Intercom employee onboarding

How we approach remote employee onboarding at Intercom

We want to give our employees the best possible start to their Intercom careers. That used to mean welcoming them to the company in person but, like everyone, we’ve had to adapt to a new way of onboarding over the past year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely disrupted the way we work and forced us to reinvent how we onboard new colleagues. At the start of March last year, as the scale of the threat became more apparent, we realized we had to transition our in-person employee onboarding experience to a completely virtual program – within three days. It was also my first official week in the People Development Program Manager role, which certainly added to the challenge! 

“Seven new faces looked out at me from my computer screen, all experiencing this virtual welcome for the first time together”

We had a group of new hires ready and excited to join Intercom the following Monday, expecting to meet lots of folks in the office, join brainstorming sessions in a conference room, and grab a nice cup of coffee or a cold beer at a local bar with their new teammates after work. Instead, they received a last-minute email from us asking if we could drop off their laptop over the weekend, and whether they had stable internet access. We were going remote. 

On the first day, seven new faces looked out at me from my computer screen, all experiencing this virtual welcome for the first time together. “So, I guess we’ll be back in the office in two weeks, right?” We all laughed. 

Masha Popelyukhina (1) “It’s really nice to start at a company where it’s clear from the start that they care about the employee experience.” – Masha, Brand Producer

Our remote onboarding program has come a long way since then

We’re still remote, and guess what? Onboarding virtually can be tough for our new hires. We can’t build connections by just saying hi when we bump into each other in the hallways. It’s more difficult to communicate the way we work and the nuances of our culture. We can’t turn to our peers to quickly ask a question – it takes longer to get things done. 

With these challenges in mind – and after collecting tons of feedback and reviewing engagement scores from those initial groups of new hires – we had to take a pause to plan and iterate our experience. We needed to lean in and provide more opportunities and space for our new hires to connect, learn, and engage with each other and the business.

“By a large margin, this is the most thorough and best organized onboarding of any company I’ve worked over the span of my career” – Dannel, Sales Engineer

When designing company onboarding, we lean on our four onboarding learning pillars. These same pillars have guided the development of our remote employee onboarding program. They are: 

1. Core business learnings

These are the modules and experiences that provide a fundamental understanding of our business, covering mission, vision, strategy, product, and organizational structure. We want our new hires to understand who we are, what we do, and how we’re organized. 

“Information has been provided in a way that is easily digestible and easy to apply” – Caijsa, Customer Support Specialist

2. Skills and culture 

Modules and experiences that help enrich our new colleagues’ understanding of our culture, how we work, and why we work that way. We also want to capture our new hires’ unique ways of working and fight impostor syndrome by encouraging them to bring their awesome strengths to Intercom. 

3. Support elements 

We provide our new hires with self-serve evergreen resources and walk them through our learning management system, our communication platforms, and other company-wide tools. We also want to make sure they know who they can lean on for support. For example, if they have a question about their laptop, they know who to contact and how to contact them.

“I really liked the opportunity to meet different people and introduce myself to as many people as possible, especially when working from home” – Shauna, Customer Support Specialist

4. Social and belonging

Modules and experiences that will foster a sense of community and belonging to create a safe, trusted space for our new hires to be their authentic selves. It matters to us that our new hires feel welcome, feel comfortable being themselves, and have the opportunity to make connections. We are focusing a lot more on the social and belonging pillar now that we are remote.

“Our company onboarding program is now a six-month journey that new hires embark on”

We’ve developed a six-month employee onboarding program

Our company onboarding program is now a six-month journey that new hires embark on, not just a three-day in-office experience. Some new sessions we’ve implemented along the way include: 

  • Product demos 
  • Monthly social connect
  • Q&A with product leaders on our product strategy
  • Allyship training
  • Presenting skills
  • Building your internal network 

And there’s a lot more to come as we continue to iterate and improve the experience.

“I really liked how the sessions were spread out over the first week, with more to come in the following weeks.” – Mark, Director, Accounting

What we’ve learned 

We’ve collected feedback on every session and used it to continuously improve the remote onboarding experience for our new starters. Here are some of the key learnings we’ve gathered since last March.

Blended learning works 

We’ve taken advantage of existing company videos and resources and turned them into a blended learning module. We all learn differently, and it’s difficult to be “on” all the time – listening to presentation after presentation can be tiring. Blended learning strikes the right balance by offering a variety of ways to engage with the content. 

“The ‘values’ session was probably one of the best!” – Kostas, Customer Support Specialist

For example, as part of one of our modules, we provide our new hires with a video recording of the All Hands company meeting where our refreshed company values were introduced. After watching the video, we regroup, debrief by engaging in an activity, and hold a follow-up roundtable within a month with other Intercomrades to discuss how our values show up day-to-day and what they mean to each person. 

“I thought the All Hands recordings were effective ways of having the leadership team convey the culture… The recordings also broke up the video calls to help avoid screen fatigue” – Steve, Product Engineer

You can never play too many games 

We aim to make employee onboarding a fun, engaging experience that new hires actually want to attend. One benefit to remote employee onboarding is the opportunity to use breakout groups, polls, and online games and tools like Kahoot and Jeopardy. We had to get creative with our activities and icebreakers to provide more opportunities for our new hires to connect with each other and the business learnings. Who doesn’t love a little competition?

I appreciated this session even more thanks to the team building element of it. Working in teams in a ‘competitive’ setting made it fun!” – Samy, Field Marketing Manager

Pace yourself

We’re careful not to front-load the content and push our new hires to dive into the deep end too quickly. We have to be intentional and provide a meaningful trickle of information. We’ve seen our evaluation scores improve immensely when the sessions are spread out further – it keeps the connections going. We spent time securing manager buy-in at the beginning by sharing what the experience would look like, and the potential impact of creating time and space for onboarding. 

“We’ll take all these learnings and continue to challenge ourselves to provide the best experience”

We’re ready to adapt again as the world reopens

As we approach another new, hybrid way of working when our offices reopen in October, we’ll take all these learnings and continue to challenge ourselves to provide the best onboarding experience. New hire happy hours and in-person board games here we come! 

Are you interested in joining the Intercom team? We’d love to talk to you.

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