The Complete Checklist to Effectively Onboard Developers Remotely

The first few weeks of training are especially important for new remote developers. Make sure to follow these 5 pointers for effective onboarding.
The Complete Checklist to Effectively Onboard Developers Remotely
Hazel Raoult

In the past few years, with the advent of new collaboration tools, remote workers have gone from being the exception to becoming a significant portion of the workforce.

Many modern startups were already embracing this change going into 2020, with companies offering “work from home” days and employees becoming digital nomads to trot around the globe and work from wherever there’s an internet connection.

Enter March 2020 and this already growing trend of remote work got supercharged due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of a sudden, remote work isn’t just a good-to-have, but a necessity for companies wanting to stay in business.

Developers have been wishing to go remote for some time now and they are not alone — 99% of people would choose to work remotely, at least part-time, for the rest of their careers. But while there are many obvious benefits of embracing remote (increased productivity, no commute, access to global talent, cost savings on office overheads, etc.) for both the employer and the employee, onboarding remote developers effectively can be a tricky process.

You need a defined remote onboarding process and by creating one, you’re not only setting your company up for future success, but you’re also fixing a possibly flawed process in your company (a mere 12% of respondents in a Gallup survey stated that their company does a great job with onboarding).

A sound onboarding process for remote developers is essential to reducing their turnover (which can happen within just a few months of hiring) and accelerating their productivity.

Here’s a five-point checklist (in no particular order) you must keep in mind to build a robust remote developer onboarding process for your company.

Assign a Mentor

Irrespective of the level of experience of your new developer, adjusting to a new working culture and environment can always be challenging, especially when remote. To minimize that stress, you must assign a mentor who can provide proper guidance to the new hire.

Your job is to see to it that new team members have someone whom they can turn to without the slightest hesitation, preferably a peer rather than a supervisor. That is, assigning a mentor who is an equal team member works much better in terms of open communication and quick learning.

Often, assigning newcomers to slightly more experienced developers would be the optimal choice, as the mentor will have an opportunity to try a leadership position, and the mentee gets thorough attention and the chance to understand the company’s processes faster.

Assigning a mentor who is an equal team member works much better in terms of open communication and quick learning.

However, ensure the mentor’s schedule is relatively clear, especially in the first two weeks or so. Don’t overburden existing developers with a lot of supervisor duties or they may develop resentment toward the responsibilities that come with a management position.

They could even start resenting the new hire in this case. So, make sure they’re eagerly up for it and won’t take their mentorship duty as a burden.

The responsibilities of the mentor would include:

  • Answering questions about the company’s development and testing standards.
  • Describing the specifics of ongoing projects.
  • Ensuring the new team member has access to all training materials and guidelines.
  • Introducing the new developer to other team members.
  • Assigning tasks, providing, and obtaining honest feedback.

Above all, the duty of a mentor is to make the new hires feel comfortable so they can start contributing to the ongoing development projects quickly.

Create a Training Program

Logic dictates that a well-trained workforce is a more productive workforce with greater job satisfaction. And for the employer, it translates into better employee retention, greater ROI, and better business output.

Research proves the short- and long-term benefits of employee training. The immediate returns include better knowledge-soaking ability, skills development, and a favorable outlook towards work.

Then, over a period of a few months, training continues to have positive effects on the employee’s job performance and thus, lowers employee turnover.

The first few weeks of training are especially important for remote developers.

New hires often have an aversion to training programs, because it’s true that training sessions have a bad rap for being tedious and boring. To avoid that, here are a few pointers to keep in mind when creating a training program for new joiners:

  • Identify training needs by assessing the employee’s experience level and skills gap.
  • Define personalized training objectives based on the needs assessment.
  • Provide hands-on (virtual) demonstration with real examples. For instance, the trainer can solve actual coding problems from the company’s past projects.
  • Allow them to apply their learnings in a risk-free environment where they can get creative and make mistakes without worrying about consequences.
  • Provide highly specific and constructive feedback/criticism during training sessions.
  • Towards the end of the training program, reinforce everything with summarizing lessons and short quizzes.

You can consider using an employee training software to create an interactive on-the-job training program and measure training effectiveness. You can also run a weekly pulse to check in on the progress of your new recruits. For remote developers, in particular, it is a good idea to have an online platform for providing feedback.

Allow Pair Programming for Introductory Projects

Pair programming is a fairly common software development practice wherein two programmers work together at one workstation. One writes the actual code while the other reviews each line as it’s written. This technique typically leads to fewer coding mistakes or bugs and more efficient code.

As you can imagine, this can be particularly useful during the onboarding process of new developers so they can quickly get acclimatized to the way software development is done in your company.

So, by having a couple of developers work on the same code together in real-time (for instance, on a video call with screen sharing), team members have the opportunity to discuss decisions and share feedback.

New developers benefit by getting explanations in context and learning about how decisions are made by the development team. Pair programming also serves as cross-training that liberates knowledge from the silos of experience that can exist in a team.

Provide the Right Tools

Your remote developers should be able to have the same level of discussions as they would’ve if they were on-site.

To facilitate these interactions and foster easy collaboration, you must leverage a range of communication and project management tools, such as Slack and Basecamp, that are meant to make remote collaboration seamless.

For remote developers, in particular, Codeshare is a must-have free tool (used by teams at formidable companies like Adobe, Microsoft and IBM) which enables them to share code in real-time.

So make sure to invest in all the necessary tools and allow your new hires enough time to learn how to use them.

Send Helpful Resources About Remote Working

Finally, it’s a good idea to inspire your new employee to set up a dedicated remote workspace for themselves that’s free of distractions. Encourage them to take frequent breaks away from the desk, exercise, and get enough rest. Not only does this help increase their productivity, but it shows that you care about your remote team, not just the business profits they bring in.

Also, make sure to send remote developers some helpful resources about working remotely — online reading material (such as a fun blog post), e-books, and YouTube videos. They can consume this useful content on their own time and become more well-rounded remote workers (and people).

Final Thoughts

As convenient as it would have been, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all process to onboarding remote developers — every company has its unique requirements, tools, processes, and culture, and you need to tailor your remote onboarding process accordingly.

That being said, all of the suggested best practices above will still apply, remote or otherwise. Apart from that, just make sure that you set clear expectations, emphasize the importance of open communication, and provide ample opportunities for new hires to build connections with their new teammates. You’ll have yourself a truly effective remote onboarding process that you can be proud of.

About the Author

Hazel Raoult is a freelance marketing writer and works with PRmention. She has 6+ years of experience in writing about business, entrepreneurship, marketing and all things SaaS. Hazel loves to split her time between writing, editing, and hanging out with her family.

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