In this podcast episode, we interview Justine Van den Mooter from Qwilr about designing an effective onboarding experience.
We discuss creating a comprehensive onboarding process for all new hires, regardless of their role or location, fostering manager involvement, and providing a supportive environment for new employees.
Justine shares her experience in revamping Qwilr’s onboarding process and highlights the importance of proactive communication, personalized tasks, and maintaining excitement throughout the onboarding period. We also touch upon the challenges of onboarding in a globally distributed company.
Overall, the episode emphasizes the significance of a well-designed onboarding process in creating a positive employee experience.
Justine Van den Mooter, Talent & People Experience at Qwilr
Welcome to Process Street’s Employee Onboarding podcast where we unpack great onboarding ideas and best practices from the world’s top HR practitioners and thought leaders at Process Street.
Our mission starts with making recurring work fun, fast, and faultless for teams everywhere. My name is Erin Rice, and I’m the People & Operations Coordinator here at Process Street.
Today, I’m joined by Justine Van den Mooter. Justine is originally from Brussels in the Netherlands but currently lives in Sydney, Australia.
Justine is passionate about startups, specifically those with fewer than 100 employees, as well as mental health in the workplace.
Justine works in Talent and People Experience at Qwilr, where she has been for over the last two years, on a small but mighty people team of two. So mighty that she designed the entire onboarding process at Qwilr, which I can’t wait to hear more about.
Thank you so much for being here, Justine, especially at this hour!
Justine Van den Mooter:
Hello, good morning!
Breaking the Ice: Hot or Cold Pizza?
I’m ending my day while you’re already in tomorrow. It’s pretty wild how technology allows us to be connected with people all around the globe!
So before we dive in, I like to ask a super controversial question just to break the ice. Today, I’m pulling one from a recent All-Hands we had at Process Street. Is pizza better, hot or cold?
So I thought about this question over the last couple of days, because I really cannot make a decision. I think both are really, really great. I love hot pizza. But I also love cold pizza the next day, and there’s just something about it that I just really enjoy. But you can’t really fault the melty cheese either. So I’m like, either or I’m happy with both. So I’ll go both!
Okay, so maybe it’s fair to say hot pizza for dinner, cold pizza for breakfast. Is that fair?
Awesome. I think a lot of people in my company could agree with you, and probably all over the world to be honest. Awesome. Well, let’s dive into what we really came here for – employee onboarding!
Understanding Justine’s role at Qwilr
I’d love it if you could tell us a little bit more about your role at Qwilr.
Yeah, sure. Having been at Qwilr for just over two years now, I feel like my role has evolved over time, as any good role would. While my role title officially would be Talent and Experience Partner, like anyone in charge, there are so many things that encompass that.
There are so many different things that I do and am responsible for as well. Because we’re only a team of two, when my colleague is more recruiter-focused, and I’m more on the HR side of things, there’s a lot involved within my role.
I work very closely with people managers, run all the employee initiatives, and am passionate about employee experience and how to create a workplace that is great for people to show up and do their best work.
So all the people operations, onboard design, the onboarding process, as we’re here to talk about today, mitigate the performance management, run all the company meetings or all-hands meetings, try to keep and work on the tension a lot as well. I think that’s something that’s really important.
We are quite proud to say we have a very low turnover rate within the company. And that’s something that I’m also proud of, and something that I want to upkeep as well.
And then others like boring HR stuff, like having confidential conversations, mitigating performance improvement plans, and just making sure that people are happy within Qwilr.
So basically everything.
You’re in good company.
The Globally Distributed Nature of Qwilr
So it looks like Qwilr is globally distributed. Is that correct? You guys are also 100% remote.
Yes and no. We do have headquarters here in Sydney, Australia, but we are spread globally. The majority of our salespeople, for example, are located within the US, and they all work 100% remotely.
While we do have an office here in Sydney, Australia, we work in a hybrid setting. Today I’m working from home; tomorrow, I might go into the office; it doesn’t matter. The office is there to be used, but there are no strict office days or anything like that.
Within Australia, we are also spread within different parts of Australia. People like to travel to the office; sometimes we provide budgets for that too. So people that live in Brisbane or Melbourne can come and visit the Sydney office.
On a regular week, I would say the more popular office days might be Tuesdays and Thursdays. But from the 40ish people that live in the Sydney area, I would say maybe the average on an office day would be 15. So it is primarily a remote company.
Okay, really cool. So you designed your employees’ current onboarding. I’m so curious to hear what your onboarding was like, before that process was designed.
It was actually really interesting because I was very nervous to show up on my first day. This was my first real job in Australia as well.
To be honest, the onboarding at the time was very basic; there were only 35 people in the company. There was no HRIS. There were no strict onboarding processes.
I joined as support to our Head of People at the time. I got some very basic documents, such as the vision and the mission of the company, and what we do.
That was it. I remember my manager at the time told me to prepare a list of questions for the first day. I went above and beyond, then I came with a list of 55 questions or something ridiculous like that because I wanted to know so many different things.
I think that was a really interesting way of getting started. But in terms of strict onboarding processes, there was not much at the time.
So how did you even tackle that? Like, how did you get to a point where you could bring yourself up to speed, but then also start contributing?
I think something that’s really important to me today, as well, is proactively reaching out to other people in the company.
I do understand that there needs to be some kind of personal aspect to it as well. You have to have that personality to be comfortable to do that, which is not suitable for everyone, which is not very inclusive at all, really.
But something that I did was proactively reaching out to people, managers, understanding their teams, understanding what they do, which helped me gain a picture of who is who within the company, and what their pain points were.
So yeah, I did work very closely together with our Head of People. A lot of the things I learned, I learned through her. She’d been with the company for three years at the time. So she had some very basic projects assigned to me at the start.
But I think reaching out to people and learning about their teams and learning where their pain points are, and also what’s going really well for them, really helped me shape that full image of the company.
Revamping the Onboarding Process at Qwilr
That’s great. And so now, two years later, you’ve been there, you’ve onboarded yourself, you’ve seen probably other employees join the company. How has it evolved over time?
So it definitely has evolved. And again, I think I’m pretty proud of the way that I’ve taken the onboarding process from basically the blank canvas that it was to something that’s actually a really good process, or it’s basic skill.
But it’s still a good process where I get feedback from new employees saying things like, “Oh, this is great. I didn’t know this startup would have such a good onboarding process, and everything was figured out.” And everyone was so helpful, which I think is a great start. Definitely, over the last two years, we’ve basically doubled in headcount. So I have onboarded a lot of people.
And I like to think about the onboarding process as an iterative process as well. So every time I onboard someone new, I try to see if there are elements that we can improve, or other elements that need changing or tweaking at that time, or at that point in time.
So over the last two years, we have adopted an HRIS, which, you know, we use the onboarding model of, it’s not great. It gives us task reminders, which is nice.
It’s not very personalized, I must admit, but it’s a lot better than where it used to be. And things change so quickly within our company, and in our space, that at the start, I quite literally find myself updating things every couple of days, being like, oh, yeah, oh, wait, this needs to change, or I need to add this or need to add that to the list of things that need to be done.
But now that we have those tasks listed out, and they give us reminders like one or two weeks before, hey, here’s a reminder that you know, you have a new starter coming, remember to pocket swagbucks and send it to them, right, it makes it a lot more structured than what we had before. And I’ve seen what they used before, which was a notion checklist. So yeah, it definitely has evolved.
So where did you start? That seems like such a big undertaking!
Yeah. It definitely was. And once again, I think one of the things that I learned the most from was talking to other people within the company.
I talked to all of the managers, tried to understand what they need from me as the HR person, for their people to be onboarded properly.
But then I also spoke to all of the new starters that had joined the company within the last six months. And literally, interviewed them about their onboarding experience.
And based on that, I started compiling a list of all the things that actually needed to be done as well with the finance teams, and founders, and all the different parts that are involved within creating this all-around onboarding experience. And then yes, to list out all the tasks.
Something that I think is really important with onboarding is it doesn’t start on their first day, it actually starts way before that. It starts after they’ve signed their offer because you want to keep up that excitement throughout the notice periods.
Here in Australia, we have a four-week notice period. So it is actually quite long, if someone were to quit their job on the day that they get an offer, we have four weeks to fill, to keep up that excitement. So the way I’ve actually scheduled it is I have tasks every couple of days. And I involve different people from within the company as well.
So it’s not all just me that reaches out to the new starter, but they get reached out by their buddy, or their manager reaches out, or they get some tasks to input themselves, or they get a document to read or something.
And very small, like drips throughout those four weeks. So it’s not overwhelming for them. They don’t have to do it if they don’t want to, they can wait until their first day. It’s not that time-consuming or time-pressured.
But I do get feedback that it is actually really nice that they get those things before their first day as well.
Yeah, I can imagine going through the hiring process, getting a job offer, and then crickets for a month would be really awkward.
Yeah, 100%. And one of the things I am so passionate about is creating that experience for people. And I want them to be excited, I want them to feel part of the company from the moment they sign their offer. That’s why I think it’s so important to involve more people than just me or just a recruiter that they’ve worked with, but other people in the company as well.
So I would imagine these tasks assignments are automated, and you don’t manually go in and assign tasks?
Correct. Within our HRIS, we are able to assign the manager to the person, and then a certain number of tasks will be assigned to the manager.
I manually send them reminders sometimes because I feel they get so many emails from our HR system that they might get overlooked.
Sometimes I copy, paste, whatever the task says, and put it into Slack to them, saying, “Hey, remember to do this today.” But it is not a very automated process; we obviously use our own tool as well, which is cooler (it’s a document automation tool).
We want to change the way people do documents. The majority of our documents within our onboarding process are Qwilr documents, which gives them a nice introduction to our product.
That’s great dogfooding, using your own product internally.
Onboarding in a Globally Distributed Company
Can you tell me how you manage onboarding in a globally distributed company?
I would imagine it’s probably even trickier when you have some people coming into the office and some not. I would love to hear more about how you manage these different types of onboarding.
I believe there shouldn’t be a difference between in-person onboarding and remote onboarding. I try to treat everyone equally within the company, regardless of whether they’re based in Australia, Asia, the US, or Europe.
We have always been a globally distributed company with a remote-first culture. My process is set up to cater for that as well.
I don’t expect anyone to come in on their first day into the office; it’s not a requirement. Everything is set up to cater for both situations.
There is very little difference other than if they do come into the office on their first day, I’ll take them out for coffee, or their manager will. That’s not something we can do if they’re remote, at least not in person. We can do it virtually (but it’s not the same).
But other than that, our onboarding processes are quite self-paced, with regular check-in times with their managers or with me, and I think that’s a great way of doing it.
Absolutely. What about in terms of different roles? If you’re hiring at the executive level, versus a key contributor or individual contributor, does it vary at all based on their role?
From a company-wide perspective, onboarding is the same for everyone. I want to keep it that way. It’s very important that regardless of what level or experience you have, you’re joining the company, everyone gets the same onboarding experience.
However, our managers are very heavily involved in the role-specific onboarding for their team members, just because they have the best insight into what needs to be done there. We are a startup, quite small, so it’s rare that we hire five of the same people.
Every onboarding experience needs to be tailored to the person that is joining within the role they’re joining. Managers create the 30/60/90 plans and are responsible for introducing them to the team and onboarding them in that way.
The Importance of Manager Buy-In and Retention Strategies
So managers have their department that’s their main priority. How did you get them to buy in to provide that additional support to your HR department to make onboarding successful?
I think it all starts from building a great relationship between HR and the people managers within the company. I’m working daily to build that relationship, to get them to trust me, and to come to me for help and advice.
That’s the start of them understanding the value of different things that the HR department does, as well as their role within those different functions. We’re blessed to have managers within the company that care about their people. We try to hire on people management skills, because that’s something we think is important. That’s why manager buy-in within the onboarding process is so important.
I’ve noticed some managers that expect new team members to hit the ground running. I’ve had to retract that and say, it doesn’t matter that they’ve been a head of security for 20 years; they still don’t know how our company works.
They don’t know how our different teams work, regardless of how many years they’ve been within their role-specific business. That’s why I think manager involvement within that role-specific or department-specific onboarding is so important.
And I would imagine, once you have their buy-in, that probably contributes to your high retention?
Yes, I would say. Supporting the managers is important, but it goes both ways.
The initiatives that I set up to increase employee experience or retention need to be bought in by the managers, and then they need to push that out to their teams.
It goes both ways. That relationship is really important to have and maintain.
How to Successfully Onboard New Remote Hires: The Missing Pieces
Reflecting over everything that you’ve learned over these last two years, and probably from other positions that you’ve been in, what would you say are the great pieces that make onboarding successful?
I think getting people to feel part of something greater from the start is incredibly important.
You don’t want them to feel lost or left out. That’s the last thing you want to do.
So I think that onboarding experience, starting from the day the offer is signed, involving as many people as possible, and getting them to see all the different parts of the company is key.
What would you say is something that most onboarding processes are missing?
I think this might be one of the things that we struggle with as well. It’s the “who is who” and “what do they do?” We’re at this funny size of a company right now, just over 70 employees.
There are few enough people to know everyone, but also too many people to talk to everyone.
So how do we find a way that new starters can understand the structure of the company and who is who and what do they do?
And is that the next phase of your onboarding process?
Yes. It’s something I’m currently working on.
I’m in the drafting phases, tossing up a couple of ideas on whether to get everyone to make a Loom video and attach it to the company directory where people can watch the different things, or get the managers to describe their departments and then create an overview of who is in that department.
I want to make it quite personal but also not take away too much time from people involved in creating these.
I think that’s the age-old trouble in HR: how do I get the most ROI with very little I?
The Future of Onboarding: AI and Evolving Trends
Looking at the future, technology is moving at a really fast pace.
Our world is evolving very quickly. What do you foresee as the next thing that we see in onboarding?
It’s got to be AI, right? It’s gotta be.
I don’t know that I understand AI to a level; I understand that it will take our jobs one day, but in practice, I’m not too sure. But I’m excited about what it has to bring, and maybe it’ll make things easier for us as well.
Yes, we know the ethics around AI is a very tricky topic. But I think if used the right way, it can make us work smarter, not harder.
Hopefully, yes, definitely. Yeah.
Awesome. Reflecting over all of your experience with onboarding, how would you say onboarding has changed over time?
I think it has become generational. If you think about our parents joining companies, they were just thrown into the deep end. You just join a company and do whatever.
That has really changed. The People Experience part of companies has changed as well, where you join a company now, and you want to be welcomed warmly, and you want to understand how things work quicker to then be the best version of yourself.
So I think that’s definitely something that has changed over time and will iteratively keep changing in the future.
I couldn’t agree more that the generations are wanting to make bigger and larger contributions because now we know that it’s possible.
We get a worldview and understand what’s happening in other parts of the world.
Whereas, 15 years ago, we didn’t always know that. I think that’s such a good point.
Creating a ‘Wow’ Moment for New Hires
Okay, last question. I’ll let you get back to the start of your day. What is one thing that companies can do to create a wow moment for their new hires?
Make them feel part of the team from day zero, from the day that offer is signed, even throughout the hiring process. Make them feel like they are a part of something bigger. I think that is so important.
Don’t differentiate between long-term employees and newbies within the company; involve them in everything you’re doing, and throw them into the deep end, but do allow them downtime and regular check-ins with the various stakeholders and parties within the company.
I think that is the most important thing.
I love that you’re not differentiating between those that are brand new and those that have been around for a while.
When I started at Process Street, I was brought into these focus groups in week two, and they were asking me for feedback on the product.
I thought, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” But they said, “Your opinion matters so much because you’re brand new to it. You are the person that we’re selling to.”
I remember thinking, “I’m a fish out of water, but wow, they really care about my opinion.” And I had barely been onboarded.
That is so important. I love that they’ve done that for you, and it’s something that we’re trying to do in our company as well.
Well, Justine, thank you so much for spending this time with me and sharing all of your insights on onboarding.
Maybe circle back when you figure out the automation and the “who’s who and what they do” so you can share it with our listeners.
I’m sure that other people are wondering about those same things!
Well, thank you very much, Erin. Have a great day!
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