Developer Onboarding Best Practices With 11 Top Tips for Remote Teams

developer onboarding

This is a guest post by Romi Catauta at Toptal. Catauta works in the marketing field and is passionate about writing on web design, business, interior design, and psychology.

Did you know that 53% of developers said working remotely was a priority when looking for a new job?

Finding the right developers to add to your team can be one of the most challenging hiring tasks for your HR department. It’s a cut-throat market, with smart companies steering top talent away from competitors.

And when you consider most developers are looking for remote-based work, this makes developer onboarding a whole different ballgame.

To help, we at Process Street give you our top tips, tricks, and best practices that’ll help you identify, hire, and retain talented remote developers.

Whether you’re wondering how to hire a CSS developer, a full stack developer, or anything in between, this guide will help you find the perfect candidate for the job.

We at Process Street know a thing or two about remote work. The below advice has is therefore tried, tested, and approved as best practice.

What are you waiting for?

Click on the relevant subheader to jump to the section of choice, or scroll down for all.

Let’s get started!

What is developer onboarding?

Developer onboarding image 1

Developer onboarding is the process of hiring and integrating a new developer into your company. In this article we’ll be taking a look at the entire developer onboarding process, starting from hiring, to give you best practices on how to onboard remote developers.

Developer onboarding challenges

According to the State of Software Development 2018 report, the biggest challenge that development managers face is a limited pool of specialists with relevant skills – e.g. a lack of formal education and soft skills.

Other challenges include a deficiency of communication and interpersonal skills, competition with other companies, limitations in the hiring resources available – such as agencies or staffing firms – and too high salary demands.

These above-mentioned obstacles act as bottlenecks to your developer onboarding processes.

In a perfect world, you’d overcome many of these challenges by hiring developers in-house. As with an in-house team, you can manage all your initiatives under one roof, with excellent communication, and a workplace climate that breeds innovation and success.

But you don’t do business in a perfect world.

In reality, we have budgetary constraints and project needs that fall outside the abilities of your current development team, limiting your team and their output.

To counteract these challenges, what you need is a process to hire developers remotely. And for that, you’ve come to the right place.

Hiring remote developers: The advantages, drawbacks, and solutions

Hiring a team of remote developers has plenty of advantages, and in many ways, it’s a win-win situation for both developers and employers.

As previously mentioned, most developers want to work remotely, with remote work rapidly on the increase worldwide.

But how does remote-work benefit employers?

What is remote work? How does remote work benefit employers?

Remote work is a working style where professionals work outside the traditional office environment. Work is completed as normal but is not strained by location.

Remote work gives several benefits to employers, as detailed below.

  • Remote work is cost-effective
    Hiring remote developers is cost-effective. A Global Workplace Analytics report estimates that remote employers can save companies ~$11,000/year/employee in costs that would otherwise be spent on office space, supplies, and utilities.
  • Remote work expands the talent pool
    Remote hiring means you’re no longer tethered to a physical location, significantly expanding the talent pool you’ll hire from. Instead of finding developers within a 20-mile radius of your business, you can find talent from anywhere in the world. Once more, the ability to work from anywhere is prized by remote developers, making it a useful compensation bargaining chip.
  • Remote work improves productivity
    All that extra flexibility translates to happier and healthier employees, optimizing production, meaning more work is done in less time and fewer resources.

The drawbacks from hiring remote developers

Along with several advantages, working with remote developers isn’t without its drawbacks. It’s important to acknowledge these drawbacks so that each challenge can be faced with a solution. Let’s take a look at some common remote work drawbacks.

Operating in different time zones
Your team of remote developers’ may be operating at different locations, across time zones, which may interfere with their ability to answer questions and requests quickly/instantly. This can cause issues with time management.

The solution: Hire a team in a suitable time-zone. Consider the degree of restraint working across time zones will be. For instance, if managers don’t need a quick turnaround on the projects, time zone differences may not be a problem. Once more, learn how to communicate effectively, asynchronously.

For more information on asynchronous communication, read: The Complete Guide to Asynchronous Communication in Remote Teams.

Communication will be a challenge
Communicating remotely can be challenging. You’ll need to have a plan in place to maintain adequate and effective communication.

It’s also important you track work and provide feedback. For this, you have the responsibility to communicate clear goals and objectives, telling developers what you need and how they can meet these needs.

The solution: Use an instant messenger chat application. For instance, at Process Street we use Slack. Slack supports 1:1 and team-wide communication (via channels).

To manage work-loads and projects use a cloud-based Business Process Management software like Process Street. With Process Street business operations are easily documented, distributed, and tracked across the globe. Once more, it’s free to sign up.

Assign developers to the relevant tasks using our Task Assignments feature, and track their progress.

There are confidentiality risks
When collaborating with remote developers, there’ll be the risk of compromised security and confidentiality. Team members can leak details about an important project.

The solution: Under remote-based-work circumstances, it’s always a good idea to ask for references and take a close look at a given developer’s previous projects.

The remote developer onboarding process with 11 onboarding best practices

Developer onboarding image 2

A successful onboarding process runs as follows:

  • Stage 1: The employee is effectively hired.
  • Stage 2: The employee is introduced to their departmental culture, business objectives, and goals.

As you set out to find the perfect remote developer for your business, there are some onboarding best practices you’ll want to follow to ensure you’re able to hire and retain top talent efficiently and effectively.

In the next section of this article, we’ll be looking at the onboarding process, and considering the best onboarding practices. These best practices have been tried, tested, and approved by Process Street’s remote team. Let’s check them out.

Stage 1: Tips to ensure the employee is effectively hired

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Tip #1: Maintain clear remote workflow structure and communication
The first step in the process is to make sure your needs align with what a remote developer can offer. When hiring a remote developer, look for the qualities and skills you seek for any position, remote or not.

Those developers who haven’t worked remotely before need to learn disciplined time management skills and strong communication skills for updating progress regularly. Also, personal accountability and interpersonal skills are extremely important.

Utilize clear project management systems to track work, for instance, document collaboration tools such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

In terms of actual workflows, a remote-developer workflow will be different compared to in-house developer workflows. Therefore, you’ll need a Business Process Management tool like Process Street to keep track of your processes from one place.

For consistent communication and collaboration, use applications such as Slack.

These tools combined will maintain a clear remote workflow structure and communication.

Tip #2: Create an attractive job description
Looking to attract the best and brightest remote developers? It all starts with a great job description. There’s no shortage of companies hiring talented remote developers, so your job posting should stand out from the pack and immediately pique the interest of qualified developers.

Beyond the basics like outlining the position, requirements, and salary range, you’ll want to humanize your company. Make it clear why your company is an ideal fit for a talented developer by including job perks and making sure you add something unique.

Clearly state the terms and conditions: Specify working hours, time zone expectations, what equipment will be provided by your company, as well as other benefits you’ll offer.

Involve your team in creating the job advertisement. Let them know you are planning to hire a remote developer and ask for recommendations and suggestions. After this, draft your job description and present it again to your team, obtaining feedback for the final revision.

Moreover, your job description has to include details about how the remote developer role will be structured. Provide a good technical understanding of the projects and avoid long descriptions of expectations, responsibilities, and more. Instead, think about your job description as an advertisement for this role. Usually, the most successful job descriptions are between 250 – 750 words.

The average employer spends $3,998 and 27 days to hire a new employee. Once more, a bad hire can cost a business about 30% of that hire’s first-year salary. With that said, you can see how finding and nurturing top talent is important.

The tone of the copy in your job description is important as well. Use a tone that reflects the culture of your company, so don’t be overly corporate, official, or familiar, as this can be misleading for your candidates.

To help you get started in creating a perfect job description for your new developer position, use our Job Description Template process. This template embeds the best practices mentioned above into a process, for easy application of these practices.

Click here to access our Job Description Template for free!

As you run through this process, you’ll come across the following Process Street features:

  • Task assignments: Assign senior management to approval tasks and ensure the job description is reviewed by relevant personnel at the right time in the process.
  • Approvals: Streamline the decision-making process using Process Street’s approvals feature. Used in combination with the Task Assignments feature, approvals ensure relevant tasks are given the go-ahead by the right people, both quickly and efficiently to keep the process running on track.
  • Dynamic Due Date: To ensure the deadline for the job description is met.
  • Stop tasks: To ensure task order, but also to ensure that no tasks slip through without having acquired the relevant approval.

Use these features (& more) to edit this template to suit your specific needs.

For more information on how to edit templates in Process Street, watch the below video: Basics of Creating and Editing Templates.

For further information and resources for writing a job description, read: 14 Job Description Templates to Help You Write a Killer Job Description Today.

Tip #3: Screening applicants
Once you’ve identified your needs and created posts for the most popular job boards and hiring marketplaces, it won’t be long before you receive a steady stream of resumes.

Knowing how to effectively screen applicants will make the hiring process easier, and it will ease the strain on your HR department.

The key to effectively screening applicants is to immediately disqualify applicants that don’t meet the job requirements or follow application directions. Taking the time to consider these applications is only going to waste your hiring manager’s time.

To summarize, consider the following red-flags when sorting through the various applications:

  • The candidate’s skills don’t match those detailed in the job description.
  • The candidate doesn’t have the level of experience you require.
  • There’s a language barrier, and you’re unable to bridge that gap effectively.

Once you’ve weeded the good resumes from the bad, it’s time to evaluate the cover letters.

Cover letters can tell you a great deal about your prospects. Make sure that applicants know you expect them to take the time and craft a standout cover letter.

A quality cover letter should be concise, and it should tell you: Who the applicant is, what their expertise is, how they can contribute to your company, and what they’re looking to get in return.

A great cover letter indicates that the applicant possesses excellent communication skills, follows directions thoroughly, and has proper attention to detail. All of which are critical skills for a developer.

Tip #4: Effectively interviewing prospects
After you vet the applications you receive, it’s time to put together a shortlist of the best applicants (usually 3-5 applicants is best), and schedule interviews. Candidates need to be clear on the date, time, and interview duration. Send email instructions before the interview for each candidate.

These instructions should include the interview date, time, time zone, expected duration, as well as the names and job roles of those who will be attending.

Interviewing remotely may demand that the candidate is set up with tools such as Zoom, Skype, and MS Teams. Add instructions on how to use all software, any necessary login information, how they should prepare for the interview, what to do if the video call cuts off, and hint what type of questions might be asked.

Be clear about how the interview will be conducted. For example, you may start with a phone call, and the next phase may be a video call. When making preparations for remote hiring, ensure that your internet connection is stable, and you’re in an environment with no background noise or distractions.

One of the best practices to help you further vet your prospect pool is to provide a coding challenge to each candidate you’re interested in interviewing. This challenge should take an hour or less to complete, and it should focus on having candidates write, test, and implement code.

Advance all candidates who perform adequately in the coding challenge.

How can you make sure candidates aren’t cheating your coding challenges?

Include questions that test role-specific challenges, domain-specific challenges, and problem-solving skills. Use internal tools to search the web and check for duplicate test answers that have been shared and leaked.

Another solution is to use algorithms that detect plagiarism. The algorithms will provide an in-depth comparison to find similarities in answers.

As recommended, the next step would be a technical interview. This interview should shine a light on the applicant’s skill set and knowledge base, as well as providing the opportunity for the candidate to share some of their personality and what makes them tick.

During the interview, learn about past projects the applicant has completed, what they’re passionate about, and how they’ve worked through challenging situations. The interview should also include plenty of questions that are unique to the role you’re staffing, so you can reaffirm the results of the coding challenge.

Focus on building a rapport with each applicant during the interview, and pay close attention to how effectively they can communicate. For remote roles, communication is critical.

Stage 2: Tips to ensure the employee is thoroughly introduced to their departmental culture, business objectives, and goals

Developer onboarding image 3

Tip #1: Streamline your onboarding process
Hiring quality developers is only half the battle. Once you’ve staffed out a talented team, you’ll need to keep your new employees happy so you can keep them on board for the long hall. For this, you’ll need to keep your remote talent engaged and content.

Make the onboarding process as seamless as possible. Organizations with strong and easy to navigate onboarding processes can improve new hire retention by over 80%.

You can onboard remote developers by sending them the needed hardware in advance. Provide the contacts for your company’s IT specialists in case the new hire has trouble (or you can even set up an IT appointment). HR and IT specialists play a crucial role when it comes to building a welcoming and seamless onboarding process for remote developers.

Create and provide your new hire with a communication guide. Create a spreadsheet that explains how the new hire can contact specific people (Slack groups, email for permissions, HR people), and what to do in case they are faced with troubles. Onboarding paperwork can be simplified using e-signatures, without having to print and scan documents.

Schedule video call meetings with the people your developer will report to, as well as online training. Generally, after a remote developer has signed all the paperwork, completed the training, and set up their tech, the onboarding process may appear to be complete.

But it’s not.

Onboarding is an ongoing process that helps you retain your new remote developers long-term. It’ll be a learning curve for them, so make sure to check in every week for the first month and then scale back to every month or even every 2 weeks.

It’s essential to keep the lines of communication always open. This will help your new developer feel included in the team and the company, feel supported and ready to do their job well.

Tip #2: Invest in company culture
Foster an active employee community, where everyone has a chance to communicate and contribute to the company’s culture, whether they’re working remotely or in your home office. A recent Columbia University study suggests employee turnover at companies with exemplary corporate culture is a mere 13.9%.

Encourage company-wide and department-wide virtual happy hours to allow employees to kick back and get to know each other. Strong bonds between coworkers is a great way to improve company culture and nurture your remote employees.

Tip #3: Provide your employees with the collaborative tools they need
Invest in the best collaboration and communication tools, and teach your employees how to leverage them effectively. Only 22% of remote teams receive formal training on how to use the tools they’re provided. Don’t be a statistic and provide the training required.

Tip #4: Evaluate and adapt your management practices
Constantly evaluate the management practices and styles you use to manage your remote team. Ask yourself what you could be doing better to get the most out of your remote developers.

Tip #5: Encourage accountability
Set clear performance goals for your team from the outset, and hold each member accountable to those goals. A critical problem for most remote teams is a lack of clear direction and accountability.

Tip #6: Embrace your remote employees
Take time to get to know your employees, learn what’s important to them, and foster a friendly relationship. As a remote employee, it’s easy to lose sight of your company’s culture when you aren’t physically present with your team.

Recognize the contributions of your remote developers with company-wide meetings or emails. Doing so will improve your company’s culture and nurture the relationships you’re building with remote team members.

Establish a clear company vision and communicate that to your remote employees. Find ways to instill that vision in the work that your remote developers are doing so they can see the value their work is providing.

Tip #7: Invest in your developer’s professional growth
Just because your remote developers aren’t working in your office doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have opportunities to grow within the company. Hiring from within reinforces your corporate culture, and makes for happier employees.

Incorporate remote developer onboarding best practices, to identify, hire and retain top talent

Finding top development talent is an immense challenge for most businesses, and finding that talent remotely can be even more challenging. While it may be hard, it’s far from impossible.

Consider the tips and best practices in the guide above, and incorporate those with your vision, and you’ll be well on your way to staffing a talented team of remote developers who can help take your company to the next level.

By effectively managing every remote employee relationship, businesses can cultivate a great company culture that inspires developers to put their best effort forward in all their tasks. The tips above are an ideal place to start if you’re looking to hire the right remote developers and make investments in employee relationship management.

Do you manage a team of remote developers? What challenges and successes have you faced? We’d love to hear from you, so please comment below. Who knows, you may even get featured in an upcoming article.

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Jane Courtnell

Hi there, I am a Junior Content Writer at Process Street. I graduated in Biology, specializing in Environmental Science at Imperial College London. During my degree, I developed an enthusiasm for writing to communicate environmental issues. I continued my studies at Imperial College's Business School, and with this, my writing progressed looking at sustainability in a business sense. When I am not writing I enjoy being in the mountains, running and rock climbing. Follow me at @JaneCourtnell.

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