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Onboarding remote employees, on the other side of the world

Onboarding remote employees, on the other side of the world
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When I first started full-time here at Rollbar, I was living in Malaysia for the month, starting a year-long journey around the world that I'm currently still on. While it was certainly fun and exciting to explore Kuala Lumpur, it was a bit more difficult to onboard in a new job when I was 15 hours ahead of the rest of the team. Luckily, everyone here at Rollbar is incredibly flexible and helpful, and we were able to get creative about the onboarding process. If you're considering onboarding a remote employee in a different time zone as the rest of your team, read on for some tips and tricks that should help speed up the process.

This is my third job in tech, and my second as a remote employee, so while I can't say I've seen it all in terms of onboarding, I have seen a few different methods. The most obvious (and easiest) method is to have your new team member come in to the office bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and have all the members of the team available to help make their onboarding a success. Unfortunately, if the team member you're onboarding doesn't live in the same area, that isn't really possible. What to do? Some companies get around this by requiring all remote employees come onsite for their onboarding. If you're an all-remote company, like the second place I worked, you've probably got the kinks figured out in terms of onboarding your new employees. In many ways it can be easier to onboard as a remote employee at a place where everyone is remote, rather than as one the few remote employees in an otherwise "traditional" office: you're all remote, and you all understand the challenges surrounding that, so you've worked out methods that get around this for the company as a whole. But how to onboard a remote team member when most people are in the office everyday? Here at Rollbar, we've figured out a few key steps.

Have a specific employee be in charge of training your newest team member

It's easy to have an onboarding document with a few tasks to complete and then start assigning more tasks to your new team member, telling them to feel free to ask anyone for help, but that is actually not necessarily the best way to onboard a remote employee. When your new team member is remote, you have to bear in mind that they aren't getting face time with all the other members of the company, and they may not be sure of who does what exactly in the company when it comes to more specific questions. Rather than having them individually message each person on Slack, trying to find the right person for each question, give them a specific point of contact on your team to help onboard them. For me, it was the other support engineer here, who also happened to be remote. For pretty much any question that I had, I asked him first, and it made me feel much more comfortable more quickly than I otherwise would have. I always knew that no matter what I needed to know, I had someone to ask who would respond as soon as possible, and was looking out to make sure I wasn't lost. Feeling comfortable and supported is key for onboarding a new employee, and having someone to act as your new employee's point of contact enables that.

Overlap, overlap, overlap

Having a specific employee as the point of contact for your newest team member is super helpful, but it can still be quite difficult to onboard someone 15 hours ahead of the rest of your team if there is no overlap in working hours. Here at Rollbar, I specifically worked at least half of the time for the first few weeks during hours that would overlap with the rest of the team. This meant that I was staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning sometimes, but since I knew it was only for the first couple of weeks, it really wasn't so bad. Plus, I wasn't languishing for a day waiting for a response to a simple question, which can be very demoralizing when you're first starting at a new job.

Set up a document for questions

It may not always be possible to have significant overlap between your remote employee's hours and the rest of your team. One of my favorite things we did here at Rollbar to get around this issue was to set up a daily questions document. Previously, I had been leaving my questions in our engineering Slack channel, which would sometimes get drowned out with other chatter, so I wasn't always getting the answers I needed. During a chat one day with Cory, our CTO, he came up with the brilliant idea of me having a daily questions document where I could leave any and all questions I needed help with for the other team members to check when they got online. This meant that I could get the answers I needed all in one place, instead of having to scroll through our chats and hope that everyone had seen my questions and answered them. In fact, we set up a great integration with Quip, where every time someone edits my questions doc, it posts to our engineering channel in Slack, so everyone is notified. Cory also came up with the idea of this document having two sections: unresolved and resolved questions. When a question is answered satisfactorily, I just move all the info into the resolved section, so if I ever run into that issue again, I have a quick reference point to check. I actually still use this questions doc, and when we onboarded another support engineer, my daily questions doc was an invaluable resource for getting him started as well.

Have a regular checkin with a higher up

Having regular checkins with your boss is important for any employee, but for remote employees, it's crucial. Especially if your employee is in a time zone that is very different from the rest of the team, finding a time for them to be clued in to what's going on in the company is invaluable. Cory and I meet once a week to discuss what I'm working on, what the rest of the team is working on, and answering any questions I may have. While this seems like something that could be easily overlooked, I credit these meetings the most with making me feel comfortable and valued as a team member here at Rollbar even when across the world from everyone else. It was in one of these meetings, where I was explaining how difficult it was to make sure I always got the answers I needed from other team members in Slack, that Cory came up with the daily questions document that I still use to this day. I look forward to our meetings every week since it keeps me clued in to the rest of the company, no matter where I am in the world.

If you have a good onboarding process for your remote employees, they'll be able to provide value to the rest of the team quickly, and they'll feel like a valued team member as well. Once you get a good remote onboarding process set up, your company can reap the benefits of having employees around the globe, such as support available during hours your team would normally be offline, or engineers who are on-call when the rest of your team is sleeping. While it can seem like an insurmountable challenge to onboard an employee on the other side of the world from the rest of your team, take it from us here at Rollbar - with a little creative thinking and some flexibility, it can be done!

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