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Onboarding engineering teams

Remote Onboarding 101: give new employees the power to improve your onboarding documents.

Make onboarding better, one small change at a time.

  1. Remote Onboarding 101: tell them Where, When, and How to show up.
  2. Remote Onboarding 101: give new employees the power to improve your onboarding documents.
  3. Remote onboarding 101 – “Whenever I reach out, I feel like I’m bothering them”

One of my favorite low-effort onboarding hacks is giving every new employee suggest/edit permissions on all onboarding docs, and asking them to improve the document as they go through it.

By lowering the barrier to contribution and giving all new hires the power and encouragement to improve the documentation they are using, you make onboarding a team activity.

Onboarding documents will get updated more often, small fixes will get shipped with each new hire, and your onboarding process will get better every time.

Why does this work?

It works for several reasons. The first and most important one is that you stop relying solely on people who know too much to tell you what’s missing, and instead you start relying on the experts of “is this document any good?” which are new employees trying to learn about your organization.

Teaching others solidifies learning: apply it to onboarding.

Another reason to encourage contributions, and why this works out to generate better onboarding processes, is that making an impact on others is an important part of onboarding and feeling like a fully fledged member of the team.

While the newest member of a team is not going to be an expert in submitting expense reports or the team’s internal culture, they are often a great reviewer and editor for pre-existing documentation, because they are seeing it for the first time, going through each step themselves, and asking their peers and manager for help when needed.

What should a new employee do when they don’t know something?

  1. Read the existing documentation
  2. Reach out to their peers and ask
  3. Verify what they learned
  4. Improve the documentation so the next person doesn’t need to ask

Following a cycle like the one above will help new employees gain more confidence in themselves and their ability to solve problems on their own.

Onboarding that encourages new team members to be curious and proactive about improvements to documentation will result in more early opportunities to reach out to colleagues for clarifying questions, get their feedback, and ask for help.

Getting comfortable asking questions and learning is part of successful onboarding, so it’s a win-win-win.

Each onboarding is an opportunity to do better.

With this small change, new employees are put in a position to have an impact on the experience of the people that will come after them, and they get to do so from day zero.


A note on implementation: depending on the size of your organization, you may be able to (and want to) get more granular with the permissions you provide. I’ve heard from organizations that ask all new engineers to “own the technical docs” for their team, and others where we simply give everyone the ability to suggest changes in Google Docs + permission to send pull requests to technology-related docs in GitHub; with everything in onboarding, local context will dictate how you do some parts of it.

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