Q&A: Part 2: What do I need to do to hire and onboard remotely?

Danny Speros, Director of People Ops, Zenefits
Feb 23, 2021

It’s easy for remote workers to feel removed from your business. This is a bigger issue when they are new and may in fact never “meet” their colleagues in person. In this second-part of our remote work series, we look at ideas on how to ensure better inclusion in your hiring and onboarding practices.

Recruiting, hiring, and onboarding need to look and feel different in a remote work environment. As companies begin hiring again, many are realizing that the old ways are no longer effective, and it’s not enough to convert old methods to virtual mediums. 

What do you need to do and think about when looking to locate, hire, and train new talent in a distributed workforce?

In this episode of POPS!, Zenefits Sr. Director of People Danny Speros breaks down the process in detail and offers insights to help you make the right decisions for your organization.

In this Q&A, you’ll hear:

  • [01:15-03:00] Looking for candidates
  • [03:02-04:22] Conducting interviews
  • [04:22-06:05] Making an offer
  • [06:09-07:00] Onboarding your new-hire
  • [07:03-08:12] Remote compliance validation
  • [08:15-09:58] Orientation, training, and connection
  • [10:01-14:30] Sustainable remote management

POPS Star Bio

Danny comes from a family of entrepreneurs and spent 8 years running the family construction business including HR, Sales, Operations and Accounting. He understands the joys and challenges of building a business and learned a lot about how to avoid some common pitfalls. This context fuels his passion for working with other small businesses at Zenefits. Today, Danny taps more than 20 years of People Ops and small business leadership in his role as Senior Director of People at Zenefits. This makes him a great guest expert for the podcast, so you’ll hear from him often.  And you might just catch an occasional cameo from his young daughter in the background.

After you listen:

Check out this Guide to Remote Employee Hiring and Onboarding

Ask a SMB Workplace Question and get featured on POPS! The People Ops podcast.


Danny: We’re hiring. What do I need to do to hire and onboard remotely?

Didi: Welcome to POPS! The show that shows you how to shift from human resources, paperwork to people, operations for the new world of work. How by answering one question at a time, the topic of remote. Everything is still top of mind for small business owners this week, our expert, Danny Speros, the Director of People Operations at Zenefits, takes up the topic of remote hiring and onboarding it’s part two in an overall look at remote people management and worth the listen to get his full answer. Be sure to check out his previous episode as well. 

Danny: So first off, congratulations. I’m excited. It’s been tough over the last couple of years, but certainly, um, some companies have found ways to continue to grow and my hats off to, to those of you doing that. So it’s exciting to be able to hire, um, it can be a little intimidating to try and do that remotely.

If this is. A company’s first experience in hiring remotely. And it’s something that, uh, even for companies that are experienced in this, it’s something that can always be improved upon them bit by bit. So where do we start? There’s a whole bunch of different things we can take a look at. I want to start with recruiting, uh, first and foremost though.

So it’s great that you’ve got the opportunity to hire. You’re doing so in a remote or dispersed manner from either a preference. So maybe this is something that your organization has been looking to do for a while and is continuing on that path or perhaps it’s being done just because you have to, because, um, the pandemic is still keeping certain, um, office locations from being able to fully open either way.

It offers you some, uh, some great opportunities. First and foremost, where do you look for people? Um, this is a challenge that my company faced, where we had major office centers in a couple of different places, including San Francisco, Tempe, Arizona, where I actually live and a couple other locations around the country.

But when we started to recruit in a remote environment, we realized we didn’t have those restrictions anymore. We could. Potentially hire people in Chicago, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Montana, et cetera. So it was really just a matter of where’s the talent from a recruiting standpoint. That’s great.

Um, it opens up a ton of doors. It also sometimes makes it a little more challenging in the sense that if you don’t just have a specific place to look at it is. Pretty broad turf. And so there may be some things that your recruiting staff will want to consider in terms of, of the skills that I’m looking for.

Uh, where might I find those? What types of areas are going to be conducive to working with my team in terms of time zones, and then like, where’s that talent live? Sometimes there are little hubs of, of specialized talents in different areas. One of the things that’s been kind of interesting is we run a lot of our customer care operations out of our Arizona office and.

For whatever reason, Phoenix and Tempe have developed into pretty good sort of phone support, customer support, technical support centers. Granted there are a few others of those spread out around the US and there’s tech talent in different places, things along those lines. Um, if you’re an organization that is primarily in a facility, but perhaps you’ve got a, um, A need or an option to, to hire remotely.

Hang on. We’ll still get to ask some different things that you want to think about as well. Once you start to sort of pinning down where you’re going to hire your talent. Um, the next thing to think about is just how to conduct interviews. One of the things that we struggled with is that we had always called them onsite interviews.

So just the semantics had to change. Uh, we changed it to in-person interviews, meaning that, uh, this was something that was gonna happen just over. Uh, a video conference where we’re possible and it’s important to talk to managers and even give candidates a heads up of what’s expected in an interview. Um, so perhaps dress code is still something you might want to think about giving managers and candidates a heads up.

What’s expected so that everybody kind of comes to the table in a comfortable manner, but also just basic sort of video conference parameters in terms of finding a quiet space, eliminating distractions, making sure the lighting is good things along those lines. It’s important for both managers and candidates to kind of think through that.

So the more that you as an organization can help your managers. Put their best foot forward and also help your candidates put their best foot forward. Um, the more likely you are to be able to have an interview process that truly shows what the candidate can do and what your company’s about and less about sort of the little mistakes and glitches that come with video conferencing for people that.

Maybe aren’t used to doing that all the time. Um, all right. So now you’ve met with all your candidates. Uh, you’ve picked out somebody you’ve sort of worked through that, making an offer, uh, sometimes can, can be a new challenge in a remote environment. From the point of view of, I know the, uh, the basic salary and talent market in the areas in which I operate on a regular basis, but if I’m hiring somebody from a location that I’m not as familiar with, I don’t want to perhaps overshoot or, um, insult them with the, uh, with the wrong offer.

So it may be important for organizations to think about what do I pay people in different locations? There’s a couple of different sort of schools of thought on this topic. Certainly there are companies that sort of look at their expensive, uh, center of influence or base. Perhaps they’re in New York, perhaps they’re in San Francisco.

Um, and they’re happy to just pay anybody the same sort of rates regardless of where they live. If that’s your organization. Fantastic. That’s a, that’s a great approach and really gives you the ability to hire some really talented people who happen to live in different areas, or even attract people that are from those areas, but are really interested in moving to a more affordable location.

Um, things along those lines offer great retentive value because, uh, essentially the compensation is fantastic for the cost of living in the area that they live in. A lot of other organizations will think about this from the point of view of, um, I want to be on target with a particular location so that I’m at least, um, paying fair with respect to geographic differences, um, across my different locations.

So that’s another thing to consider. In that scenario, it may be important to take a look at some salary or some pay websites. There’s plenty of them out there. And some of them are a little bit free to use. Some of them cost a little bit. Some of them cost a lot. Um, there’s a variety of different resources out there.

All right. So, uh, somebody accepted the offer. One of the most important things about onboarding a new employee is really filling out the I nine form and the I nine forms. The form that helps validate that somebody is eligible to work in the U S typically it’s important for the new employee to show documents physically to the new employer, have somebody physically look at them, make sure they’re valid, make sure the person is who they say they are, and be able to document that now in a remote setting, you can’t necessarily do that.

Um, and especially in a pandemic, it’s really difficult because you’re trying to avoid person-to-person contact to the extent you can. And so what the department of labor, the U S CIS is granted for periods of time during the pandemic. And it has been extended a couple of times is an exception to that policy where they do allow remote validation of documents.

Once the pandemic’s over, or if you are, um, consistently in a remote environment, it’s something that you may need to consider that if they cancel those exceptions, you may need to look at having somebody in the location where the new employee has personally validated those documents in the past, we’ve used, um, like notary republics, um, somebody who can who’s experienced with looking at documents and a trustworthy person can just look at the documents and verify.

For you and, um, and help you fill out that form on your behalf. So we’ve gotten through recruiting the interviews, the offer process, um, somebody accepted the offer. Now it’s time to schedule their first day. Uh, it used to be have the person come into the office and, uh, and meet with people in person, sit in a conference room, possibly go through some orientation and training and things like that in a remote environment that looks and feels a lot different.

Uh, I will say the, um, Sort of death by PowerPoint or reading through a binder has been tough for a long time. But man, that is tough in a remote environment for somebody to be sitting in their home, watching a presentation for eight hours a day for the first couple of weeks. One of the things that we’ve done to try and address this challenge is to build in what we’re calling asynchronous training or asynchronous orientation, and compliment that with in-person orientation, the way we’re doing that is we’re recording things that had been sort of in-person presentations and we’re consolidating them to, um, Sort of as condensed version as we can and still have all the right information.

And in our case, that can be anywhere from like 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the nature of the topic, but trying to put it in bite-sized pieces that, um, our new employees can consume in periodic segments. So if we’ve got. 15 hours worth of orientation and training and things like that, that we might normally do.

We don’t. But if we did, we could break that up into hour segments or half-hour segments that the employee could sort of watch. I think more common is something smaller than that, where at least you’ve got possibly a day’s worth of. Training, but maybe the employee could just sort of pepper that in over the course of a week, watch it at their convenience, take some notes, go back and listen to things over again.

If there’s something that’s important to them, things along those lines. Um, but blending that in with. The in-person, uh, orientation really, um, helps you sort of maximize the in-person time, makes it easier on your staff. That’s doing that, but it also makes it more engaging for the folks that are watching.

So in-person, it’s important to sort of focus on interaction through the screen, as opposed to just presentation from one side. So in those in-person groups where maybe you’ve got a few new hires, as well as somebody facilitating the conversation. Um, it’s important to sort of hear from each person in the group, perhaps to your icebreakers in there, perhaps do some, um, get to know me some introductions, um, some sharing.

And what we’ve tried to do is sort of even beyond the first day, sort of build some of that into the top and the bottom of the day, and maybe not right at. 8:00 AM or 5:00 PM, but give a couple hours on either said to account for people that might be in different time zones, but build some sort of connection.

Essentially. It helps you build some connective tissue among your new people. So when I was first hired at Zenefits, I was in a hiring class of about 16 people. We got to know each other. We became people that we could go to in different parts of the company. If we ever had questions. Building that sort of comradery can be really important.

Even in a remote setting, I’ve talked to a handful of people who’ve, um, transitioned into like friends and family members. Who’ve transitioned into new jobs during a pandemic or during a remote cycle where they just didn’t get the face to face time for companies that are in need of this. It’s a challenge to sort of, um, how do you integrate those people?

How do you onboard those people and really. Help them feel like they’re part of an organization, help them feel like they’re part of a team, get through some of the awkward stuff that comes with being a new employee, mentorship programs, and a buddy programs can help with stuff like that. So we’ve gotten through recruiting, we’ve gotten through interviewing, we’ve made an offer.

We scheduled their first day, the, uh, the person’s through their first week or so of orientation. Now it’s time to think about how do we manage people remotely, um, on an ongoing basis and keep that sustainable. Um, there’s a handful of challenges that come with this. I mean, some of the easy things to kind of think about is to just be considerate of people’s time and, uh, and be inclusive of them.

But a bigger thing is really to think about communication beyond just meetings. So being. Considered of people’s times might mean just, um, scheduling meetings at times when people are able to, uh, collaborate and work across different time zones, making sure that your meetings are, um, you’re having meetings around making decisions when people can all be it.

In attendance, um, so that people feel included in those kinds of things. Um, but there’s also an important need to shift towards some more asynchronous communication. And by asynchronous communication, I really just mean communication. That’s available to everybody, um, on a team regardless of where they are in time and regardless of where they are physically.

But also something that they’re able to access at a time that’s convenient to them. Now, maybe there’s some general guidelines around, like, we want everybody to be available between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM Pacific time. Um, so that your folks on. East coast folks on the West coast, possibly folks in other locations, um, are able to collaborate and work together in the same time.

But it may be things that you just want to have available. So things like messaging platforms or video chat, where a manager might record a video, share it with everybody. Everybody can watch that in their own time. They don’t necessarily need to be in a room on a zoom call. Um, things like that all at the same time, also it’s important, uh, increasingly important to just have things well-documented and available.

Uh, I can’t tell you how many times in the last few months I’ve really just wished I could sort of turn around, tap somebody on the shoulder, ask a question or answer a question, give them feedback in the moment, things along those lines and in a remote environment, that’s not always possible. Uh, one way to accommodate that has really just.

Set clear expectations, give everybody the tools that they need, that they can access at any time. And sometimes that means building out like your company intranet site or some sort of knowledge hub where, uh, and it doesn’t have to be super fancy. I mean, it can just be a handful of shared documents that people have access to them, but build out some resources that employees can access at any time, answer their own questions.

Side note you’ll find it’s pretty awesome. If your team can answer their own questions, instead of having to always ask their manager, Essentially, uh, remote work doesn’t have to be a challenge. It can be an exciting new frontier. In fact, for a lot of companies, it’s really breaking down barriers and creating more collaborative, more inclusive workplaces.

Um, and so I’m excited, um, to be able to face some of those challenges, to be able to help some of you hopefully with, um, some of those challenges as you face them and really open up doors to new opportunities that we all have.  

Didi: Do you have a question for our experts? Click the link in the show notes, or if you’ve got other ideas and feedback about our show, send them to [email protected]


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About The People Ops Podcast

Every week, we share the decisions, struggles, and successes for keeping up with an evolving workforce and a changing workplace. No matter if you’ve been in HR or are just getting started, this combination of transformational stories with actionable ideas, as well as context on hot issues, keeps you up-to-date while answering the questions you didn’t even know you had.

Oh, and you know what they say about all work and no play? We tossed in a little levity to keep it real. Lessons, answers, and humor: everywhere you listen to podcasts.

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