We’re early in our careers, starting our first full-time jobs remotely due to COVID-19 work from home guidelines. Although Nines is based in Palo Alto, CA we've worked from Chattanooga, TN, Boston, MA, Berkeley, CA, and Sunnyvale, CA. Not having a central office to work in, we wondered about connecting with a new team and staying motivated throughout the day.
How would we get to know our managers when we’ve never met in person?
How should we stay motivated when in a different time zone?
We tried some ideas and below are a few that landed - maybe these will help other new, and not-so-new, hires too.
When a new employee hears “onboarding,” they might think about HR benefits and getting a new email account set up. That's true, but onboarding's other sense is of joining a ride where there's a well-defined team of experts and now here's one more to help propel. What's important is helping the new teammate feel included and ready to contribute to the TEAM. That's the spirit of onboarding that we'll cover today, with some ideas below.
Before meeting with folks, consider virtually breaking the ice with an introductory email. Maybe it includes info about interests, like ‘2 Truths and A Lie’ that readers need to guess. Or, a hobby photo / favorite movie / best birthday gift as a kid. Something distinctive but not too personal.
Reach out to new colleagues and ask for a 1:1, a casual person-to-person conversation. Maybe there’s someone whom you’re unlikely to work with, but you find cool. Keep it high-level and short. Could be an 11 min conversation to see the face behind the emails. Or, take the virtual 1:1 outside, on a walk. Stepping away from your desk helps with Zoom fatigue and signals that this is a more casual conversation. At the end of any 1:1, ask “Who else should I talk to?”
Remember as a kid at school how it could be awkward figuring out which lunch table to join? “Donuts” help your team automatically create these virtual lunch tables. Slack is an online tool to organize messaging within your company, and Donut is a downloadable Slack app that pairs people up for short conversations. It’s a Nines favorite and is free to try out. If your company doesn't use Slack, an alternative is randomly assigning team members to virtual lunch groups using a spreadsheet. Our tips for making the most out of the Donut include:
Don’t wait for someone to “take the lead” -- just grab a time that works on everyone’s calendar.
Use icebreaker questions. They’re a way to learn random facts about your colleagues and find a common interest. Donut has built-in questions and https://icebreaker.video/ has good ones too.
Ask “Where are you calling in from?” With remote work, some may have moved to explore a new city or to save costs, or moved back home with extended family, or are still living near the office (and still frequenting Coupa Coffee). The concept of “I’ve been/always wanted to go there” is useful. A Nines teammate called in from Texas, a place that one of us visited only for the Grace Hopper Celebration and a high school science fair. Turns out that this teammate also was a “science fair kid,” and his high school research actually inspired his interest in Machine Learning.
One colleague called in from Boston and it turns out we both love the same two cafes (Trident and Tatte), and I shared the screenshot of my food Insta at Tatte. New teammate, shared old stomping ground.
Building with your team remotely can be hard. Here are a few ideas:
Team code or power hours
I missed working alongside my team in the office. Even when focused on individual tasks, it's more fun to work side by side with others, creating iterative feedback loops and opportunities for small talk. My team tries to mirror the in-person team dynamics by having "team codes", where we all work on our individual projects but together over Zoom. Even though we’re all working throughout the meeting, it's much easier to ask a quick question or get feedback on implementation choices
Repurpose existing tools
I use the Figma app to mimic the in-person experience of whiteboarding for brainstorming product design.
Give shoutouts to teammates
The #kudos channel in Slack is a way to give shoutouts to thank teammates for their help and it’s not hierarchical (e.g. manager congratulating a direct report).
I worked on a 3-hour testing session during my first day. It was draining! However, one engineer whom I worked with gave me a shoutout in our kudos channel - great to feel appreciated already.
We aren’t talking about after-work cocktails here, since we span so many time zones and a happy hour in Tennessee is lunchtime in California. Giving each team ownership of a happy hour incentivizes them to come up with creative ideas and buy-in. It also spreads out the burden of planning activities across different groups. Zoom-based Scattergories and Pictionary (“Sooo, how am I supposed to draw a neural network without using letters or symbols??”) were a couple of recent hits at Nines.
Working from home got us thinking, During what parts of the day do we feel the most awake and productive? More sociable? When do we hit a slump? One of us tested a few different schedules and found that scheduling meetings back-to-back in the morning and then quiet project grind time in the afternoon makes the most sense for us. Tips for finding a daily rhythm include :
I start off every day with yoga, since I no longer have to commute on the train. It’s important for me to schedule this in my calendar otherwise I feel like there’s no delineation or balance between my work and personal life.
Keep time zones in mind. I’m working on ET but most of my colleagues are PT. I try to get my individual work done in my morning timeframe so that I’m all ready to go for meetings which typically need to happen in West Coast morning time. This schedule aligns with my own energy cycles (since I’m a morning person and would be a total sloth if I did individual work in the afternoon) and keeps in mind the time when my colleagues are awake.
From onboarding to teambuilding to staying motivated, we hope these remote-working suggestions will be useful. Got ideas to share with our community? Let us know.