At BenchSci, we’re always looking to answer the question, “how can we do things better?” And our new hire onboarding experience is no exception. We continually craft our onboarding journey to create a welcoming environment while simultaneously enabling new employees to hit the ground running. So when COVID-19 happened, and fortunately our hiring plans didn’t stop, we had to adapt our onboarding process to fit this new fully-remote world. As of today, we have successfully onboarded 29 new employees, a 33% increase in company size. Our secret? Establishing clear processes, exploring new ways to create culture remotely, and emphasizing relationship building.

Onboarding at BenchSci before COVID-19

It’s a vulnerable moment when joining a new company; meeting new people can be intimidating, and it’s only natural to want to start adding value right away. So we designed our in-person experience to address these concerns. If you joined prior to COVID-19, your first day would start with being greeted by one of our friendly People and Culture team members for an office tour. The tour would undoubtedly have a stop at our kitchen area where you could get a boost of caffeine from our gourmet coffee machine to kickstart the day. From there, you would be taken through the company history, a deep dive into our values, and a quick run-through of the fun stuff we get up to when we’re not helping scientists.

Lunch with their new team would be next, followed by an afternoon learning session on the ins and outs of what, how, and why we do what we do. On day two, you would learn about the customer journey, with the remainder of the week focused on departmental specific introductory sessions, coffee chats with teammates, and training. Creating connections would feel easy. With the open-concept office and the welcoming nature of our culture, we could rely on this environment to help you build relationships organically. 

Preparing for COVID-19 Impact

In the second week of March, with the spread of COVID-19, our main concern was to ensure our team’s health and safety. We began actively planning to transition to a fully-remote work environment, which was an extensive process worthy of its own blog post. For onboarding, we knew we had to design new processes that make for a smooth remote onboarding experience and capture the essence of our culture at BenchSci. We had new team members joining the company in a week, which meant we needed to fast-track the planning and implementation of a unique, fully-remote employee onboarding experience in under seven days.

Establishing Clear Processes

A successful remote onboarding experience must be built upon clear processes and accountabilities. We had to get the logistics right by anticipating how our onboarding processes could break when no longer conducted in person. We also quickly realized that the prep work behind remote onboarding is far more time-consuming. In short, we had to define when the process starts and how it ends, assess risks along the way, then find means to make it efficient.

Working in a fully-remote work environment can have an adverse impact on the frequency and quality of communication within the organization, consequently affecting the quality of onboarding experience for new hires. To mitigate this risk, we scheduled onboarding sessions to run at the same time every week to minimize coordination and eliminate the risk of scheduling conflicts with our onboarding team. We also start the onboarding process at contract signature. Managers at BenchSci reach out to congratulate and welcome new team members as soon as they accept their offer. Managers also share the next steps and what the new team members should expect before day one.

While these solutions mitigated most of the remote onboarding process risks, they are demanding and time-consuming. To solve the problem with efficiency, we turned to automation. At BenchSci, the human resources information system is integrated with the applicant tracking system. Once the contract is signed, new team members receive an invitation to create their profiles with BenchSci’s HR system. Once the account is created, a detailed task list is generated and assigned to hiring managers, People and Culture, IT, Operations, and our Finance teams to kick off the onboarding logistics process. By doing this we designed and automated a smooth, consistent, and scalable process that mitigates potential breakdowns. Now it was time to move on to a greater challenge.

Exploring New Ways to Create Culture Remotely

The greatest challenge in building an authentic and immersive remote onboarding experience is the absence of personal and social interactions that make it genuine and special. We were mindful of the challenge but were focused and determined on delivering an onboarding experience that is on par, if not better than our traditional process. The question remained: how do we introduce new team members to our culture remotely?

Well, we started by being genuine. We send our messages using our own personal tones and language. Creating an immersive onboarding experience hangs in the balance between efficient automation and personal human contact. We only automate our internal processes and task assignments but communicate personally to reflect who we really are. During the days or weeks prior to onboarding, our People and Culture team constantly communicate with new team members to share onboarding plans, suggested readings, videos and provide access to BenchSci’s intranet as early as a week before day-one.

We’ve also designed our onboarding package to be a piece of BenchSci that carries our colors, t-shirts, and books that reflect our values. Our recently designed BenchSci Onboarding Box is put together with care. We ensure it is shipped and delivered along with laptops and equipment as early as possible. Our goal is to ensure that on day one, every new team member will be accessing the P&C Onboarding Session with a ready-to-use BenchSci laptop, wearing their BenchSci shirt of choice, all from the comfort of their own home.

Emphasis on Building Relationships

Our culture is defined by the values and beliefs we practice at BenchSci and is shared through our interactions and relationships as a team and as unique individuals. While our style of communication and Onboarding Box both provide a glimpse of who we are, we are cognizant it is interpersonal relationships that define and foster values and culture. The question lingered: what tools are available that could help our new team members build relationships with peers and others outside of their immediate team? How can we find ways to compensate for the lack of opportunities to socialize at the coffee machine, by the water cooler, or around an office lunch table?

The first answer is we are all equally invested in our new team members. While the People and Culture team at BenchSci manages the onboarding process, all teams at BenchSci play a role in delivering an outstanding onboarding experience. During week one, new employees meet with a representative from each team at BenchSci who introduce themselves, their department, their work, and how they contribute to BenchSci’s success. At the end of week two, all new employees meet with our CEO as it’s a priority he gets to know every member of the team.

We also introduce our team members before joining, then introduce them again. We ask our new team members to send a short intro about themselves: who they are and what they like to do for fun. We share this with our departmental onboarding primes, so they know who they will be meeting on the first day. Instead of repeated introductions, our onboarding primes can jump to more robust and impactful relationship building questions. Three days before their start, our new team members are introduced to everyone they will meet on week one to make for a warm and personal first meeting. On their first day, hiring managers introduce the new team members on our main company-wide slack channel for the rest of the team to meet and say hello.  During our Weekly Town Halls every Friday, BenchSci gets together as we open the floor for any questions the team might have. Town Halls are also a great time to introduce new hires to the company, making sure the entire BenchSci team gets to know their newest colleagues.

In the absence of office shared spaces, we found a great opportunity in helping team members build relationships with Donut. Donut is a Slack integration that randomly pairs team members of BenchSci for a once-a-week 15-minute chat. The whole idea is to get to know someone you work with, and it has been a phenomenal success.

Success is Continuous Improvement

Feedback and continuous improvement are the keys to building a successful and genuine onboarding experience. Everything we discussed here evolved over the course of months. The People and Culture team meets with new team members at the end of week one to listen to their comments and feedback. All actionable feedback is implemented immediately to make our next new hire’s experience even better.

Building a successful remote onboarding process requires organizational cross-functional commitment, leadership support, and efficient coordination and planning.  We’re creating an immersive onboarding process that emphasizes our values and who we are. Listening, seeking feedback, and implementing new ideas and solutions to new problems is how we do it at BenchSci. As you read this last line, we are still crafting an even better onboarding experience, and we intend to keep making it a little bit better every time.


Written By:
Aaron Osman