Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m the Operations Enthusiast at Olark. This means I handle anything related to internal company processes and I do it with gusto. Some of the responsibilities under my purview include: human resources, culture development, event planning, office management and whatever else comes to mind to make Olark better. My efforts in these areas play a key role in identifying challenges to our organizational flow and culture as we continue to scale. I enjoy a great amount of autonomy to research, offer ideas and enact changes to ensure Olark continue to move in a positive direction. I’ve convinced the management team to use walkie-talkies for in house quick fire communications, read more about how I did that below, our productivity has skyrocketed since then!
When you joined Olark earlier this year, what was the onboarding process like?
When I joined roughly seven months ago, the onboarding process had somewhat of a “startup” feel. Everyone enthusiastically pitched in to help, but the lack of set processes made onboarding a bit chaotic. HR related items, Customer Support training and learning about my role overlapped and that lead to switching gears and a fair amount of stress. My onboarding team used a google docs checklist to track my progress, however, there was some uncertainty about who would do what and when.
Where did you see room for improvement in the onboarding process?
The biggest improvement opportunity involved streamlining the onboarding process to provide transparency to all parties involved: Operations team, Security team, CS team, etc. However, I’ve noticed in my own onboarding experiences at other companies that streamlining processes can sometimes sacrifice the human element. Nothing feels worse than starting a job and feeling like a number going through a system. My favorite aspect of onboarding at Olark was connecting to so many different team members early on. Therefore, my main goal was to balance providing a transparent and streamlined process while still retaining the “all hands on deck” feel.
What was the spark that led you to take action on revamping the boarding process?
There wasn’t necessarily one spark, but a series of events and crossing paths with the right people. After my teammate, Cat Le, wrote up a thorough analysis of her onboarding experience and suggested improvements, I had a lot of ideas on improving the onboarding process. However, what I lacked was an effective tool to organize the content and provide visibility to all onboarding parties.
During a Rockstar Round Table monthly event, I met Ali Diebel, HR Coordinator at Heroku. Ali was part of a “how to scale your startup” speaker panel and demonstrated how Heroku was using Trello to track their onboarding. It hadn’t crossed my mind to use Trello, but given it’s highly visual interface and ability to track processes and add members to cards it seemed like a great fit.
Ali graciously agreed to meet me over lunch several times and gave me a rundown of how they had created an onboarding template board. They would copy the template to create a specific board for each new hire. I built out the first template using the process Ali showed me, but changed the column and card content to reflect Olark’s onboarding process.
What needed to happen day one? What could wait until week two? I relied heavily on the onboarding team and across Olark to turn our Google Doc into Trello columns and cards. Armed with these ideas, I spent my Thinking Thursdays to work through how to put them into practice. Gathering information isn’t very useful if you aren’t taking the time to think about it.
What are Thinking Thursdays? Can you tell us more about them?
Thinking Thursday is one day that I spend almost entirely offline to think about big picture concepts. I limit checking email and HipChat to two or three times a day for less than 15 minutes in case there any fires to put out. I think this is why I love libraries so much. It one of the only spaces where there is a social expectation to be quiet. I really think companies need to invest in quiet spaces or encourage working from home. How is anyone supposed to think through anything if they are constantly distracted?
I really look forward to this time because it allows me to dip into a skill I developed as a kid. I get to let my mind wander, ask questions and challenge what I know. I use this time to tackle blocked projects, explore options and research what other companies/people are doing. After I shared my experience with one of my co founders, he now raves about it and looks forward to Thinking Thursdays too!
What did you want to achieve with the new onboarding process?
It is amazes me how much time, money and effort is spent during the hiring process and how little effort goes into onboarding. The first week at a company is the first impression new hires gets and will make them think, “Yes, I made a good decision coming here, “ or “Oh no, what have I done?” By dedicating time and effort to improving Olark’s onboarding I saw an opportunity to communicate to our new hires, “We are so glad you chose us and we want you to feel you made a great choice choosing us.” I want to set new hires up for success by providing the resources they need, addressing any concerns and displaying we are thrilled to have them. Some ways we’ve achieve this is sending them a swag welcome kit, getting as many accounts set up before they start and providing specific contacts they can direct their questions to. My favorite part of onboarding is the 1:1 syncs I have. Some great suggestions have come out of it and so far all new hires have reported a very positive experience.
Can you talk us through how the onboarding process works today?
Before a new hire starts I give them access to their Trello board. I like to let them know what to expect, whether they want to look at it or not is their choice. I set aside some 1:1 time to walk through Trello if they haven’t used it before.
They start off with a hiring lead who goes over their role and responsibilities. Each new hire is assigned an onboarding buddy to get them acquainted with Olark and to know an additional friendly face. Week one is only HR and equipment setup. Week two is completely dedicated to Customer Support training. By the third week, they can begin their new role. In the past, everything overlapped and this led to a lot of stress for our new hires.
Since Olark hires remotely too, how is the process different for remote people?
Sometimes remote hires can be treated as second class citizens and don’t receive the same attention as onsite hires. At Olark, I ensure remote and onsite hires go through the same process. They are all sent swag, welcome emails, I Skype with them and they get their own Trello board sent ahead of time. All new hires are flown out to San Francisco for their first week.This gives the new hire a chance to make in person connections and take care of HR details.
What was the reception for the new onboarding process around the company?
As with all change, resistance is pretty normal. However, resistance came more in the form of Olarkers asking why the changes were happening. Whenever I announced a new change to the process, I’d add in an FAQ to my email or announcement during out team meeting. If anyone had additional concerns, they’d chat with me separately.
New hires responded well to the process and said it alleviated some of their first day anxieties as they had a sense of what their first day, week, two weeks, would be like. People warmed up to it when they started using Trello and saw how easy it was check off their assigned onboarding items. I don’t think anyone missed the old form of onboarding, mostly because there is so much more transparency and all parties involved can knock out the tasks they need to.
How can people find out more about you?
The Best way to reach out to me is via LinkedIn. Feel free to add me and send me questions.