Joining a New Team Remotely: Our Definitive Guide

Adriana Campoy
December 30, 2020

Starting a new job can be overwhelming. You need to take in a lot of information, meet your new colleagues, adjust to the company culture, and thoroughly understand your day-to-day responsibilities and your role within the organization. All of this can be especially challenging when you're working from home and can't easily take non-verbal cues from coworkers or stop by someone's desk to ask a quick question. To help you overcome these challenges, we've put together a brief but comprehensive guide to beginning a new job remotely.

Getting Set Up

Preparing yourself for success starts even before day one on the job. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you get ready for your first day.

Make sure you have a stable internet connection.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but a reliable internet connection is essential to your ability to work remotely. It's actually something you should consider before even beginning the interview process; spotty internet service can negatively impact your potential employer's confidence in your ability to work effectively (not to mention cause frustrating difficulties in communication during an interview). If you tend to lose connection frequently, it's time to change your provider or upgrade your hardware or internet plan so that you can work without interruptions.

Arrange your workspace to optimize productivity.

It can be difficult to stay focused when working from home, where distractions like TV and household chores are close at hand. One way to manage this challenge is to establish a designated space to do your work; the key is to avoid working in bed, on the couch, or in any space where you tend to lounge and relax. You don't need to have a home office to be able to set up an effective and comfortable work space. Even your kitchen table can be a good option. Just make sure that you are close to a power outlet and that your background is tidy and presentable for video conference calls.

You also want to be sure you have all the hardware you need in order to work well, such as an external keyboard, a mouse, or an extra monitor. It's worth asking your new employer whether they can provide any of these items for you. At sophilabs, we are happy to provide our team members with a mouse, keyboard, monitor, and/or desk chair, in addition to the laptop they receive before starting to work with us. We believe the comfort and productivity of our team members are well worth the investment.

Decide on a routine.

If your employer doesn't already require you to be online during a regular schedule, it can be helpful to implement a routine that allows you to take advantage of your most productive hours. A daily routine that includes work, planned breaks, and exercise can help you stay organized and motivated.

At sophilabs, we prioritize real-time communication and collaboration. Our team members must be online during set office hours in order to maximize overlap across time zones and to help individuals achieve a healthy work-life balance. We find that maintaining a regular schedule facilitates teamwork and empowers our team members to do their best.

Learning the Ropes

In this section, we'll take a look at important actions you should take to get up to speed at your new job. While you might initially feel like you're drinking knowledge from a firehose, proactively seeking out the information you need will help you avoid hiccups during your first few weeks as well as demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to your new employer.

Thoroughly read all onboarding materials.

Most well established companies should have some kind of onboarding handbook to help you get to know their tools, processes, and policies. Make sure you read this carefully and take notes on sections that are especially relevant to your day-to-day work. Write down questions as they come up so you can get clarification later from HR or your direct manager. This may sound like very obvious advice, but paying close attention to the resources that are available to you will enable you to hit the ground running and start contributing to the team as soon as possible.

At sophilabs, our tools, processes, and best practices are all well documented. We aim to anticipate any questions newcomers might have by providing them with the information they need from the get-go. We use Notion to share relevant company information such as our code of conduct, continuous improvement processes, time tracking policy, and descriptions of the responsibilities of each role. This is part of our effort to be transparent about how things work and help new team members envision their career path at sophilabs.

Practice using company tools.

It's essential to have at least a working knowledge of the tools you'll use on a daily basis. This may include instant messaging platforms like Slack, tools for organization like Google Calendar, software development hosts like GitHub or GitLab, and video call software like Google Meet or Zoom. Be sure to explore these tools and their different features so you can improve your literacy in them and take note of any questions you may have.

At sophilabs, we introduce new teammates to our most commonly used tools on their very first day as part of the company onboarding process. We recommend that newcomers take some time to get to know Slack, Google Workplace, GitHub, and Gitlab, as well as Small Improvements (our platform for giving each other feedback and praise) and Officevibe (where teammates can give anonymous feedback and suggestions for the company).

Familiarize yourself with your role.

In addition to reading up on your responsibilities, you may want to set up a 15-minute coffee break/video call with someone in a similar position so you can discuss the ins and outs of the role. You can ask them what they wish they knew during their first few weeks on the job. This is a great way to not only acquire concrete knowledge about your role, but to start networking and build relationships within the company.

A sophilaber's first day on the job is devoted to general company onboarding, and they meet with a representative of the People team to help them get oriented. During their second day they are onboarded to the specific client project they will be working on. They meet with their direct manager (usually, the Product Manager) and receive a lot of information about the client, the goals of the product the team is building, and how their particular role fits within the big picture. We provide a clear structure during those first couple days with concrete tasks listed on personalized Notion pages. We want newcomers to feel supported as they take in a lot of new information.

Find out where to direct different questions.

An important part of finding your bearings in a new company is knowing who to ask when you have questions about company processes and tools, the client project, a tough technical problem, or administrative topics like time tracking and available vacation days. You don't necessarily want to ask your direct manager every time a question comes up, especially if your question is not within their area of expertise. Pay special attention to the onboarding materials and company documentation in order to pinpoint who (or at least which department) to reach out to when you have a particular question. If this information is not documented, check in with HR or your manager within the first couple days so they can walk you through who to ask about different topics. This will give you a better understanding of the inner workings of the company and save everyone time in the long run.

Our People team at sophilabs has worked very hard to document all kinds of relevant company information in order to anticipate what newcomers will want to know and point them in the right direction if they need to follow up with questions. In addition, on their first day, a member of our People team meets with new team members one-on-one in order to highlight important information, including where to direct general, project-related, or administrative questions.

Identify potential mentors.

Mentorship is key to your professional growth. As you get acclimated to your new position, it's extremely helpful to receive tips and guidance from someone who once stood in your shoes. Some companies may assign new team members a mentor as part of the onboarding process. If this is not the case, however, it's a good idea to reach out to team members who have a more senior position in your area of expertise. Explain that you're new to the company and ask if they would be willing to connect so you can ask a few questions about how to succeed in your role. While you may initially feel shy about contacting potential mentors, you will likely find that your coworkers are happy to share their wisdom and give you some pointers.

At sophilabs, new team members are assigned a Project Reference on their very first day. A Project Reference is a fellow engineer who is well-versed in the technologies involved in the product the team is developing. They can answer any project-specific technical questions the newcomer may have, in addition to providing guidance on our methodologies and best practices.

The sophilabs onboarding process also incorporates other team members who assist the newcomer during their first few months. First of all, every team member has a Talent Development Advisor (TDA). TDAs are part of sophilabs' People team, and their job is to help our team members thrive at sophilabs. They not only lead the general onboarding during a newcomer's first day, but they meet regularly with advisees throughout their time at sophilabs to help them discover areas to improve and find new challenges that will foster their growth within the company.

Every software engineer also has a direct manager, usually a Product Manager, who familiarizes new team members with the client's goals and the purpose of the web or mobile app the team is building. Software developers can also count on the guidance of the Developer Coach, who makes sure new team members receive the necessary training in the languages and technologies they will need to do their job. The Developer Coach helps each newcomer develop a personalized learning plan and checks on their progress throughout the training period. We have seen first-hand how providing team members with this kind of structured, multi-faceted support empowers new sophilabers to learn quickly and start contributing to the project as soon as possible.

Record your questions and your accomplishments.

During your first few weeks, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount you need to learn. A daily diary is a handy way to keep track of your questions as they come up so you can refer back to them when necessary. It's also a good idea because you may need to ask questions in batches (rather than individually) in order to be mindful of your colleagues' time. You'll also want to briefly record what you achieve each day so that you can efficiently report your progress whenever you check in with your direct manager. This is especially important when you're working remotely because it will help demonstrate your work ethic and your commitment to delivering results in your new position.

Above all, take initiative.

When starting a new remote job, you'll need to show that you can work well independently. Your colleagues may not be able to answer your questions right away, especially if you're working across different time zones. Be proactive about seeking the information you need, and look closely at available resources before asking questions.

Integrating Yourself to the Team

Perhaps the most challenging part of beginning a new job while working from home is getting a real sense of what the company culture is like and connecting with your new coworkers. However, just because you don't share a physical office doesn't mean you won't be able to forge quality professional relationships and even friendships. Here are a few key pieces of advice to help make that happen.

Introduce yourself.

Everyone was new to the company at one point, so don't be too shy to introduce yourself on your first day or at some point during your first week. You can say hello and share a little bit about yourself in the team channel. Or you can simply say that you're new and are looking forward to getting to know everyone and working together. It's a small way to demonstrate your enthusiasm and make a friendly first impression.

We like to introduce new sophilabers at our weekly company-wide meetings so that we can give them a proper welcome. We also encourage newcomers to say hello in the company Slack channel.

Communicate clearly and often.

Quality communication is essential to successful remote work. In the absence of face-to-face conversation, you want to make sure you communicate with your team frequently to maximize transparency and avoid misunderstandings. Pay attention to how your colleagues prefer to communicate, whether it's through email, instant messaging on Slack, or video conference calls. Following their example will help you adapt quickly to the company culture.

You'll also want to make sure you aren't creating communication silos. For example, sharing information or asking a question in your team's Slack channel can be more productive than sending a private message, as this keeps everyone on the same page. Simple habits like keeping your calendar and Slack status updated will also help your colleagues know when you are available.

During video conference calls, practice active listening to ensure you're communicating effectively. This means giving your teammates your full attention while they are speaking. Be mindful that your body language shows that you're engaged in the current conversation topic and not distracted or bored. If you need to make sure you understood something, you can try rephrasing it and repeating it back. Ask relevant and thoughtful questions. These tips may sound like common sense, but active listening makes a remarkable difference in the quality of communication.

At sophilabs, we encourage all team members to communicate clearly and openly. This includes actively participating in daily scrums and other virtual team meetings, as well as being attentive and responsive via Slack and email. We think quality communication is at the heart of collaboration and teamwork.

Participate in virtual happy hours and other online social events.

After-hours events can really build a feeling of camaraderie within the team. When you're new to the organization, attending virtual social events is especially important. It can be very easy to feel isolated when you're working from home. Online events present the opportunity to get to know your colleagues outside of work and strengthen your relationships with them, which in turn will boost collaboration and enrich your experience at the company. While you may initially feel timid or reluctant to participate when everyone else seems to know each other already, it's well worth stepping outside your comfort zone to get to know the talented people you work with.

An Opportunity to Contribute and Grow

Your new remote job is a chance for you to shine professionally despite the unique challenges of working from home, so it's a great idea to come prepared with techniques for success. Keep in mind that a company's culture is always dynamic, and your attitude and behavior can contribute to that culture in a positive way. If you found our advice helpful and would like to learn more about working at sophilabs, take a look at our Careers page!

We are sophilabs

A software design and development agency that helps companies build and grow products by delivering high-quality software through agile practices and perfectionist teams.

"Joining a New Team Remotely: Our Definitive Guide" by Adriana Campoy is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by A R C H I G E R O S A.

Categorized under people & culture.