Digital Employee Engagement Unplugged (How to Build Remote Culture & Trust)

digital employee engagement

Want to take your onboarding to the next level? You’re in for a treat with our latest podcast featuring Erin and Wristy, who dive into some game-changing approaches to humanizing the workplace and leveling up your team culture.

If you’re an HR pro, team leader, or just a culture-curious individual, this one’s for you.

Here’s what we’ll unpack:

  • “Culture Add” vs. “Culture Fit”: What’s the Real Deal?
  • The Power of a Team Charter: Saying Goodbye to Lengthy Presentations
  • Q&A Rounds: A Safe Space to Ask Anything
  • Buddy System & Mentorship: Two Sides of the Same Coin?
  • Creating “Wow” Moments in Onboarding
  • Ownership & Accountability: Why Your Employees Will Stick Around

So, if you’re ready to get some actionable insights straight from the experts, read on!

You can listen on AppleSpotifyGooglePodchaserPodcast AddictDeezer, & all your favorite podcast platforms!

Onboarding Strategist and HR Innovator, Wristy


Today, I’m joined by Wristy. She is currently an independent contractor partnering with startups and long-standing companies in both the corporate and social sectors on people experience and labor compliance.

Wristy is recognized for bringing structure out of uncertainty with a demonstrated ability to create and integrate programs, processes, and frameworks that enable individuals and teams to effortlessly produce the best work they are capable of while providing flexibility.

She is a lifelong learner and a social volunteer in the field of education. Thanks for joining us today!

Thank you so much, Erin. It’s a pleasure to join and be a part of the podcast.

Icebreaker: Wristy’s #1 Bucket-List Destination

That’s something we have in common, education. I actually had a 15-year education career before joining Process Street.

I used to be a teacher earlier, full-time, and now I volunteer as a teacher with government labor schools free of cost. So it’s a complete volunteering activity on all my weekends.

That’s amazing. Living this remote, flexible life, I also volunteer in my daughter’s first-grade class on Thursday mornings.

That’s great.

We are so excited to have you today. I know you’ve been traveling quite a bit recently. I’d love to hear what your number one bucket list travel destination is.

Hi everyone, my number one bucket list destination would be Kashmir. I have been to Kanyakumari this time, and that’s one end of India. Now, I want to travel to the other end of India, that’s Kashmir. Although I’ve been to Leh, Ladakh, I did not get the opportunity, because of a lot of political reasons, to visit the entire Kashmir.

Wristy’s Employee Onboarding Expertise

That’s incredible! So now what we really came here for, employee onboarding. I’d love to hear a little bit about your background and how you became an expert in employee onboarding.

So I have expertise in HR. And when I say HR, it’s not only processes or transactions. It’s about process re-engineering. We’re integrating processes and tools with a people perspective. My first step, when I did my Lean Six Sigma, I’m a green belt in that.

My first project was onboarding re-engineering for five clients of mine while I was in a management consulting firm. And then I implemented the project in different ways: on-site, hybrid, as well as remote globally. And I realized that this is one of the first areas because at that time, I did not manage hiring. So for me, onboarding was the first area where I was interacting with the new hires and found that I am the face, or my team is the face, of the company.

People are learning about the culture; they are trying to see companies, processes, culture, people, how to navigate within the company through me and my team’s eyes because, again, we are the first contact for them. And then, I would say it has been a non-stop journey.

I have created, I would say, more than 25 onboarding programs, some nationally and some globally, particularly in the US, Canada, London, Porto, and Lisbon.

Story-time: Good, Bad, & Ugly Onboarding Experiences

That’s amazing. That’s very global! So thinking back on your own onboarding experiences for companies that you worked with previously, tell us the good, the bad, the ugly.

From Paperwork to Swag: The Evolving Landscape of Company Onboarding

I’ll start with the good. So, at that time when I was actually working, everything was on-site. So reaching the office on the first day, everything was set up. A lot of paperwork, forms, HR, compliance, finance, admin, and IT.

Getting the system on day one, and the IT person did all the settings for attendance and emails. Everything was created on the first day. And then, attending an induction session every day of two or three departments about what they do and what their team size is and how much they’re contributing. That’s how my induction program started, which after a few times went from individual induction to collective inductions.

That is, all the people who had joined in that quarter were filling out the forms, but the meetings with the leaders, with the team members, and others, cross-functional teams, used to happen on a quarterly basis in an off-site. All the new hires, along with the leaders, were taken outside, and it was the same process again.

The main difference was we started getting swag. I remember receiving four t-shirts: white, black, yellow, and some shade of green that I had never seen. It was less than a parrot but more than a sea-green.

I received two hats with company logos. I had a lot of stationery with me. I still have it here next to my desk. Pen, paper, sticky notes, a lot of stuff, a bottle and balls. I received balls, basketballs, with company logos on them.


So there are a lot of swags and what the company at that time did was, every session you attend while you are coming in you’re getting stationary; while you are coming out, you’re getting swag to make the onboarding interesting. And it was at that time around three days onboarding them, and we were given, we were even sent to R&D centers to see actually what the company is doing.

As an HR, I remember going to the distributor of the company along with the sales and distribution team wherein the company said that you need to know, as an HR, what your people are doing.

And I believe that was the first sense for me to understand that HR is just more than papers and processes and policies. It’s more about knowing the people, putting in extra effort, going an extra mile.

Onboarding Adventures and Employee Branding Insights

And from there, the journey about more than an HR journey, I would say a people journey, started. Going forward, while I came to management consulting, that was my own venture, my first one, ventured into management consulting; they were retail sectors. And their onboardings were completely out of the way.

Their onboardings even included at higher levels, sending them to their mother companies in the US. On a quarterly basis, all the new hires used to be sent for a month to the mother company to know the actual process, to meet the leaders, sit with them and learn from them, come back and then have brown bag sessions here.

So whatever they have learned, they are going to have brown bag sessions one by one in the next three months when another lot has gone, to tell the people in India as to how the company has progressed, what’s the new thing that they have seen as a culture, and what more in India we need to grow on.

While we sent there, there were new hires. And while they came back after onboarding, they were the company’s brand ambassadors.

Wow, that sounds incredible.

That was my second learning. That employees are the first brand ambassadors. How much you post on social media, how much you give increments, but when it comes from an employee’s mouth, how happy they are, and that sense of belongingness that’s created, that’s what employee branding actually is. And that starts from onboarding. Because if they’re happy, and if they’re happy in the start, and it continues, it continues. I remember having in the same company kick-offs.

Every year there was a kick-off, and all the leaders used to come down, and they used to dress up like Indians to an extent, kurta pajamas. I remember one of my CTOs, wearing a dhoti and a kurta with a pagdi, just to be a part of the team and show that you know, even if we are culturally different, we are flexible enough.

I remember the COO of the company celebrating his son’s birthday, calling his wife and two sons from the US to India, and celebrating his son’s birthday with the company, the team members, saying that I work with this, I have two families, and I’m going to come at least one day, my two families are going to come together and that’s my son’s birthday. It was my third learning in the journey that most of the time we spend in our office.

They are people. They are not just productive machines that we are paying salaries to, and we need to get work. But there is a people perspective and as an HR, I need to maintain that.

From Groundwork to Global: The Ever-Evolving HR Landscape in a Remote World

The next step in my journey was the social sector. In the social sector, I used to work on the grounds. Grounds wherein, apart from HR, I started doing finance, I started doing IT, I started doing a lot of communication stuff, behavioral communication with people who work actually on the ground. And that gave me a new perspective that there is another side of life. And it’s not only taking care of people but being a part of them, and they are two different things.

So, and lastly, the journey was everything evolves. We came into COVID overnight, everything went remote. Although the company I was working in during the COVID times when COVID hit, the company was already remote globally. They only wanted productivity. They didn’t care about the attendance, who’s coming, what they are wearing, from where they are working. They didn’t care.

So as soon as we turned remote globally and everything, new tools had to be implemented overnight. The learning that happened with me in my journey was, it’s not the tool implementation I need to concentrate on. It’s about the user experience I need to concentrate on, which is not one-time, which is lifelong.

As an example, I still get calls from my previous director on the tool that he uses, and I am no longer using. That, Wristy, how do I see my equity in this? And I tell him it’s been three years now, I’ve left you. You are on your own. So it’s relationship building as an HR. That’s my journey, and probably that’s why when I have been laid off, people are still connected, and as a consultant, I’m still getting work. It’s less, but I’m still getting it because of this relationship building.

So yeah, that’s how my journey started and this is where I am.

The Role of People Leaders

That sounds incredible. I love your connection to that evolution of human resources to people-focused culture. Now we’re called people leaders because that’s exactly what we are. We’re here to support the people of the business. My kids tell me that I’m a people helper. That’s my job. That’s what they tell people.

But that’s actually correct, we are helping everyone to grow along with ourselves.

Engagement Programs: Adapting to Remote Settings

Exactly. Yeah, I tell them I’m like, “You’re not wrong.” So, you mentioned the pandemic and this shift. Tell me how you saw technology play a part in this evolution from in-office roles to fully remote roles.

So the transition was we were meeting every day. We knew what the other person was doing, not only through words but also through facial expressions in person and by body language. Which, while we shifted to remote, became less; the interactions decreased. People actually started missing from the meetings. And during the meetings as well, because there were so many meetings that used to happen. When they used to happen in person, people used to enjoy each other’s company.

But when they happened on the screen, it led to high screen time, impacting mental health. So people started closing their cameras. So we were unable to see each other. That bond, that connection, was being lost. So new kinds of engagement programs had to be brought in. We could not meet in person, but we could still have lunches. So Uber Eats came in. They said, “This is an Uber Eats coupon. You are in the US; you are in London; you are in India. So we’ll have three batches: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And these are the meeting times. Order for yourself and for your family and let’s be there on the call. Let’s have virtual food. Let’s have virtual coffees.”

Tools for Onboarding Communication: Zendesk

Another kind of engagement that was created was, for the first time, a German company celebrated Diwali globally. We celebrated Diwali, a very big Indian festival, three times in a day. Anyone who could join in any of these three times could. And there were people who, having already joined either the first or second session, enjoyed it so much that they wanted to join the third session as well, which was very late at night, because it was in the US time zone. Another change was that traveling was restricted. So while earlier we were meeting distributors and clients in person, which also gave them confidence in us, during this pandemic, that started waning. We weren’t meeting. The conversations became less frequent; they happened more over email or through messages on WhatsApp or regular text messages. To restore that confidence, we brought in tools like Zendesk. Through Zendesk, we gave access to vendors as well.

“This is our tool, but let’s connect on Zendesk. We understand that emails are too formal; we understand we can’t meet you in person. So Zendesk is similar to Slack.”

For informal communications, we started using it with vendors. We found that people were more comfortable with Zendesk than emails, and they started using it more like phone calls. That’s where the tools helped us move from an on-site situation where people had started losing trust because of COVID, to finally getting back on track and creating more trust.

I remember having three vendors together in a month coming to us. Our partners also would like to be a part. So do you have this? Because it is only you who’s trying to connect with us. In our engagement activities, one of them was Diwali celebrations; we called our vendors also to be a part of it because you have also contributed.

Remote Hiring Tools: From Lever to Ashby

Then came hiring. Because now was the time I was involved in hiring also. Earlier there were in-person interviews; a person had to come six times to the office and people were available or they were already in meetings.

So we upgraded Lever. We were using Lever. We first upgraded Lever and then we converted from Lever to Ashby. And the interview process became smoother for us because now people don’t have to come. They are okay for late evenings or early mornings interviews also. Of course, the other part was that they were looking out for a job. COVID created a lot of job hits. But now they were more comfortable.

We gave them the opportunity to not open their cameras during some of the calls because it’s very early morning or late evenings. So it’s okay. Don’t turn on your cameras. We are okay with the background sound also. You are having lunch and at that time you want to speak to us. We are fine as long as you are comfortable.

And we made sure that during the interview, if the candidate is having lunch, whoever the interviewer was, we said, sit there with a coffee or a snack or something, even if you’re not eating, just to make them comfortable.

So the tool helped in making the process flexible and also new ways of making the candidate comfortable had to be thought about, like one of them as simple as that.

Performance Appraisals: Lattice for Peer Recognition

So, performance appraisals, now there were tools. I think performance appraisals have been a great hit. Earlier we could evaluate if something is going on; when we became remote, it was more of now we do not know what’s happening. How much we interact on calls, we do not know. That’s still a hit. People are trying to work around with it.

But many companies are there. One of the tools that I found fascinating was Lattice. Lattice was not only a performance tool, but you could give feedback. You could give kudos to other people in private, in public, to the manager. You could ask for feedback, which started helping people in their appraisals. So that tool helped us in knowing people more. If there are five projects running, as a leader, I would not know exactly who is doing what. So through Lattice, we started peer recognition. Write what, why, and connect it to a company value.

So there, the tool literally helped people think through their communication skills, what exactly the company values are, and then recognition. Now, everyone could give recognition to anyone, at any time. I can give recognition to anyone right now. Someone in the US can give me recognition because now there is transparency in what I am doing.

Transparency via Confluence + Notion

And then I think Confluence and Notion have been the biggest things. No more paperwork. Everything is there, available online whenever, whatever you want to see. You can create your projects there. You can come up with ideas there. And again, there is an open platform; it’s transparency, which I think is one of the first steps to creating a people culture, transparency as to what’s happening in the company.

That’s amazing. I couldn’t agree more. Transparency provides exactly that, transparency. But also, as an individual contributor, I’m more likely to want to contribute on day one if that transparency is there, which is hugely important.

True. And then through transparency, in case I want to contribute to something else. For example, I want you to contribute to a tool implementation. I know what projects are going on because it’s there on Confluence or Notion. I can just come up and say that I want to volunteer. So that also gives me an opportunity to learn and grow in another field.

“Culture Add” vs. “Culture Fit”: What’s the Real Deal?

Yeah, one of the things that was super overwhelming for me when I joined my current company, Process Street, was I had trust on day one. Having come from education where all trust is earned, it was a little bit overwhelming to have that the first day. And they’re asking my opinions about things and I’m like, why am I so important? And it’s like, I went through the hiring process. They already vetted me. They knew what they were getting on day one, so it was very much like just jump right in and you either trust the process or you don’t, right? And I’ve been able to really rely on that now.

Speaking of processes, I understand that you love processes. I’d love to hear the advice that you give to companies on employee onboarding and implementing processes.

Advice on onboarding that I give to companies is onboarding starts before day one. It starts as soon as the offer is accepted. The onboarding starts then, not on the day the person joins. Onboarding is not paperwork. Onboarding is about making the new hire a culture add, making the new hire trust what the company is, and trust in the culture, the people, trust that the company is going to benefit the person in the long run. Trust in the value system and imbibe that value system or integrate that value system into their own.

Relate that value system to themselves. So many companies start a buddy system from day one. I say instead of a hiring manager and HR connecting with the new hire, why not have a buddy from the day the offer is accepted? Let the buddy system start from there. That’s what’s going to create a people perspective and trust transparency.

And I would say, you know, a communication channel for the person. And that buddy should be a peer who may not solve the questions or solve the problems but is there with the person, telling them that the company is there.

And of course, I don’t know everything and it’s okay for the company, for anyone not to know everything. The company is open. I’ll get back to you. So that peer buddy or work, it more reflects as an open platform, whatever the person wants to share. And I’ve actually seen with that, the retention rates have gone higher.

We had a lot of attrition, and I’m saying it’s attrition because they have accepted the offer, they had done the paperwork, and on the day of joining, they have not joined. After doing this peer buddy system, the dropout rates went very low. Low means like if I was hiring five people and only one was joining.

Now out of those five, three were joining us. And when two were not joining, they had told the buddy or come back to HR that you know the peer has said that you are very open. I have got another offer and I’ll prefer to go there because it’s very high. And we were like, we are okay. We are happy that you became transparent. So bringing in that perspective that onboarding doesn’t start from day one, it starts previously.

And it’s not a culture fit, it’s a culture add that we have to have. Culture is already there. Why have a culture fit if we need to evolve? We need to have a culture add. And again, that starts before onboarding. After onboarding, it’s mostly culture fit. Whether it’s one month, whether it’s three months, there is where the culture add comes in.

The Power of a Team Charter: Saying Goodbye to Lengthy Presentations

Another thing in onboarding that I tell everyone is the person is not here to hear from you as to what your team does. We have a Confluence page, write a team charter. People would prefer to read that from there. Have a video of 15 minutes posted there. That doesn’t talk about systems or processes. That talks about you as an individual and how you connect with the company. Because that’s how the person will be able to refer to you and the company. Processes and protocols are already laid down. That’s not required. The person can read the team charter, can see the organization chart. But how does a leader connect to the organization is what matters to the new hire.

And then let’s have a Q&A round. Whatever questions they have. They can directly come to you, ask them. We are having a Q&A round. Anyone who wants to ask any question and those sessions will not be recorded. The Q&A sessions will not be recorded. Anyone can ask anything. There may be the stupidest question as to how to do this coding, how Python is different from ReactJS. I am open for everything. Be open, no one is going to judge you. That kind of culture. That doesn’t happen with the periodic inductions. That happens with open discussions. And we did not label it as Q&A. We labeled it as Coffee with CEO, Drinks with the CTO, Ask Me Anything sessions. Like for with HR, it was Ask Me Anything. And that anything people had come up with, the new hires in particular had come up with, what personal insurance should we take? Or why don’t you tell us about yourself? We have heard about you or, you know, people talk about what changes you have done.

These kinds of sessions were brought in instead of normally running a PPT, telling what the team does and how the company has progressed. Talking about DEI as to what actually the company perspective is. And when we talk about DEI, it’s not about gender. Diversity of skills, diversity of backgrounds, diversity of education, diversity of hobbies, diversity of songs that I really like.

So every quarter we used to have as a part of onboarding whoever new hires have come in. They had to fill a survey form about their hobbies, the way they prefer the feedback to be there, what’s their favorite music, favorite kind of food, favorite sport, and it’s okay to leave the answers blank. And then that survey report used to come out. That, you see, is the increase in diversity we have had. And people are very excited that, okay, onboarding, that’s the reason we were being asked about this.

Another thing in onboarding I would say I introduced was the buddy system that was introduced during the onboarding, it extended. Company says three months, you can extend that buddy system making it a part of your mentorship also. So mentorship and onboarding were linked now.

Putting the Human Back into the Company

That’s amazing. I’m hearing so many amazing points about putting the human back into the company and remembering that these are individual humans that are adding to your company as opposed to sustaining.

A company needs to evolve. Companies can sustain, but they need to evolve if they want to grow.

Creating Wow Moments for New Team Members

And that’s the benefit of having new faces and new ideas and new blood and all the newness. I couldn’t agree more. I love that. Well, I have taken so much of your time. I do want to ask one question to be my final question. How do you create a wow moment for these brand new people joining your team?

There are, I would say, three main wow moments that are there. One is the kind of ice-breaking sessions that we have. Every call starts with an ice-breaking session, and that ice-breaking session has to be done by the new hires. It’s driven by them. So in one call, it may be different. In the other call, it may be different. So it’s no planning done. It’s completely open. It’s transparent. And up to them, whatever, however they want to have the ice-breaking session because it’s them who is facilitating them and leading that ice-breaking session in the calls.

Second is like, you know, the paperwork, the documentation is very minimal. Nothing has to be written. Everything is on a Google form or on a tool and that is split across the days. It’s not that every day you have to do, or a single day you have to fill in. It’s spread across the days. And there are people who are there to help from day one.

Lastly, I would say it’s about the kind of inputs they are allowed to give. As you rightly said, from the first day your opinions were asked. So from the first day instead of telling them what’s expected out of them, asking them and understanding from them what do they expect from the company and that too not only at the time of the offer every time when they are joining during the onboarding. And then whenever there is an interaction, whether it’s a career interaction, whether there is any growth interaction, company’s expectations are set. So let us first, you let us know what do you expect from us. And then we can build our expectations around it. So making them the leaders of the company irrespective of the role they are.

Ownership and Why Employees Stay

And that creates ownership. And why would an employee leave if they have ownership?

Ownership along with accountability.

100%. I love that. This has been incredible. I already have so many ideas that I’m going to take back to my team of things that I think that we need to implement, you know, tomorrow. One of them being this idea of like, we do onboarding buddies at our company as well. And it’s been a great culture add to our employee development.

But really starting that relationship before the first day, I think is such a great idea. I want to start that tomorrow. But so many great ideas. I appreciate you so much.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to share these little nuggets!

Thank you so much and it has been a pleasure speaking to you. So thank you so much for giving this opportunity.


You’ve been listening to the Employee Onboarding podcast, bringing you insights and best practices from employee onboarding experts, helping you to create an amazing onboarding experience.

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Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.

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