Joining HubSpot last August was exciting, but a bit nerve-wracking. I was coming in as a new Director of Engineering, and I had never done an embed before (you can find great write-ups on HubSpot’s embedding process on our Product Blog, from first-hand accounts to the philosophy behind it) and had never onboarded remotely before. Now six months later, I have onboarded remotely seven times with seven different teams and learned a bunch of little lessons along the way that have helped me navigate a new way of working.
Zoom is... intimidating
Other than immediate family, it’s been quite a while since I have been in the same physical room with pretty much anyone. Zoom has proven to be a great tool for keeping in touch professionally, but it comes with its own challenges. I found pretty quickly that my default (and the default of most others) was to treat Zoom meetings as formal affairs, only for set agendas and serious business. The problem is that unplanned conversations were lost. How am I going to know about your children? How am I going to make sure that you know Sour Cream and Cheddar is the best Ruffles flavor (great inside joke here, ask me if you want details)? How am I going to know the next thing I need to binge on Netflix?
Finding time for unplanned conversations wasn’t happening, so I learned that we have to create them. For me, it helped to just tell people right up front “Hey, I'm new and trying to get to know people. I’d love to chat for 30 minutes, no real agenda.” A lot of times this ended up being about HubSpot, which was great, but it also gave me and my chat partner permission to deviate and have some more organic conversations.
Which brings me to my very-related second lesson...
Meeting people remotely takes a LOT more effort
A few weeks into my HubSpot start, I realized that I wanted to meet more of my fellow HubSpotters and build deeper relationships with them just like I would in person. The team I had embedded on was incredibly welcoming, and I was thoroughly enjoying my time with them, but they were the only people I had met (outside of a few warm greetings on Slack). In order to combat this, I found a few things that helped.
First, I set up a regular check-in with my manager to talk once a week. This, coupled with the weekly check-in my engineering buddy had set up, gave me a bit of structure in a world where I was experiencing both an embed and fully remote onboarding simultaneously.
Second, I started aggressively scheduling 1-1’s. My embed had a helpful list of people to reach out to, but my initial instinct had been to focus more on embedding with the team and leave more of those for the end of my embed period. However, scheduling these earlier than initially planned really helped me meet people I may have gone months not knowing, and gave me more of a HubSpot social environment.
Sustaining team social structures is easier than building them
Every team I joined had developed their own cadence, team rhythm, and communication patterns. Some of these teams had been together for a year or more and were fortunate to already have good work and social bonds in place. As a result, they had as few as one team meeting a week. As a newcomer to these teams, however, some of these bonds actually made joining in more difficult.
In non-remote environments, my experience has always been that these boundaries naturally shift to accommodate the newcomer through shared lunches, casual desk interactions, and constant face-to-face time. With those gone, I was relying on our team meetings for group interactions. Teams that had daily standups, water cooler meetings and coffee times were a lot easier to get to know (particularly the smaller teams). There is definitely a fine line between meeting burnout and social time, but for a new hire, that simple 15 minute meeting might be important for connecting them to their new team.
Being a newbie in Slack can feel overwhelming
The final major contact point in a remote world is Slack. I’ll just say it — HubSpot Slack is a very intimidating ecosystem to join. There are a lot of rules and cultural norms to learn, and every Slack room seems to have 30-40+ people in it. The end result is that many of the rooms (even the team rooms) are very formal and business-only.
I found myself REALLY appreciating the rooms where some whimsy or informality was built in. Some of the examples I found extremely useful:
- Engineers who frequently posted links to technical articles that elicited debate
- Weekly check-ins to post pet photos
- Sharing what everyone on the team did this past weekend
- A simple good morning when people signed on
All these examples gave me not just license, but an excuse to engage in a conversation with team members that helped form meaningful connections.
A lot of these lessons were surprising to me, even if a bit obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Working remote means being a lot more thoughtful and proactive about interpersonal relationships in ways I had always taken for granted, but some simple course corrections dramatically improved my early experiences here at HubSpot, and might help you improve team health in your own hybrid work environments.
Looking for more remote tips? Read our remote productivity hacks for engineers.
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