Updated: Apr 21
Yes, onboarding during a pandemic is (very) difficult. Hiring great people, making them feel welcome and integrating them into an organization structure is a nightmare when you can only communicate via Zoom calls and over Slack.
Not to mention how crucial onboarding is for any company, especially since it is even more of a challenge nowadays, in the age of COVID-19. Two years ago we came up with a solution to onboarding challenges, omnipresent today as they were in the past - a system to eliminate the isolation, the confusion and sluggishness of integrating new people into the company, to make sure they feel at home right away.
Want to know more? Listen to Yuval Perry and Dalia Simons:
Do you remember that feeling you had as a kid on your first day at a new school?
You walked up to a building you’ve never been in before, surrounded by people you’ve never seen before.
You step into a classroom where the desks and chairs are different, and the teacher looks a bit intimidating. You don’t understand the equations on the board yet.
The worst part is lunch: finding a table to sit at. You scan the room, looking for whichever kids are least likely to mock you. It’s like Russian roulette, where the stakes are the next four years of your life.
Of course, everyone knows I, Ran Levi, am a super cool guy who’s always been popular and awesome. But for nerds like Nate Nelson and Guy Bin Noun, the writer and producer of this show, first days at school were pretty terrible. The kind of terrible that we grew out of when we became adults.
Except adults have their own first days of school. It’s called onboarding:
Dalia: My worst onboarding was my first job out of university.
Dalia Simons is a backend engineer and guild master at Wix.
Dalia: I came in the first day, a big company, and I found a pile of printed documents on my table and they were like, “OK. Now sit down. Read through that and we’ll come back in a few days to see how you’re doing.” I was like, “No!” [Laughs] I didn’t even… I was just… I just graduated and didn’t even understand how things are working yet and I had this pile of papers to read.
The first day at a new engineering job can go wrong in any number of ways. Your boss could plop a stack of technical documentation on your desk, give you a deadline to get through it all, and walk away like everything’s swell.
Dalia: A lot of my days I would come in and I don’t know what I’m doing. I still didn’t learn anything. I feel like I don’t understand. I go to meetings, I don’t understand what’s going on.
You could be paired up with someone who’s not too keen on having the new kid sit at their table.
Dalia: I still feel like it’s very strange starting with people that you don’t know.
You could have a boss, or an entire management team, that’s less than enthusiastic about putting time aside to help the new hire.
Dalia: I had to wait a long time to ask questions because whoever was helping me was busy with his own tasks. So I had to – I kept waiting. I got to the office in the morning, I didn’t always know what I should do now and it was a very frustrating experience. It took me some time until I actually started working on tasks. And when I started working, I didn’t understand the infrastructure a lot of times so I found myself a bit lost.
CONSEQUENCES OF BAD ONBOARDING
The first few days at a new company can be tough. But the consequences aren’t only to the employee. Bad onboarding is bad for everyone--for those involved, and the company as a whole.
Recently, a company called Onboardia--which specializes in...well...you can probably
guess--did a study tracking the relationship between how employees were onboarded, and how engaged they were at their jobs even six or more months later. According to the study, over half of employees who were “disengaged” at work had little to no assistance when they first got the job. By contrast, 62% of “engaged” employees described their onboarding as positive and effective.
Dalia: When you have onboarders that come in, and their first month was a frustrating experience, then they lose their motivation and then you need to work very, very hard to get people’s motivation up again.
The way employees are welcomed to their jobs affects how they approach those jobs months down the line.
Dalia: It’s very easy to lose the motivation and it’s very hard to gain it again and get people excited.
According to Onboardia, after one year employees who experienced positive onboarding were twice as likely to describe themselves as “comfortable” at work and 75% of them described themselves as “loyal” to their employers.
Dalia: So I think it’s a subject that a lot of time is overlooked. It’s like, we’ll invest a lot of time in hiring, hiring process, and then they’ll come and they’ll just learn the job, learn on the job. And it’s very, very important to give a new employee, a new developer, a good fitting when he starts to work and not just throwing [him] in the water and letting him drown.
When Dalia joined Wix nine years ago, onboarding was very much overlooked. In fact, it was hardly given much thought by anybody. She wasn’t given any formal training, or introduced to her coworkers in any special way. But it wasn’t a problem.
Dalia: When I started in Wix, it was still a very small company. So at the back-end, we were five developers, so it was pretty small. I think for small companies, maybe the process that we did isn’t relevant. Because for Wix, when it was really small then it was really easy for me.
I got in and I think my second day on the job, I got a task already and I just started digging in the code. And there wasn’t any – see, there wasn’t a special framework we were using, everything was pretty standard that I knew from the industry. It was running on Spring, it was running on things that I already knew.
Dalia’s onboarding experience was less like the first day at a new school than the first day in a band, or a club. There simply weren’t that many people to meet, or rules to learn, or new things to get used to, so she fit right in.
But the engineers that followed in her footsteps in the years to come had a distinctly different experience.
Dalia: I think the problem is that it doesn’t scale for big organizations. As the company grew and we started to recruit a lot, I mean we really started to recruit like crazy, and we saw it just doesn’t scale.
At a little website company, onboarding was simple. At a growing, multinational corporation, it was not.
DECIDING TO CHANGE THINGS
Yuval: So because we have the Guild system, we collected the experience and the feedbacks from people who just joined Wix.
Yuval Perry is the Manager of the Server Infrastructure Group at Wix.
Yuval: And we saw that around many teams, we had the frustrating experience.
Dalia: The same frustration coming up from a lot of different teams, and we were like “There must be a way to solve it for everybody instead of each team trying to solve it for themselves”. We must be able to create a process that will solve it for everybody and will save time for all the teams instead of everybody trying to invent the wheel or do their own thing.
Yuval: That’s why we decided to take on this challenge.
Two years ago, Yuval, Dalia and a team of experienced managers decided to overhaul the way their company did onboarding.
Interviewer: So once you decided that you were going to change onboarding, what ideas were bouncing around? How did you guys begin to make this change?
Yuval: OK. So the first idea is to agree on our guidelines.
Dalia: We tried to collect all the basic crucial documentation we already had. So we said, OK, what are the things that - we want people to still read a few documents or watch a few videos. So we collected those. And then we said, what do we want people to learn? What’s the important things that we want them to learn?
So we want to learn how our CI/CD works. So we need some kind of a project that they will do so they will learn all of the tools we are using for CI/CD. And then we said, OK, we have a few building blocks when you write a project.
So we want them to learn our framework. We want them to learn how to do experiments. We want them to learn how to use our messaging system, a few different things. So we made a list of all the things that we think were important and we said, OK, now how can we build some kind of a project around it or something that will give them the experience of using all of those different tools.
The team sat down and brainstormed on how to distill an entire Wix experience into a single, streamlined process. Some of the ideas that came out of these sessions were quite radical, like intentionally placing new hires not with the colleagues that they’d actually be working with, but different teams entirely.
Yuval: You onboard in a different team. This is for you to be free of production stress or delivery and also a place for you to ask silly questions.
Dalia: You can ask all the stupid questions you want and you don’t feel like you’re ruining your reputation in the new team.
Yuval: And this has a great positive impact on Wix culture because another team is teaching your engineer the job. So everybody at Wix in the first six months experiences at least two teams to onboard, it gets you connection and networking with other peers.