While the pandemic may have accelerated the adoption of remote work, companies and startups were already experimenting with “work-from-home” options. Granted, that figure was only 7.2% of the software engineering workforce - quite slow on the uptake - but with covid behind us, we now have more promising data.
More than 60% of developers are currently working remotely. Much of this can be attributed to the successful adaptation of digital collaboration tools, the proven viability of remote workflows, and a reevaluation of traditional office-based models.
Being called a “digital nomad” might score you some social points, yet the scope of such an identity encompasses far more. For example, the benefits of remote work include:
- Saving on commuting time, costs, and work-related expenses.
- Increased productivity in a personalized environment.
- Enhanced work-life balance.
- Reduced stress from office distractions.
- Opportunity for a custom and comfortable workspace.
- Better alignment with personal preferences and routines.
- Improved focus and concentration on tasks.
- Potential for better family and personal time management.
In my experience, it’s the onboarding of remote software developers that can be particularly challenging. In this post, I’ll explore the strategies, tools, and best practices to successfully onboard software developers in a remote setting.
What is Software Developer Onboarding?
Software developer onboarding is the structured process of introducing new developers to a company's environment, practices, and culture.
It encompasses orientation, training, tool setup, codebase familiarization, and team integration. The goal is to accelerate their productivity, help them adapt to the company's workflows, and facilitate their integration into the development team.
Effective onboarding reduces the learning curve, enhances job satisfaction, and contributes to the overall success of both individual developers and the organization's software development efforts.
Our parent company, codequest, has always had a highly flexible approach to the location and hours of work. The guiding principle has always been to work in "a good working environment," whether it's created at our HQ in Warsaw, online, or a little bit of both.
Currently, about 65% of our employees work entirely remotely (in Poland and worldwide), and 35% prefer the office/hybrid mode.
Our recruitment process is 100% remote, which means our communication and collaboration systems must be spot-on for onboarding developers remotely.
Why is Developer Onboarding Important?
The onboarding of software developers is crucial for several important reasons:
Proper onboarding ensures that new developers quickly become familiar with the company's work processes, tools, and technologies. This helps them integrate into the team smoothly and start contributing productively.
Reduced Ramp-Up Time
A well-structured onboarding process can significantly reduce the time it takes for new developers to become productive. They can start working on tasks sooner, which benefits both the individual and the team's overall efficiency.
Onboarding provides an opportunity to communicate clear expectations, performance metrics, and goals to new developers. This clarity helps them understand what's expected of them and how their contributions contribute to the team's success.
Onboarding goes beyond technical aspects; it also introduces new developers to the company's culture, values, and norms. Feeling aligned with the company's culture enhances job satisfaction and engagement.
The onboarding process facilitates relationship-building between new developers and their colleagues. A sense of belonging and camaraderie improves collaboration and fosters a positive work environment.
Existing team members can share knowledge, best practices, and insights with new developers during onboarding. This transfer of information prevents silos and promotes collective growth.
Retention and Job Satisfaction
An effective onboarding process can improve job satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of new developers leaving the company. Feeling supported and valued from the beginning can lead to longer retention.
Developers who are onboarded properly are less likely to make mistakes due to misunderstanding processes or requirements. This can result in fewer bugs, improved code quality, and smoother project delivery.
Onboarding can include training opportunities that allow new developers to enhance their skills, whether it's learning a new programming language or getting familiar with specific tools.
Ultimately, a well-executed onboarding process positively impacts the overall performance of the development team. It enables the team to work cohesively, deliver high-quality products, and adapt to changes more effectively.
What is Pre-Onboarding Preparation?
At our small-but-cozy company the last stage of recruitment is called the "Grupówka," [Group Interview] where the candidate is selected on character traits that need to prove cultural fit. If a positive decision is made, the People & Culture team step in and commence pre-onboarding.
For pre-onboarding, it’s essential to collect the necessary information from the candidate, such as personal details, emergency contacts, and other administrative information. Ask if your developer has access to the required hardware, and software, and is sorted with their workspace environment before they start.
Pre-onboarding also involves preparing all the documents that the new developer will need to complete, such as employment contracts, tax forms, confidentiality agreements, and any other legal documents. Because all of this is done remotely, your online digital signature application should streamline the process and ensure secure and efficient document handling.
A well-designed and strategically treated pre-onboarding process helps build a bond with the new developer, making them feel like part of the team even before officially starting the job.
Why You Should Consider a Welcome Kit for New Developers?
If you’ve some extra money earmarked for a welcome kit, go ahead and send one before the official start date. Welcome kits are valuable tools for setting the stage for a positive onboarding experience, helping new developers transition smoothly into their roles, and fostering a strong sense of connection and engagement with the company.
The welcome kit should contain information about company culture, values, and any other relevant materials that can help the new developer feel welcomed and informed. Nothing says “Welcome Abroad!” like cool swag such as tote bags, employee handbooks (with pictures of teammates so devs could try putting names to faces during online meetings), notepads, pens, etc.
Who Is the Onboarding Buddy and Why Is It Important?
In the software developer onboarding process, a "buddy" is an experienced team member who is assigned to guide and support a new developer during their initial days or weeks at the company.
The buddy plays the role of a trusted point of contact who can offer assistance, answer questions, and help the new developer navigate the onboarding process more effectively. The buddy system serves several key purposes:
A buddy helps the new developer quickly become familiar with the team's dynamics, culture, and work processes. This speeds up the integration process and reduces the learning curve.
The buddy offers guidance on various aspects of the job, such as using tools and software, adhering to coding standards, and understanding the company's development practices.
Questions and Concerns
New developers often have many questions and concerns during their onboarding. A buddy is a go-to person who can provide accurate and timely answers.
Introduction to Team
The buddy introduces the new developer to other team members, making it easier for them to connect and collaborate.
Buddies can share insights, best practices, and practical tips based on their own experiences, helping the new developer avoid common pitfalls.
Feedback and Support
Buddies can provide feedback on the new developer's work, helping them improve and align their contributions with team expectations.
Having a supportive buddy can boost the new developer's confidence, making them more comfortable in their new environment.
Starting a new job remotely or in an unfamiliar environment can be isolating. A buddy offers companionship and a sense of belonging.
Buddies can explain the company's culture, unwritten norms, and unwritten rules that are essential for a successful transition.
A positive onboarding experience facilitated by a buddy can contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention.
The buddy system fosters a supportive and inclusive environment, making the new developer feel valued and motivated from the start.
What Does Onboarding Look Like in Software Development at Our Company?
The hired developer doesn't even have to come to the office. On his or her first day on the job, the developer already has all the onboarding meetings scheduled in the calendar, including a virtual coffee where everyone can get to know each other better.
At our company, during the all-hands meeting, our CEO Tomek welcomes the new developer. He also personally welcomes the new developer to the team before that meeting. This also provides a good opportunity to discuss values and what the new hire will expect, and hopefully love, about his or her new job ❤️
A few weeks later, the new developer gives a short presentation about themselves. They usually just talk about their passions and interests.
Here are some tools we use to help with work, productivity, and a smooth transition:
- Jira, Trello, or Asana - for project planning, management, and collaboration.
- Slack - for remote communication.
- Gmail - for emailing.
- Zoom and Google Meets - for video conferencing.
- Loom - for async video messaging.
- Harvest - for time tracking.
- hay for Slack - for quick feedback and collecting insights.
- Weekdone - for OKRs.
- Udemy - for skills development.
- Grammarly, Ludwig, ChatGPT - for spell checking and content idea creation.
- Git - for tracking code changes.
- GitHub - for managing Git repositories.
- 1Password - for keeping passwords secure.
What Is the Role of an Engineering Manager in a Software Developer’s Onboarding?
After a general orientation, the engineering manager might sit down with the developer. In such meetings, the engineering managers typically introduce the developer to the team's structure, projects, and goals. They discuss the developer's role, responsibilities, and the broader context of their work within the team's objectives.
The engineering manager might also provide insights into the team's workflows, development processes, and collaboration tools. This meeting serves as an opportunity for the developer to ask questions, clarify expectations, and understand how their work contributes to the team's success. Such meetings often set the tone for open communication, alignment, and smooth integration into the development team.
In our case, our new hire also has a conversation with our CTO, Michał Karwański. The purpose of this meeting is to provide all the necessary information about data security.
What Are the Different Ways to Nurture Positive Work Culture With Remote Developers?
It should be more than just a daily poke on your platforms 😂
Checking up on remote software developers is essential to ensure productivity, collaboration, and project success. Here are several ways to effectively monitor and manage remote developers:
Maintain open lines of communication through video calls, chat platforms, and email. Regular check-ins allow you to discuss progress, clarify requirements, and address any challenges.
Require developers to provide regular updates on their work progress. This could be in the form of written reports, summaries during meetings, or status updates on shared documents.
Ask developers to submit regular reports detailing their accomplishments, challenges, and plans. This keeps you informed about their progress.
Conduct daily standup meetings where developers share their goals for the day, recent accomplishments, and any roadblocks they're facing. This keeps everyone aligned and helps identify potential issues early.
Pulse surveys serve as concise and frequent feedback mechanisms within companies, aimed at swiftly gauging employee sentiment, engagement levels, and overall wellbeing.
By regularly capturing insights on various workplace aspects, these surveys enable organizations to proactively identify trends, address concerns, and fine-tune strategies to foster a healthier work environment, enhance employee satisfaction, and ultimately drive productivity and retention.
Implement a code review process to ensure code quality and consistency. Code reviews also offer opportunities for knowledge sharing among remote developers.
Encourage remote developers to engage in pair programming sessions, where two developers collaborate on coding tasks together. This fosters learning and ensures high-quality code.
After three months we do a big constructive feedback session on developers' work. This helps them improve and align their work with expectations. After 1.5 months, we also do a feedback session with Karwer, our CTO.
Virtual Team Building
Organize virtual team-building activities and meetings to maintain a sense of connection and camaraderie among remote team members.
Conduct regular performance reviews to discuss goals, achievements, areas for improvement, and career growth. Here you could also discuss your key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that you and your developers track to demonstrate their contributions.
Other important interaction points:
- Kudos on Slack - where we compliment our employees who go above and beyond.
- Feedback Fridays - Special shout-outs during our all-hands meeting.
- Dobre Słowo “The Good Word” - Our all-hands meeting where employees from all levels and departments come together to receive updates, share information, discuss important matters, and align on company goals, strategies, and initiatives. It's an opportunity for leadership to communicate company-wide announcements, provide insights into the company's performance, and encourage transparency and open communication.
Balancing monitoring with trust and autonomy is vital for remote developers' productivity and job satisfaction. Striking this equilibrium ensures effective remote team management by fostering an environment that encourages both oversight and the freedom to excel.
Mastering the onboarding of remote software developers is essential for startups, and SMEs, all the way to larger enterprises. Strategic preparation, cultivating a nurturing atmosphere, and promoting learning empower businesses to seamlessly integrate remote developers, amplify efficiency, and attain project milestones.
Remote onboarding transcends challenges; it's a chance to forge a resilient team adept at excelling in the dynamic global workspace 🪅