffees and lunches with everybody. Let me meet everyone right now. Tevi was more of, let me settle in. Let me relax and let me get to know what I need to do. Get used to my surroundings before I really open up.

Tevi: [00:20:59] So async allows the framework. What has to be done, who you have to meet, and an extrovert can jump right in and do all of it right now. An introvert can sit back and be more methodical. Maybe take their time and go through it.

Andrew: [00:21:10] Yeah. We're not throwing people in the deep end right away with really big cross-functional projects. So they have that chance to ease in. It's easy if they need that time to just get their feet wet and, focus on reading. Focus on doing some basic tasks up front and, just talking to the core people that they need to connect with.

Through those opportunities that we put out there, like casual hangouts, the threads, and things like that, they can ease themselves into the social side of things. As they feel comfortable. It's definitely nice to be able to cater to each of those needs and to let people dictate the extent to which they run with it

Scott: [00:21:50] Doist has Todoist, has Twist, you have tons of content about working remotely. How to work remotely async versus sync and everything else for companies that don't have their homegrown tools. Do you have a few suggestions that you can share with companies of what the best tools to use. What the best processes.

Something when you don't have those homegrown tools. What's the best way to go?

Andrew: [00:22:12] That's a good question. I don't have very many specific suggestions, but I would say the tools are obviously important. I typically recommend that people don't obsess over getting the tools right upfront, but rather to focus on the process and the quality of the content that's there.

Because I can tell you the process isn't perfect. It has tons of room for improvement, and it's likely always going to be that way. Prioritizing those opportunities or the experiences that you create within that process typically have the biggest impact.

Even if starting off your onboarding is on a simple document. And you just have a list there, and that's how you're getting started. Maybe the production value isn't as, as great as it could be. Maybe it won't look as exciting, but you can always build and iterate on that over time. Improve that and just build up that experience.

If the priority is the tools that are being used, you can lose sight of the quality of the process. You end up with maybe a great tool, but the wrong process, or a process that lacks in a lot of critical ways.

Tevi: [00:23:21] That's so true. I loved it.

Scott: [00:23:23] I wrote the first onboarding document at InVision. It was maybe two pages. I think now the onboarding process is something like two weeks. As you said, you can start with just the document. The basics, just get something out there and then hopefully over time it grows.

Tevi: [00:23:37] Leading into the final question we have for you is for companies that are just now starting to hire remotely obviously a lot of companies went remote this year for the first time. Maybe they held off on hiring, but for companies that are just starting to do it.

What are three things you think that they should focus on? Besides focusing on process, what are three other tips you have for them?

Andrew: [00:23:55] I would say focus on the experience. I think upfront one of the biggest challenges that teams that are transitioning to remote work are likely having is not feeling like they have that connection aspect. Create ways to create those connections. Whether you're sending an onboarding package ,or having an introductory call with people, or having them meet a few notable people. Just so they have those connections and they can place some faces to names that they may have seen before.

The second thing I would say is make it a team effort. I think the transition to remote can be very nerve wracking for everyone involved. Especially if your onboarding is owned by a particular team. That can feel like a huge ask and a huge transition.

Finding ways to make the onboarding a team effort where, you know, Different teams or different individuals can take different parts of it and add their touch to it and, and leverage that also has a connection opportunity to to help create those touch points with newcomers and with team members.

The third I would say is, don't worry about making a perfect process. If you treat that transition to remote work as a fresh reset, that could be a great opportunity to to rethink the whole way that you approach onboarding.

It can't be replicated exactly in a remote context, but it's an opportunity to reinvent that process. To think about how you can build it from the ground up for a remote setup. In many ways that could end up making the whole process better than it was before.

Tevi: [00:25:25] Thank you Andrew for for joining us and sharing your wisdom. That was a great show.

Andrew: [00:25:35] Thank you for having me.

Scott: [00:25:36] We always ask our listeners for feedback. If you've had an amazing experience or one that is not yet at the level of Doist, we would love to hear from you.

So please be in touch and until the next episode. Thanks everybody.