Remote Onboarding: An Interview with Mariel Argonza of HubSpot

We had a fascinating chat with Mariel Argonza from HubSpot's Learning & Development Team, In her role, Mariel designs and delivers remote training for HubSpotters covering onboarding, professional development, and management and leadership workshops for people managers.

Before we jump into it, here's a little plug to let you know that we will be speaking with her live at a virtual event on July 8, 2021. The topic: Onboarding in the New Normal. It's a topic she has a lot of great insight on. So if that's up your alley – here's the link to RSVP. Event is free, but with limited participants. 

Now, on to the interview. 

 

Boxaroo: Whether remote or at the office – why is a good onboarding process important for companies that are growing and expanding, and for employees that are beginning a new chapter with them?

Mariel: I think it’s important to define what a “good” onboarding process looks like first and while this may differ from company to company, I think of this process in phases: pre-boarding, the actual onboarding program and “offboarding”.

Pre-boarding includes items such as communicating to new employees what to expect, sending their hardware or setting-up accounts. The actual onboarding program is exactly what you’d expect - covering the company’s mission, vision, goals, ways of working, product training, etc. over a set period of time. Finally, offboarding looks at enabling both the new hire and their Manager with “just-in-time” resources (also called performance support resources) that they can use throughout an employee’s ramp up to a point where they have mastered a skill or task.

Logistics-wise, I’d add a standard cadence (e.g. monthly onboarding “classes”) into this definition of a good onboarding process as well. Granted, every company is different though the benefit of onboarding in classes especially for growing companies is that you’re able to impart your culture consistently and at scale. 

For new employees, participating in an onboarding program helps them validate their decision of joining a company - a glimpse into their daily work life if you will. Setting this first impression is so powerful because it makes a lasting impact on how a new employee views their new company, team or colleagues and the impact they can contribute.

 

Boxaroo: Did HubSpot have a hard time adapting to virtual onboarding as the world went into lockdown? What did it look like?

Mariel: As cheesy as it sounds, an acronym from HubSpot’s Culture Code, “HEART” is A for adaptable. And adapt we did. Before COVID-19, we used to fly all of our new employees into one of our regional headquarters (Singapore, Dublin and Cambridge, US) for onboarding. For JAPAC specifically, our new hires from Australia and Japan would join their new colleagues in Singapore for a 7-day onboarding program we call “HubSpot Foundations”.

So when borders started to close around March 2020, we pivoted to deliver all of our global onboarding programs virtually starting with our April 2020 classes. The good news is that we were already delivering onboarding programs in a blended environment prior to COVID-19 so a bulk of my work then is converting what would’ve been physical classroom training content or activities into a fully virtual format.

Our L&D Leadership Team also invested in upskilling Facilitators like myself and Learning Experience designers to deliver and design training content for virtual first months before COVID-19 so I’d say we were quite lucky in this area that we already knew what to do operationally.

One other area that we had to adapt too was managing time zone differences between learners. Depending on the time of the year, Australia would be 3 hours ahead of Singapore and so a training that starts at 10:00AM Singapore time for example would already be 1:00PM for participants from Australia. That said, it would’ve been too much to ask participants from Singapore or Japan to start at 7:00AM or 8:00AM their time. 

Because of this, we resequenced our programs so that learners, depending on their location could use bulk of their morning or afternoon completing self-paced materials and only scheduling virtual discussions or in-person sessions within a set and reasonable time of the day.

 

Boxaroo: What are the must have items in a “virtual onboarding” checklist?

Mariel: Fundamentally, I’d go back to the three phases I shared above -- what does your pre-boarding, onboarding and offboarding look like as a company? Next, ask what kind of impression you’d like to make on your new employees? Finally, asking the question of what do you expect new employees to do with the information from onboarding helps make a powerful connection to application down the line in their role.

Tactically speaking, here’s my own virtual onboarding checklist as a Facilitator: 

  • A contingency plan that contains important links, docs, facilitator guides, recordings, etc. that someone else can use in the worst possible scenario that I’m not available due to unforeseen circumstances or emergencies
  • A list of your incoming new hires including some snippets of information about their background and experience (easily sourced from LinkedIn) which can then be used to establish rapport and connect related experiences to the training content
  • Setting expectations on schedule and calendar management
  • Setting expectations on virtual participation (e.g. video off/on, chat participation, unmute to answer, etc.)
  • Setting expectations on how to ask for help
  • Having a Mentor or Buddy ideally from their same team to help provide more context about the nitty-gritty of their role

 

Boxaroo: Companies these days use various internal work tools like Slack, Asana, Trello – how is HubSpot making it easier for employees to get used to these tools when they are being onboarded virtually?

Mariel: I’ll talk about Slack because this is our communications tool. We create a Slack channel for each class we onboard and use that throughout the onboarding process to share documentation, resources, prompt for reflections, communicate a preview and expectations of the following day and also have fun just sharing Emojis and Giphys or exploring channels of interest like #catspotting, #dogspotting and #dad-jokes. So by the time they’re out of onboarding, Slack and async communication is already part of their day-to-day. 

 

Boxaroo: What are your top tips to make the virtual onboarding process better so that new hires feel welcome and are equipped with everything they need? 

Mariel: If you’ve set your expectations right in your pre-boarding communication (and even during the recruitment process) or during the new hires’ first day, then you’ll be able to focus on things such as ensuring your content is inclusive in terms of the examples, imagery and even language that you use. 

For example, with HubSpot being a CRM platform, the words “lead” and “prospect” get used often. So instead of using pronouns such as “he” or “she” to label a lead or prospect, switching to “they/their” tends to be more inclusive. Speaking of pronouns, we encourage our new hires to include their preferred pronouns in their Zoom display name.

Slowing down when speaking and typing new concepts or words in chat also helps whenever you have learners with mixed English language proficiency. Similarly, encouraging learners to participate in chat helps relieve verbal participation fatigue. I have more virtual facilitation tips here too for anyone looking to make their virtual sessions more engaging and inclusive.

 

Boxaroo: We're going to end with swag – because that’s what we do! What are some cool things that HubSpot has made for its employees?

Mariel: We think of our swag as something that helps validate a new employee’s decision to join HubSpot. Further, the kit needed to reflect our values and provide a ramp for them to get inspired and involved in the culture on day one. 

Today, every new HubSpotter receives this swag kit:

  • The Culture Map book
  • A pennant highlighting remote inclusion
  • Stickers featuring the HubSpot Sprocket and Allyship
  • Pins featuring the words “Have HEART” and “Grow Better”
  • A postcard with a welcome note from HubSpot Leadership
  • A webcam cover

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