Leverege onboarded its first new teammates after going totally remote in March 2020. Here's what we learned.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Leverege transitioned to a fully-remote workforce and, during the early stages of that transition, onboarded three new employees onto customer projects. Here are some of the lessons learned.
Jake, Tiffany, and I all onboarded into different departments in the company - from engineering to product management to design. With these unique experiences fresh on our minds, we thought it would be a great opportunity to share our stories and discuss what made the process successful.
Jake Rye - Senior Product Engineer
Previously I was at a company that focused on hardware interactions. Now, at Leverege I get to focus more on software. At the time I was living in Boston and was going to work from there for 6 months before moving to the office in MD. However, my first week would be onsite so I could meet everyone and put faces to names. The remote weeks after were more task-oriented, and I relied on the Jira boards, wikis, and All-Hands meetings to keep a pulse on everything and deliver work.
Lauren Winkler - Product Designer
In 2019 I started my journey with a career change from software engineering to design. I joined in March 2020 as part of the Leverege Apprenticeship program for product design. My first three months were dedicated to onboarding and learning all the tools and background needed to design successful products for customers.
Tiffany - Senior Product Manager
I was a career switch from engineering as well. In my role at Leverege, I’m the bridge between developers and project managers. I make sure things are being properly QAed because engineers are the worst testers of their own code and a lot of times project managers are a bit too removed from the inner workings of a product to know what to test.
Our start dates fell between mid-February and early-March 2020. We each had a week or two in the office meeting our coworkers and getting settled in our work at Leverege.
In the afternoon of March 12, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia in response to the continued spread of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
At first we worked in shifts, limiting the number of people in the office. But soon we were packing up our monitors and going fully remote.
After 3 months of working remotely, we met up to discuss how these first months at Leverege have gone and what we thought of the onboarding process. Despite coming into different departments, there were many common elements we agreed contributed to a successful onboarding experience.
During the first week at the company, new employees get assigned a number of tasks to get started. One task includes reading the company handbook.
Leverage has a beautifully crafted guide to succeeding at Leverege (and at life). This handbook includes information like company values, rules, and expectations. It also provides transparency in explaining compensation, benefits, and the employee review process. Having all the information in an accessible and organized place was a great way to start.
Along with reading the company handbook, new hires also work through a series of tasks in Jira - our project management tool - to learn the technologies and processes that the company uses everyday. This onboarding process has been thoughtfully designed and documented. It makes it easy to automate getting new members set up with the tools they need to hit the ground running.
“For me the design team had created a Design Onboarding project that had a series of prepared tasks. Each task had tutorials, explanations, and sub tasks centered around learning a specific design concept or tool. I was assigned a customized subset of the tasks to focus on picking up the skills I needed to learn based on my experience. These tasks often included work from the backlog I could complete to help the team. It was nice having all of this setup from the beginning. There was never a time when I didn’t know what I should be doing.” - Lauren
Throughout the first few weeks at the company we attended deep dives on some of the customer projects. The project lead would explain both at a high level and in detail the recent design and development work for that project. This helped us get up to speed on each of the projects quickly.
“There was a good mix of both people who had been around Leverege for a while and people who were not as familiar with a project (even if they had been at the company for a year) so it was valuable to them as well. I never felt like I was being a burden by asking a question or requesting background information on something because it seemed like it was always helpful for someone.” - Tiffany
We were impressed with the amount of quality documentation that has been created for the company.
“The great documentation made it a seamless setup. From there it was a sprint to get a PR as fast as possible. Within my first week I had my first PR up - which is a testament to the efficient processes the company has in place. After that I tried to touch as many pieces of the engineering systems as possible, and it naturally evolved from there.” - Jake
There is an internal wiki full of comprehensive technical documents to reference during development.
“The Wiki can capture information from conversations that happened months ago. Digging through slack channels in search of this information can be challenging. Even if you don’t know that something exists at first you can search the wiki first to uncover the various pieces of our systems and talk to whoever wrote it to expand on it.” - Jake
Twice a week the entire company gets together for our All Hands Meetings. The first is to go through what everyone is working on. The other is dedicated to the client projects to get updates on how each project is going.
“Having the All Hands project update meeting every week is helpful. Even though I didn’t know what was going on the first month I eventually recognized more and more terms and started to understand things better.” - Tiffany
Another company wide meeting held is Town Hall. Every other week the company leadership updates us on the business as a whole then opens the floor for questions and discussion.
We all thought these All Hands and Town Hall meetings carried over from in person to remote work nicely. They give everyone the chance to see and hear from people they don’t work with day-to-day. And they provide a way to keep a pulse on the other projects and initiatives going on in the company.
New meetings and routines were put in place to keep connected in our teams. Daily standups and weekly working sessions provided time to work with others and get feedback.
“Early on we implemented a daily standup meeting for the design team. We start our day with this meeting to share what we are working on for the day. It gives us a time every day to ground ourselves and have the accountability of starting the day without the act of going into the office. It also provides facetime with the team to get to know each other.” - Lauren
The use of Slack increased dramatically to make up for the loss of interactions that happen naturally when working in an office. It’s a great way to organize communications and get information to the right people quickly.
“Being forced to communicate through these public channels has given more people the opportunity to listen and contribute.” - Tiffany
For designers one of the most helpful additions was the channel dedicated to work in progress. It’s a great place to share early designs, ask questions, and gather feedback to create beautiful and easy-to-use products.
Something that has become useful for working remotely together is the normalization of starting ad hoc meetings.
“Don’t be afraid to start spontaneous video calls to ask questions or discuss. Often more can be said over video calls than written text.” - Jake
With Loom you can talk over screen recordings that get packaged into an easy to share video. Pointing to things on your screen and talking through issues via video can be easier than typing out a question. It’s also helpful for communicating ideas effectively without the expectation of needing a response right away. We have implemented the use of Loom videos in processes like asking for feedback on designs or pointing out bugs.
“Loom is basically all the benefits of a virtual meeting without having to get everyone available at the same time.” - Tiffany
We believe that getting to know the people you work with on a personal level is important, especially when they are who you spend much of your time with throughout the week. So we were excited to see the welcoming culture that Leverege had in place.
One fun way we share bits and pieces of our lives outside of work has been through the use of non-work-related slack channels. We have channels dedicated to pets, food, weekend projects, books, movies, sports, etc.. The willingness and interest in sharing fun projects and accomplishments from outside work makes it easier to get to know one another and has resulted in some light-hearted interactions and inside jokes.
“The fun channels allow you to interact with people you don’t directly work alongside day-to-day.” - Tiffany
“Don’t be afraid to show who you are and get to know the people you are working with. “ - Lauren
Going remote can sometimes be lonely. One way to replace the random social interactions in the office was creating a slack channel where people can start spontaneous coffee break calls. Anyone can hop in to chat for a while, and it’s a fun way breaking up the day.
“The coffee channel is where people can show up and talk about nothing in particular.” - Jake
We hold the occasional Friday virtual Happy Hour open to the entire company. It’s a fun place for everyone to get together and tell stories.
“Virtual happy hour is where people in the company tell stories. You get a more rounded sense of who they are” - Tiffany
“Make an effort to talk to people, get to know what projects they are working on, what they like doing, and who they are.”
“I pushed myself into different projects to learn as quickly as possible, and I also tried to be proactive in figuring out where I could help and respond to people who felt like their project was on fire.” - Tiffany
“Processes and defined sources of truth were instrumental in keeping people up to date while reducing the latency between decision making and distribution.” - Tiffany
“In my previous job as a software engineer I worked from home, but I wasn’t 100% confident in my ability to collaborate effectively with my new coworkers at Leverege as a brand new product manager. In the end, it went a lot better than I thought. People are flexible and it doesn’t take long to adapt.” - Tiffany
“I have been on teams that are remote that don’t have good communication which made work frustrating. It is hard to get work done when you don’t know what’s going on and having a repeat of that experience was something I was fearful of at first when going remote. However the fact that we have such a process of how we get work done and communicate here at Leverege made the transition to remote work easy.” - Lauren