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Talking Remote Onboarding with Shane Price of Outreach

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If there’s one thing Shane Price wants you to know right now, it’s this: “Most of your anxiety around remote onboarding is unfounded.” Shane is Senior Sales Enablement Manager at Outreach, and one of the biggest parts of his job is handling the onboarding of new employees. This includes remote employees, which, as far as the tech industry is concerned, is just about everyone right now. 

 

He’s spoken to a lot of managers who are feeling pretty stressed about whether they’ll be able to handle the transition to remote work without losing productivity. And he’s done his best to convey to them that successful remote onboarding is absolutely, one hundred percent, in their power – they just have to know the best way to approach it.

 

Outreach is in Seattle, the first metropolitan area to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. As such, Shane is one of the first onboarding leaders to go fully remote. His experience, though, dates back long before the outbreak. Betts Recruiting founder Carolyn Betts Fleming spoke to Shane about how he handles remote onboarding, and where he’s found success. 

An inside look at a successful remote onboarding process

Carolyn Betts Fleming: Thanks for talking with us, Shane. So I think most managers in our space have at least some experience managing remote team members. But under normal circumstances, even remote workers often do their onboarding in person. They come into the office, they grab their computer, they have lunch with their team, etc. Now, though, in this current climate, even the onboarding has to be fully remote. What was it like for Outreach making that transition?

 

Shane Price: When I started at Outreach, we were actually flying people out from wherever they lived – anywhere in the world, really – for one to two weeks of onsite onboarding. Then we made the decision to convert that entire experience into a remote online experience, and to do it in just about three business days. So those were stressful few days of my life, but thankfully my background is actually in designing remote and online learning experiences for companies with distributed sales teams. And my first piece of advice that I always start with when talking with people, is that most of your anxiety around a remote experience is unfounded. It’s not grounded in reality. It comes from the fact that of most of us were onboarded in person, joined in person, did all of this stuff, so we feel that that’s how it needs to happen.

 

Learn lots more about remote onboarding, as well as remote sourcing, interviewing, and managing, in our new guide.

 

In reality, so much of the psychology behind learning and feeling connected can be replicated in a remote environment. You just have to think about it before you do it. So we had about 24 hours where everyone was panicking. Then a few of us kind of spoke up and said, “Hey, we feel confident that with some hard work we can transition this. Let’s test it out, let’s measure it with feedback surveys and if we see a significant dip in comparison to previous cohorts. The result was we actually had our highest-rated first-week onboarding experience during our fully remote one. I think that shocked a lot of people, because there had been so much anxiety about whether we could even do this fully remote onboarding experience.

“Most of your anxiety around a remote experience is unfounded. It’s not grounded in reality. It comes from the fact that of most of us were onboarded in person, joined in person, did all of this stuff, so we feel that that’s how it needs to happen. In reality, so much of the psychology behind learning and feeling connected can be replicated in a remote environment.”

Shane Price, Senior Sales Enablement Manger, Outreach

CBF: And when you say it was the highest-rated onboarding experience, you mean it was rated that way by the new remote hires, as opposed to internal people, correct?

 

SP: Exactly. We have a series of engagement scores where we measure: Do the new hires feel engaged throughout the experience? Do they feel like they learned something new? Is it a valuable use of time? They rate the presenters and then they rate all of the individual sessions and topics, and almost across the board, definitely in all of our highest level engagement score metrics, we actually scored 100% positive satisfaction ratings and had several people even saying “This is the best onboarding experience I’ve ever had, regardless of it being remote.” And that was pretty amazing to see.

 

CBF: A moment ago, you mentioned this idea that people have a lot of unfounded anxiety around remote onboarding, and that remote onboarding is totally doable if you have a solid, well-thought-out plan. Can you talk a bit about what that planning process has been like for you?

 

SP: We’ve been testing each hiring cohort, tracking the metrics carefully, seeing what we need to do differently, and iterating. So our first week is extremely well-established now. We have a very clear schedule with themed days and topics that build on each other. It’s a blend of live sessions, online learning, actions. And then we have attached 90 day plans, and those are things that we’re testing out and building out now, and they look different depending on your role.

“Our first week is extremely well-established now. We have a very clear schedule with themed days and topics that build on each other. It’s a blend of live sessions, online learning, actions. And then we have attached 90 day plans, and those are things that we’re testing out and building out now, and they look different depending on your role.”

Shane Price, Senior Sales Enablement Manager, Outreach

To make this work remotely, I went session by session of that first week experience and played it out in my head and on paper, imagining what we normally do in person and what breaks when it’s remote or online. For example, experienced in-person facilitators often fill out the room, they respond to vibes, they respond to energy levels, and you lose the majority of that when you go remote. So you have to start asking what I call “energy questions” – things like: “Looking at this slide, what do you not agree with? What doesn’t resonate with you? Did you have a gut reaction to what you just saw?” Questions like that can make people feel comfortable in a remote space.

 

But the activities for the most part can stay the same. You can transition from instead of whiteboard based content, you use presentations that build. You have to adjust and actually be more organized when you’re in a remote setting because a lot of people will just randomly whiteboard, they’ll go off on these tangents and that just doesn’t work the same way when you’re in a remote space because people do feel slightly less connected and you kind of have to be a lot more organized so that people both feel engaged, but also you’re getting verbal responses from them so you can confirm how people are feeling.

 

CBF: How would you compare the remote onboarding process at Outreach with the process you’ve seen at other companies where you’ve worked, in terms of how robust and fleshed out it is?

 

SP: I would say, content-wise and in terms of the caliber of our new hires, we’re unmatched. We have such a rigorous hiring process with built-in assessments that the people who come in are committed and engaged at a level that I don’t see at every company. So, that makes my job a little bit easier. 

 

And now we’re starting to see that manual processes – having one person be the content owner and the only person who knows how to deliver something – just doesn’t scale. It doesn’t work as that person becomes busier and their responsibilities change. So in that sense, that’s what we’re investing heavily in. We’re kind of evaluating our tech stack, making sure that everything works together nicely and that we have a blended experience where there’s those virtual in-person touchpoints really blended with the online learning experiences. And we always make sure there’s clear documentation that’s searchable and allows people to self-service just as much or if not more than what we do in person or in live sessions.

“We’re kind of evaluating our tech stack, making sure that everything works together nicely and that we have a blended experience where there’s those virtual in-person touchpoints really blended with the online learning experiences. And we always make sure there’s clear documentation that’s searchable and allows people to self-service just as much or if not more than what we do in person or in live sessions.”

Shane Price, Senior Sales Enablement Manager, Outreach

CBF: So you, personally, are more involved with training. But what about within teams? How have new hires been handling that first week where they’re getting to know their team, now that everything has switched to remote?

 

SP: Everything that happens before someone shows up on their first day, we have transitioned all of that stuff to now be remote, We now have a logistics plan so that laptops arrive the day before or two days before or three days before. It’s incredibly disruptive if someone doesn’t have the right technology on their first day. And we also make sure that all of the access is set up ahead of time. 

 

Then we create some key touchpoints that happen throughout the first week. We set up virtual coffees and happy hours. We’ve been doing some themed ones where everyone dresses up in a certain way, to make sure that it feels fun. We’re also making sure that we build in breaks. The biggest mistake I see when people plan out our remote schedules, is that suddenly they think that humans are no longer biological creatures. So building in breaks for lunch or fresh air is key. It really makes everything feel like it’s less overwhelming in a remote capacity. 

“We’re also making sure that we build in breaks. The biggest mistake I see when people plan out our remote schedules, is that suddenly they think that humans are no longer biological creatures. So building in breaks for lunch or fresh air is key. It really makes everything feel like it’s less overwhelming in a remote capacity.”

Shane Price, Senior Sales Enablement Manager, Outreach

In April, we’re actually going to be sending both some in-person packets and some digital packets, with worksheets and activities. They’re going to be labeled by day, and you kind of get to open up your stuff for the relevant days. So on day two, while we’re all on-screen, we’re going to open up our envelopes and pull out the stuff that we’re going to do today, and we’re trying to get a little creative with some of the funny resources we’ve put in there. We thought about throwing in some photos from the office. We may even do automated digital packets where they get an email in the morning and it’s like, “Good morning, here’s your onboarding surprise for the day.” It might be fun activities, fun videos, things like that.

 

CBF: Since Outreach switched over to remote, how many new hires have you onboarded?

 

SP: All of our hires have been remote over the last several weeks. There have been 40 of these new hires already, just on our revenue team. 

 

CBF: Well, Shane, thanks so much for your time and your insight. It seems like Outreach has been rolling with the punches really well with all these changes going on, and has been a model for other companies looking to do the same.
 
SP: Thanks so much! We’re excited to have you at our virtual summit. I definitely am personally planning to check out your session!