Remote Hiring: How to Onboard Developers Remotely

Developers can sometimes feel overwhelmed when starting a new job. They’ll have to learn a new technology stack, as well as a new company culture.

A well-delivered onboarding process enables software developers to start their new jobs informed and with confidence, and quickly integrates them into their teams. 

When onboarding remotely, you’re unable to oversee the onboarding progress in-person. However, this will force you to make the process more automated and scalable.

Here are 7 top tips on how to create a remote onboarding process that gets new software developers up and running, regardless of whether you’re with them in-person.

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1. Communicate pre-arrival

The onboarding process starts as soon as the employment contract is signed. Use an e-signature tool, like HelloSign and DocuSign, to get all contracts and forms completed early. That way, the developer will have one less thing to think about when they start their new job.

Send the forms with a carefully drafted welcome email. Include a personalized letter or video from the CEO saying how much everyone is looking forward to them joining the team.

Developers might find a chain of command diagram useful to get a clearer picture of the size of the company. A corresponding list of contact details will enable the developer to reach out to the correct people for advice and requests.

It’s also a good idea to include a detailed schedule for the new developer’s first few weeks on the job. You will ease their nerves by telling them exactly what they will be doing each day.

Include log in credentials in the welcome email. When the developer needs to create their own accounts, include step-by-step instructions on how to do so. Just make sure that new starters don’t have permissions that will allow them to inadvertently wreak havoc!

If the developer will be working remotely, advise them on how they can set up a comfortable workspace. Include photos from which they can draw inspiration (fun photos from the team – preferably including pets – are the best!).

New hires will also appreciate a list of commonly used acronyms. You wouldn’t want them to get weeks into their job, still not knowing what some acronym means, and feeling too embarrassed to ask.

Finally, a short set of videos can give an overview of your company’s products, projects, values, culture, leaders and executives, data security, ethics guidelines, and basic expectations like punctuality and dress code.

Aside from the welcome email, get your new hire included in existing email chains, internal updates, and relevant instant message chat groups. Make sure that they know how to find the channels where they can ask questions and get in on office banter.

2. Remotely ensure that training is delivered

You’re responsible for overseeing the creation and maintenance of training materials. You and/or your hiring manager must deliver consistent, standardized training to every new hire so that all developers act in alignment.

For non-technical training, regularly updated pre-recorded videos will do the trick. Just don’t make new hires sit through hours and hours of mundane content. They’ll forget most of it and will be unnecessarily overwhelmed.

Bored developer
Don’t bore developers with endless onboarding videos

New hires must receive some information upfront. However, not all information is relevant or useful right at the start. The best onboarding experiences show new employees where to find the information that they need when they need it.

For technical training, new software developers should be able to refer to documentation written by other members of the tech team. In an ideal world, developers maintain documentation that explains how to do their job (or, at least, instructions for carrying out repetitive and procedural tasks). In theory, programmers should be able to disappear and have someone else seamlessly take their place by referring to their documentation.

If your company doesn’t already maintain such documentation, you might want to coordinate their creation. A lot of effort will be required upfront. However, without them, your company is at risk of losing valuable knowledge each time an employee leaves.

You could ask each employee to spend a few hours each week building up the documentation for their role. Developers with identical roles should work on a shared document.

The documentation should include which software combinations they use and how to use them, standard operating procedures, contact lists, and common bug fixes.

Have developers use a collaboration wiki tool, like Notion or Confluence, to keep the documentation organized, accessible, and easily searchable.

3. Assign a buddy

Set up a buddy or mentor system to give new developers a go-to person who they can always ask for help.

Junior developers make great buddies. Their onboarding experiences are fresh in their minds so they can offer better advice to newcomers. Plus, they sometimes come across as more approachable. 

Buddies and new developers should engage in regular pair programming sessions. This encourages developers to work together to solve a problem rather than having a buddy solve a new developer’s problems for them.

While buddies are an excellent resource for new developers, you should make clear that anyone in the technical team will be happy to help them; not just their buddy (and make sure that your existing team is onboard with this commitment!).

A by-product of the buddy system is the opportunity for you to evaluate the knowledge and leadership skills of buddies to help inform future promotions.

4. Oversee introductions

Formally introduce new developers to everyone using video conference calls. Schedule some video calls for their first day.

If your company is small, get everyone in on the call. Otherwise, schedule calls with each department so that the new developer can see how their work will fit into the company’s wider projects.

Also, schedule a video call with the specific team that the developer will be joining for an informal “get to know you” session – no work-talk allowed!

If possible, schedule a call with the CEO so that the new developer can hear the company’s goals, vision, and current situation first-hand from the person at the helm.

5. Integrate new developers into their team

When they’re ready to get stuck into some work, make sure that new developers start with an easy task: the development of a tiny, well-defined feature.

A quick win will build their confidence and momentum. Plus, they’ll get to experience the full development workflow, including the code review and production deployment phases.

New hires come with fresh eyes. When they gain some confidence, they might want to suggest some improvements to technical workflows and conventions. Don’t let senior developers have the “This is how we do it here” attitude. Create a system for collecting and evaluating suggestions and encourage everyone to use it. You could impose a minimum number of suggestions that need to be submitted by every employee each month. Then, schedule in meetings for evaluating and prioritizing the suggestions.

Dog raising paw
Welcome suggestions from new developers

Other than making useful work contributions, new developers can integrate with their team members by taking part in social activities.

For in-person socializing, you can organize informal lunches out, board game sessions at the office, and hackathon days.

For remote socializing, you can set up video calls that developers can drop in and out of during breaks to chat. You can arrange demonstration sessions where teams show off their recently finished product features. You can schedule online coding competitions or “clashes” with Clash of Code

You could even encourage new developers to contribute to making internal content that’s consumed by everyone in the company. You can read more about internal content in our article on how to keep remote tech teams engaged.

6. Continually improve your remote onboarding process

To continually improve your remote onboarding process, regularly collect feedback from your new hires. Try to identify the stages at which they felt unsure, confused, or frustrated. You can then make improvements to your onboarding process by adding more support at those stages.

You’ll also need to identify the tasks that consumed most of their time in the beginning. Then look at how you can streamline those tasks.

To remotely collect feedback, send out surveys using a tool like Typeform or SurveyMonkey. You can also chat to new hires throughout their first few months and ask about their progression in becoming an integrated part of the team.

7. Automate your remote onboarding process

You’ll probably be able to perform a successful remote onboarding for a single employee by using a simple onboarding checklist, like these from Process Street and Workable.

However, you’ll need to do everything manually: keep track of which tasks the employee has completed, set up meetings, and deliver certain information at certain times.

When you’re managing the onboarding of several employees simultaneously, you’ll need to automate some tasks, or you will eventually forget to do some.

You can use employee onboarding software like Enboarder, BambooHR, or Personio to stay on top of your remote onboardings. 

These tools are a one-stop-shop for remote onboarding. They can deliver training documents and videos, nudge new hires to complete tasks, send meeting reminders, collect feedback through surveys and questionnaires, and integrate with other tools like your existing e-signature service. 

Before using a new tool, check that your existing HR software doesn’t already have onboarding functionalities. 

What next?

A consistent remote onboarding experience is essential for successfully integrating new developers into their teams.

A good remote onboarding process shows a new developer what to expect, what is expected of them, and where to find information when they need it.

As with any task performed at scale, automation is your friend. Speak to your IT department about the best way to systemize your remote onboarding process to take advantage of their existing systems.

Finally, collect as much feedback and activity data from your onboarding process as possible. Track everything. You never know what data will be useful later 😉

Wondering what other changes you need to make to your tech hiring process in order to “go remote”? We’ve got your back! Read about how to switch to remote tech hiring here

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Jon Holstead

Jon Holstead

Jon Holstead is a writer at CodinGame. Jon has previously worked as a software developer and CTO for both SaaS startups and larger tech organizations. He started his career in technology by earning a computer science Bachelor of Science degree from Durham University, UK. Jon has since built a multitude of ventures, including a property investment company and a business blog. Outside of work, Jon enjoys eating "pain au chocolat" and is a sucker for golden retrievers.