Senior UX Writer, Nicole A. Michaelis, shares her experience of onboarding remotely as the only UX Writer in her team.
Onboarding remotely? It doesn’t have to be scary. I’ve put together my quick tips for onboarding outside of the office, plus I’ve shared my experience being hired on a team as the first UX Writer.
It takes me exactly 13 minutes and 40 seconds to brew my morning coffee. Before March 2020, I only had the time to make it on Saturdays and Sundays. Now it’s part of my early morning routine 7 days a week, followed by a relaxed walk with my dogs. Other routines I’ve picked up? Checking in with my colleagues on Slack to clarify the agenda before meetings, posting interesting reads and thoughts in our off-topic channels, and spending a few minutes every week thinking about how to make my UX writing documentation easier to use and comment on, even when people aren’t able to grab me for a quick coffee and ask questions.
I joined Spotify as an employee in early June 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. I was lucky enough to enjoy two on-site interviews in late February, right before cities around the world went into lockdown. So I did actually meet some of my team in the flesh. However, even now, over a year later, there are still team members I have never met in real life. Even worse: my track record of meeting stakeholders from the Product, Marketing, Customer Support, and Localization teams. I haven’t met many in person.
That’s tough. And I’d like to argue that it’s especially tough for a UX Writer, the first one on my team, trying to establish UX writing processes from scratch. The discipline is new in the tech industry, and relatively new at Spotify. I am new. The remote set-up is new. That’s a lot of new.
But as The Office’s Michael Scott once said: “Somehow I manage.”
And that “somehow” consists of a lot of trial and error, but also some great learnings that I think many who have started working a new job during a pandemic can (maybe) take some inspiration from. They include:
How to take initiative to get to know colleagues
How to get through remote onboarding successfully
What to focus on in your first few weeks on the job
Hurdle one: Onboarding
Spotify quickly adjusted onboarding processes to run fully remotely. While most written documentation was available to me even before my live virtual onboarding, it was a little more tricky figuring out whom to message if I had any questions. So many names. And I had very few faces to go with them.
On my first day, I met my manager and later my team on a call. However, I hadn’t met any other stakeholders yet, and the online setting made it difficult to just be me. Remote onboarding didn’t start until a few days after I joined, so I hadn’t met other new starters yet either. My manager introduced me to the team on Slack and quickly people started welcoming and messaging me. I felt included from day one. A big learning for me? Don’t be shy and reach out to people that you’ll be working with. This really helped me feel part of the company quickly.
Spotify has several different remote onboarding sessions that usually run in half-day blocks. Most of them are spread out over a few weeks, which I truly came to appreciate during the pandemic. Because folks, screen fatigue is real. Luckily, the teams responsible for our onboarding experience really take this into account and the mix of serious talk and get-to-know-each-other chat is pretty perfect. But no matter how awesome each session is, I learned to take note of some questions I still had or wanted more details on. These were great icebreakers for check-ins with colleagues or in team meetings while I was still getting to know people.
Nicole’s remote onboarding quick tips
Keep a notepad close by. Write down the names and roles of all the people you have met.
Start a checklist of people you want to talk to one on one after onboarding.
Don’t overbook yourself into meetings, especially on days where you have long sessions scheduled. You may quickly tire of all that staring into screens.
If you can, go for walks outside during the day. Stretch. Ask for breaks if you need them.
Note any questions that arise during onboarding and ask your manager or a team member for help finding answers.
Book virtual coffee with your onboarding buddy! At most companies, new employees are assigned a buddy to help them get to know their team and the company. This is a great opportunity to make your first friend.
If you’re in a new role (like me), start sketching out ideas for processes and ways of working early. Think about ways to introduce them to your team.
(For UX Writers only) Design a session that introduces UX Writing to the rest of the team. Talk about how you’d like to be involved in work.
Already know a few things you’ll be working on? Great! Start familiarizing yourself with the product and take screenshots of things you’d like to improve.
Hurdle two: Getting people to ‘get’ you
The trickiest part about remote onboarding for me was becoming part of a company and team without seeing anyone in person. All those quick introductions you can usually do at the office as you pass by each other in physical spaces now had to be deliberately scheduled into colleagues’ already cramped calendars. And that wasn’t even the hardest part. The hardest part was figuring out which people to get to know in the first place.
In a company as big as Spotify, you have to prioritize whom to spend time with first. I asked my manager and teammates for the names of people I should meet. Then, I booked meetings with the people who were mentioned most. This strategy ensured I met important stakeholders quickly, started building trust with those I’d be working closely with, and avoided early blockers to my work.
It is harder to do this online and remote than it is to do in person though. Not just finding time for the meetings, but also the change in dynamics that occurs with scheduled meetings versus going out with someone for lunch or chatting to them by the coffee machine. I felt like I had to be better prepared for these remote get-to-know-you meetings compared to onboarding in an office. Some things I did to build relationships with my colleagues remotely: Thought of some questions I wanted to ask them before the meeting, noted some ideas for fun icebreakers we could do in team meetings and offered to lead team meetings early to show my approach to hosting.
That being said, cut yourself some slack. You won’t feel your best self in all of these meetings and you won’t vibe with everyone online. Don’t overthink it. I struggled with the fact that my strange sense of humor didn’t translate to online meetings too well. But eventually, I got over myself and started laughing at my own jokes. Now we laugh together!
Nicole’s remote team bonding quick tips
If you’re nervous, admit it! Don’t take yourself too seriously and tell people when you’re feeling shy. If you’re vulnerable, your colleagues may open up to you more quickly as well.
Prep a presentation about yourself. When I started, I made a presentation about myself that was just GIFs. It was super fun and made everyone laugh.
Share about yourself, but make sure to ask others questions. Just as people want to get to know you, you need to get to know them. If you’re doing one-on-ones with folks, try to find things you have in common.
Speaking of one-on-ones: if done online, they often feel like a meeting and not as casual as a lunch meetup. Why not create a relaxed setting? You could eat lunch or breakfast together in your separate locations, or go on a walk around your respective neighborhoods while talking.
Hurdle three: Improvise, adapt, overcome
As mentioned in the introduction, an additional consideration for me was being the first UX writer on my team. UX writers who’ve been there before will know that this means educating colleagues about what you do and establishing processes from scratch.
I hosted a few sessions about UX writing in general and how I pictured UX writing in our team. As the sessions were online, I had to get really comfy with the collaboration tools and online facilitation. I also started a Slack channel for UX writing, where I post documentation, releases, and general UX writing-related things. By doing this, I ensured more visibility for the practice, and for me! It really helped me get more momentum and, occasionally, some much-needed support getting stuff on roadmaps.
I tried out a few other things, like a Trello board for UX writing requests, or shared crits with our brand team to bring design and copy closer together. While Trello is a great way to keep an eye on some of the UX writing work, we ended up canceling the crit after only three sessions. Lesson learned: not every idea or process you try out will be successful, especially when remote. But it’s always worth trying out something new anyway. If something isn’t working, change it, or stop doing it.
Bringing new ideas to a new team requires confidence. And confidence is much harder to build when you’re spending your days alone in front of your computer instead of interacting with people who can send you cues indicating that you’re doing a good job.
My hot tip for avoiding imposter syndrome? Ask for feedback. Often.
Every little process I tried, every document I created, or release I worked on, I made sure to ask for feedback from those around me. That way I got to know their expectations and could adjust while boosting my confidence with positive feedback. It’s a win/win.
I still ask for feedback a lot, especially on a bad day. Please steal this tip!
Nicole’s new-on-the-job UX writing quick tips
Educate others about UX writing. Many may not have worked with a UX writer yet. Lead a meeting, share a presentation, host a Q&A on Slack, whatever works.
Take part in crits and design reviews from day one — even if you don’t have work to show yet.
Make suggestions for improving the UX writing processes. Talk to the people you’re collaborating with to figure out how to best adapt to their ways of working.
Ask for feedback. And give it, too.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers in your organization for help. They had their first day once and have learned a lot since.
Last but not least: Try to embrace the change!
Starting a new job remotely and working in a distributed team may sound overwhelming at first, but by leaning into this change, you can come out on top. Really!
I love sitting in my own space and spending more time with my dogs. Lunch naps with Ziggy? Yes, please! Getting an extra workout in before 9 am instead of commuting? My biceps love it. I even used my extra time to start a podcast, which turned out to be a great personal development opportunity for me.
Onboarding and working remotely in a distributed team requires a little more effort than its in-office counterpart.
This effort is mainly spent on taking initiative to book meetings and get to know all the people who will affect or be affected by your work. Identifying them can be hard in the beginning, as you don’t benefit from the usual face-to-face opportunities such as all-team meetings. Sure, they exist online, but you’ll see only a handful of faces in each one.
Maintaining those remotely formed relationships, especially a little further into your job when first issues and conflicts arise, will also require more patience and care than in most office settings. You can’t just sort things out over lunch or a walk to the coffee machine.
Last but not least, your well-being deserves extra attention when everything is online and you’re confined to your home. Onboarding sessions, get-to-know-you meetings and endless amounts of documents can feel overwhelming, especially early into a new job. Make sure you set boundaries and take time to relax, recover, and fuel your body and mind.
Written by Nicole A. Michaelis, Senior UX Writer
Nicole is a Senior UX Writer for Soundtrap in the Marketplace mission. As the first UX Writer on her team, she is building processes from scratch while working on new releases. In her free time, Nicole is a poet, loves lifting heaving weights, and enjoys chasing her dogs through the forest.
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