If you take a look at this page, you’ll realize that our team has significantly grown – in spite of the global Corona situation. Due to the successful acquisition of new projects, we’ve been able to hire about half a dozen new colleagues. All of them have become proper and indispensable members of our team – even though we haven’t had a single in-person all hands meeting yet (with face-to-face conversations, pizza, drinks, etc.). Needless to say, the process wasn’t 100% smooth, but we’d always put our best foot forward. So here’s a little post dedicated to onboarding in times of a pandemic.

What was good? What was difficult? What would’ve been extra helpful? These were the first questions for the new colleagues when we started working on this post. The answers we received form a pretty complete picture of what could be labeled as “best practice” and “room for improvement”. Let’s start with a summary of:

The good stuff

Basically everyone agreed that things felt quite natural from the beginning, probably because most of the DW Innovation projects are organized online anyway. That’s an important point actually: Due to the very nature of our operation and a set of already tested tools, we were able to handle the crisis relatively well – and probably had it easier than most teams. The new colleagues said that their onboarding partners explained pretty much everything they needed to know, especially with regard to upcoming R&D projects. Everybody felt welcome, supported, and rather quickly integrated, also thanks to a couple of special ReCo online meetings. One colleague also pointed out that the team seemed really motivated. And that’s, of course, especially nice to hear.

The challenges

Let’s talk about the not so great parts: The main point of criticism concerned the onboarding process outside of the team. Some of the new colleagues said that they received a lot of messages and invitations, but didn’t know what was important and what wasn’t. There was also the issue of automated scheduling. “The organization” simply assumed somebody was available, even though they’re only working part-time and have other obligations outside of DW. Some found it difficult to fully “understand the inner workings of the company.” Here’s an interesting longer quote that elaborates on these points:

“Which emails from names I don’t recognize are important? Which can I ignore? Which of the many suggested meetings in my calendar are mandatory, officially or unofficially? Who’s annoyed when I write to them on Teams? How should one behave in a consortium meeting? In a shared physical space, you can pick up social cues and find answers to these questions. In remote-only mode it takes a lot of extra effort.” 

We also heard that DW could have a more sophisticated online culture, and that all the “scheduled” and “booked” meetings made things feel “very official” at times – which in turn made some feel a little weird and disconnected at times. 

In the same context, someone also stressed the point that it’s much easier to know people in real life first, understand what makes them tick, “and THEN move to remote work”. 

Finally, almost everybody had to face a couple of administrative challenges. The biggest one: Getting all the necessary hardware (like a properly set-up DW laptop) in time.

The wishlist

Asked about things that would have been extra helpful in an almost 100% remote work situation a.k.a. pandemic office, our new colleagues said that they would have loved a more structured company overview, e.g. in the form of “a personalized welcome to DW email”, along with an “easily accessible, comprehensive set of onboarding documents”. 

To be sure, there already are helpful DW onboarding guides on shared team spaces (like Confluence), “about DW” pages (on the web), and additional info material directly coming from colleagues, yet all of this could indeed be improved and customized. 

Two more things on the wishlist: More opportunities for exchange with other recent hires, and more general communication that isn’t “boxed in official half-hour blocks”.

There seems to be a general need to hang out and talk more often, in order to get a better feeling of what the colleagues, the projects, the teams, the departments, and DW as a public broadcaster are all about — with the general goal of better contributing to it all. Needless to say, it’s exactly this kind of more frequent and relaxed exchange that’s so difficult to achieve during the pandemic.

Future encounters with the team

Now what would the new colleagues like to do when they finally get to attend a proper, face-to-face team meeting in Bonn and Berlin? Unsurprisingly, it’s the all too human things that all of us pandemic office people want:

  • Go out together and talk about things that aren’t related to work
  • Have a nice, casual conversation that doesn’t need to be scheduled
  • Talk freely, without worrying about interrupting someone (like on a video call)
  • Hug people (if they’re ok with it)
  • Just be in each other’s presence and read people’s body language

Welcome distractions

Our final question had a focus on resilience. What kind of activities have helped our new colleagues deal with the pandemic situation – or even forget about it for a while? And what are favorite get-away spots?

Let’s start with a list of recommended lockdown pastimes:

  • go for a long walk (protip: bring a buddy’s dog)
  • go for a long bike ride
  • exercise outdoors
  • do something tufting (a.k.a. make your own rug)
  • play online games with friends (but don’t overdo it)
  • watch a lot of TikTok (s. above)
  • have a beer at the end of the day (maybe not everyday)

And here’s the list of good places to hang out:

Berlin

  • Botanischer Volkspark Blankenfelde-Pankow (where you can see wild horses and Highland cattle)
  • Freiluftkino Rehberge (a great outdoor cinema in a park in Wedding)
  • Tegeler See (to get away from the city)

Bremen

  • the nice lakes in and around the city

Koblenz

  • the banks of the Mosel and the Rhine (where you can watch boats and yachts and jet skis and paddle boards go by)

Munich

  • Luitpoldhügel in Luitpoldpark (“because the view is amazing”)

Final comments?

One of the first replies that came in for this section was: “Well done!” – summing up in only two words that we can (and should) indeed pat ourselves on the back, considering the circumstances. Not only have we successfully coped with a massive crisis, we have actually established a bigger and better team in its course.  And that is quite an achievement. Never mind a couple of individual and collective shortcomings.  They’re on our list, and we’ll address them as soon as possible. And of course: Food, drinks, and team outings will be back. At some point. There is no doubt. 

Or to quote another new team member: “202x will be our year!”


Interviews / Post: Alexander Plaum
“Cat Co-worker” photo: Farina Hamann