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Q&A with CEO of TRGT Digital – Onboarding and building a remote workforce successfully

Georgia Morgan-Wynne georgia morgan-wynne, Career Advice

No matter how smooth your interview process or talented your hire is, onboarding has always been critical to the success of a new joiner. Due to Covid-19 many businesses are facing the new challenge of hiring and welcoming new employees remotely as well as managing their existing teams.

As leaders we can look at this as an opportunity to make positive change, streamline processes and engage our employees in different ways. In the future we may see a higher demand for remote working opportunities so businesses need to consider how they can incorporate this to ensure access to the best talent pool.  

When building a remote team it is likely you’ll need to rethink many processes, from recruiting, onboarding and career paths, to workflow tools and social engagement. I decided to speak to Patrick Nancarrow, CEO at TRGT Digital, a digital agency which was founded as a fully remote workforce in 2014. Six years on, they now have an impressive client base and over 40 employees so I was keen to find out some insight from him given most of us are now working remotely.

What has been the biggest challenge running a remote working business?

Communication. It’s less easy to read body language on a phone or even video call, people are more likely to mis-interpret a message on Slack and it’s harder to feel part of a team when you’re sitting at your makeshift desk in your living room and you’ve never actually met your teammates in person.

What digital tools would you recommend?

We’ve used Slack for the last four years and wouldn’t consider switching to anything else for the foreseeable future. It’s been great for us and really helps us to feel connected on a daily basis. I find that too many tools confuse people and at least some people in the team won’t use them properly. What we choose to use we use very well and try and limit the number of platforms that people have to log in to.

What have you changed about your onboarding process that has made the biggest positive impact?

What we have got a lot better at in the last couple of years has been making people feel like part of the team as quickly as possible. On the first day receive a document that contains everyone’s personal profile (including things like Instagram accounts!) so that new starters can ‘get to know’ people quickly and it also to gives them something to refer back to when they forget a name or a face.  We set up small group video sessions to get to know the team and have a range of channels on Slack that are dedicated to non-work banter.

What do you do on an employee’s first day to welcome them to the business?

We make them sing their national anthem to the whole company via Zoom. Only kidding. We share our profile document with them, set up calls with their LM, buddy and HR as well as running through overviews of the accounts they will be working on.

How can you build the social fabric which is key to any successful team?

This is a tricky one as it is very dependent on the people you have in the business. You always need a firestarter or two – this is something to consider when recruiting too as a remote business will need a few ‘personalities’ to be able to help drive the social element. What I try and do it treat my colleagues like people and not employees. I share my life with them and encourage them to share theirs too. We don’t create a very formal environment and lead by example when it comes to the social side of the business. We have a company couchsurfing channel on Slack and a Friday drinks session that is open to everyone.

Do you find it more difficult to manage and monitor your employees delivery?

Often people think this is the most difficult thing about being remote, however, for us it’s relatively easy as we can see how our campaigns are performing, how happy our clients are and how well people are working with others. We have created very frequent feedback loops so if anyone is underperforming or not getting up to speed fast enough, it’s easy to spot and we can step in to try and help them out.

How do you conduct performance reviews and feedback without the office environment?

Since communication is one of the more challenging parts of being remote, we probably go a little bit overboard on this! Up until this year we were running reviews every 3 months but we have just switched to every 4 months. We have detailed feedback from at least 4 people built out into a full peer review when it comes round to the peformance analyses we run. We try and make this as compehensive as possible with the same level of constructive feedback and input on development that are usually achieved in an office.  

Has remote working allowed you to access a more diverse and talented candidate pool when hiring?

This has been one of the biggest benefits to being remote. The majority of our employees are client facing and we therefore ensure their timezone is aligned with the clients they deal with, however, outside of that there are absolutely no geographical restrictions. We work mostly in the EU and US, however, we have people operating from all 6 continents and with the wealth of talent to pick from, we can afford to be very selective.

There is a very high demand for remote work, particularly from millennials and parents. Two thirds of the people who have joined the company have moved to a new city since they started working with us – they all hugely appreciate the flexibility and lack of commute. For parents, it has revolutionised their lives. We’ve had 5 people leave the company in 5 years, which is a hugely creditable record in the world of marketing – I’m sure the remote aspect has a lot to do with that!

Any final tips for HR teams/business leaders?

The biggest change for some will be having to surrender control, relying more on workers to be autonomous. Micro-management does not work when you’re working remotely so it’s better to focus on enabling those around you to be able to do their jobs independently. This is likely a better long term approach anyway, so perhaps lockdown will force a few people’s hands and resource can be invested in processes and training & development to make sure people are able to do their jobs with as little ‘oversight’ as possible.