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How to improve the engineer onboarding experience

When new employees come on board, it can take them some time to get their bearings. On the technical side, 70% of software developers estimated that it would take a month or longer to get up to speed (source). 

While employees often have a set structure to follow that walks them through new tools and technologies, they may miss out on a lot of the context that their peers could bring to the table. But it can be difficult to get access to those insights without interrupting team members and killing their productivity. 

In order to build a strong company culture from day one, organizations need to find ways to improve the employee onboarding experience, giving new employees a richer experience with access to peer knowledge that helps them get up to speed faster. This helps them become more engaged in the company as a whole, and enables them to make valuable contributions to the organization faster.  

Stack Overflow for Teams is an ideal solution to streamline employee onboarding.

It brings the best features of of the well-known Stack Overflow developer & technologist platform with features tailored the enterprise

  • Knowledge captured in bite-size elements as well as long form content
  • Knowledge shared and discovered through simple and intuitive content organization structure, proactive alerts, and transparent information for all employees    
  • Content health is maintained by many instead of one and system is gamified to encourage enrichment 
  • Effortless async collaboration happens between peers and across teams  
  • Distraction reducing integrations with ChatOps, Jira, and GitHub integrations 
  • Inclusive platform where everyone can contribute and benefit from day 1
  • Knowledge is reused - providing instant scale, value & ROI   

Companies need this because shared knowledge and context is the only scalable way to improve technical skills, problem-solving abilities, and communication across entire teams and companies.

Only Stack Overflow for Teams is able to bring all these together in a single platform to streamline and provide value to the employee onboarding experience. 

This article will showcase how to use Stack Overflow for Teams for a richer onboarding experience. 

Provide a detailed onboarding checklist

When new hires first come on board, build a checklist of tools and documents that they’ll need to help them hit the ground running. This might include:

  • A shared folder or drive
  • Team sync meeting details
  • Chat tools, including channel-based, 1:1-based, and meeting-based
  • CRM, sales, and ordering/billing systems
  • Work documents including spreadsheets, slides, and text documents
  • Meeting platforms
  • External research platforms
  • Project management platforms
  • Reporting systems
  • Customer support/help center
  • Documentation
  • Training system
  • Email aliases

However, employees are likely to have a lot of questions about everything you’ve provided to them. That’s where Stack Overflow for Teams serves as an invaluable resource: you can set it up to enable faster onboarding, by making it the place where questions that other employees have had about the onboarding process and getting familiar with your work tools and technologies have already been answered. Answers are provided by peers, with the best and most valuable responses floating to the top for easy reference. Questions and other long form content relevant to onboarding can all be grouped in an onboarding Collection, so that they are easy to access in the same place. 

New employees can browse the platform, and search the archives by keyword or tag for other topics they want to learn more about. In the event that their question hasn’t been answered, they can post it and solicit responses from team members, tagging relevant teams or technologies to ensure the right folks see it. The content might include questions about how to connect to the VPN, where to commit code, how to access the issue tracking system, and where to ask for support, among others.

In the past, an employee might have sent a Slack message to a coworker with these types of questions, interrupting their workflow—or worse, they might have felt bad about interrupting a coworker, and decided not to ask the question at all, spending hours trying to work out a solution on their own. 

By consolidating all sorts of onboarding questions in a centralized knowledge hub, they can easily browse through existing knowledge to find the answers to their questions. And if they can’t find the answers, their coworkers can respond on their own timeframes, avoiding real-time interruptions that can kill productivity.

Consolidate important technical specs in one place

Beyond issues around onboarding logistics, your new team members will want to have the chance to get a deep dive into your technology stack and code base.

In this case, you can use Stack Overflow for Teams to group your technical specs and documentation together into Collections, based on topic or action. 

These collections of long form content in form of Articles and bite-size content in the form of Q&As can provide important context on your code base and how your development strategy has changed over time. By providing crucial perspective on not just how things are done, but why things are done the way they are, your new developers will be engaged with the process and not cut corners. 

With comment threads in which peers can ask questions, add more context, and collaborate asynchronously, your new developers will be able to see crucial insights at a glance, with additional notes available for added context.

Get key hires to provide answers in advance of an extended absence or job departure

If a subject-matter expert takes time off or leaves unexpectedly, it can make the onboarding process much more difficult for someone joining the team they would have led. When knowledge lives only in someone’s head, it leaves the rest of the team—especially new recruits—lost and looking everywhere for answers. 

An unexpected absence or departure from a critical team member can set the rest of the team back for months. Particularly in the current environment, when illness or caretaking responsibilities due to COVID-19 may sideline a key employee without warning, it’s more important than ever to ensure all knowledge is well-documented.

In order to safeguard your institutional knowledge to ensure that new employees have the context they need without relying on access to certain people, plan time for your key employees to participate in Q&As on Stack Overflow for Teams and add Articles that explain details in longer form. Ask them to list out the most important questions that others might have about projects, and to write out the answers to those questions. You can then invite the rest of the team, including your new hires, to join in and ask additional questions or post follow-up comments on the existing answers.

By setting up a robust culture of transparent knowledge sharing even when a subject-matter expert has no plans for a departure, you’ll be able to safeguard your organization’s access to important information in the event that someone leaves without warning, and make it easy for new employees to get their bearings even in the absence of direct mentorship.

Encourage engagement throughout the company with a leaderboard and internal recognition

Your knowledge sharing platform will be a crucial onboarding tool to new employees—but only if your veteran employees make a habit of using it to answer questions and share their own knowledge.

That means it’s critical to create a culture built around transparent knowledge sharing. Stack Overflow for Teams makes it easy to track each employee’s contributions to the knowledge sharing platform—not only in terms of frequency, but also in terms of value. Their peers will be able to vote up the comments they see as the most helpful or insightful. Employees who frequently contribute valuable comments will see their names rise to the top of the leaderboard, creating a great opportunity for internal recognition. 

In order to make sure that employees are participating, make sure that they see new questions as they arise. You can integrate Stack Overflow for Teams with Slack and other chat messaging platforms, so that new questions instantly pop up on the platform and can be answered there. Additionally, you can send out a weekly email digest of new questions, encouraging all team members to log in to the platform to answer them when they have a few minutes free.

Employees who answer questions with the greatest combination of frequency and value can be recognized by their leaders for their contributions, and your company may consider coming up with other incentives to reward them for their knowledge sharing work.

Create a culture of psychological safety

Beyond simply encouraging use of knowledge sharing tools, it’s important to make the case to both new and existing employees that it’s not just OK, but encouraged, to ask for help and to admit when you don’t know what you’re doing. 

Harvard Business School Amy Edmondson found that in a study of various hospital groups, the teams that performed the best were the ones that made the most mistakes.

Why is that? Because the teams had a culture where they could admit to making mistakes, and then discuss them with their peers to learn how to improve performance in the future.

This sense of “psychological safety,” as Edmondson coined it, refers to “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up … It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”

Author Charles Duhigg also found that the most innovative and productive teams at Google were united by a sense of psychological safety—they were willing to admit fault and discuss their mistakes, and to collect feedback and advice from their peers to improve performance.

By encouraging employees to share not just their success, but their mistakes, on the Stack Overflow for Teams platform, you can help them gain a sense of trust that their teammates are there to support them. Encourage them to openly ask for help, knowing that their colleagues will be there to provide actionable advice to help them improve their performance. By encouraging vulnerability, you can help your employees to bring their whole selves to work and foster an environment of trust and deep collaboration, in which everyone does their part to support their peers. 

Conclusion

Bringing on new employees is often a challenging time for your existing staff and leadership team, who need to focus heavily on not simply mentoring your new hires in their roles, but orienting them on new tools and technologies they may not be used to. This can be a drain on productivity and cut into time spent working towards project goals, leading to poor performance or delays on launch dates.

By using Stack Overflow for Teams as a core part of your onboarding toolkit, you can make sure that your new hires have access to answers to all of their most common questions at their fingertips, in a searchable archive that provides full context on a wide variety of topics. They’ll be able to gain empathy for their coworkers’ perspectives by having access to in-depth conversations that demonstrate diverse viewpoints, and see how processes have changed over time to meet objectives by reviewing historical threads. They’ll also have ample opportunity to reach out to their peers company-wide for support with questions that haven’t been answered, tagging specific teams or individuals to request their feedback. 

Rather than tapping a colleague on the shoulder for help, new hires will be able to reach out for support via an asynchronous platform that doesn’t disrupt productivity, saving real-time discussions only for those crucial questions that absolutely can’t wait. By triaging their support requests, your new employees will be able to get their needs met without impacting anyone else’s concentration or ability to perform. 

Overall, shifting to a culture of knowledge sharing will not only make it easier and faster to onboard new team members, but it will help to promote transparency and collaboration throughout the organization. In a time when nearly all teams are working on a distributed model, even if that wasn’t by design initially, it’s critical to have centralized discussion hubs where teams across departments can share information and resources, and ask and answer questions of one another. Ultimately, Stack Overflow for Teams will help you to consolidate your critical knowledge in one place, ensuring that everyone has access to the insights they need to perform to their best ability.

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