How to onboard an outsourced remote team

But what if I told you that whether your concerns are caused by sheer uncertainty or bad past experiences, there is a way to make collaboration with the outsourced remote team untroubled and fruitful? What I have in mind is not a magical cure for broken business relationships but a concept that every employer should be familiar with: onboarding.

Let’s stop for a moment to focus on the importance of onboarding for your in-house employees. According to the Society For Human Resources Management, new hires who experience a structured onboarding process are said to show 50% increase in productivity as compared to their counterparts who don’t participate in such a process. What’s more, 54% of organizations that run an onboarding program report higher employee engagement – which translates to reduced absenteeism, greater commitment, and improved profitability.

If a well-thought-out onboarding process can be that beneficial for your in-house hires, why not make it count for the outsourced remote team as well? Whether you decide on team augmentation or project outsourcing, a proper introduction to the project will surely help you keep the contract developers conscious of your expectations, engaged, and productive.

It’s hard to ignore the benefits of IT outsourcing – check out why:
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But how do I exactly onboard a remote outsourced team, you may ask? To help you understand the process better, we’ll take a closer look at its three stages and share the insights of our team members. Ready to take another step towards the success of your project?

Pre-onboarding: don’t let life take you by surprise

Although you may associate the concept of onboarding with the beginning of cooperation with the vendor, the process actually begins before you officially welcome the remote developers to the team and introduce them to the project. Just as is the case with hiring an in-house team member, to minimize the risk of misunderstandings and understatements happening later on, you need to start with the preparatory pre-onboarding phase.

Handle the paperwork and necessary formalities

To begin with, ensure that everybody at your organization has access to a knowledge base that includes information about the company culture, corporate structure, procedures and processes, as well as various manuals. Once you have these documents regularly updated and available to all in-house hires, share them with the outsourced developers as well. This way, you’ll be able to shorten the introductory period for both the in-house and external teams, regardless of when the next onboarding takes place.

The other task you have at this point is taking care of your prospective users’ safety. In this day and age, data security is a paramount concern of many companies, regardless of their size or the industry they’re in. The scope of the security precautions that you’ll take may vary depending on the project: for some, asking the tech partner to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement will be enough while others will go a little further by having the outsourced remote team complete a dedicated security training and obtain a relevant certificate. Whatever your case is, sorting these matters out at the pre-onboarding stage will take the security worries off the table and increase the trust between your organization, the stakeholders, and the remote team.

Give the remote outsourced team a head start

Another aspect of the pre-onboarding stage is making sure that the vendor’s team won’t have to wait for the project onset. One way to do this is to create all necessary accounts and give the remote hires access to relevant tools, such as Slack, Jira, Confluence, and VPN beforehand. Then, remember to equip the outsourced team with all pieces of hardware they’ll need to do their job right, e.g. smartphones or tablets that will serve to test the functioning of the software they’re building.

Finally, don’t forget about sending the outsourced newcomer a welcome email with the basic information like the plan of their first day working with you or the list of points of contact. With regard to the former, consider holding two separate meetings to introduce the team to the project and digging into tech details respectively. This way, you’ll mitigate the risk of the developer not having enough time to go through the documentation in time.

IT Outsourcing DIlemmas | Merixstudio ebook

While it may sound like stating the obvious, you wouldn’t believe how often clients overlook the implementation of the above-mentioned practices. At the same time, however, keeping them in mind shows that you value each and every member of the outsourced remote team and care about establishing a good relationship with them from day one.

Remote team onboarding: let’s hit the ground running

You have the procedures and documentation ready, so now it’s time to welcome the remote additions to your team. How do you do that to ensure maximum productivity but not overwhelm the contract developers?

Virtual handshakes and high-fives

Imagine the first day at work of any on-site employee. Once they’re done with the introductory meetings and presentations, they usually head to the kitchen where they meet coworkers over a cup of coffee. The first small talks are believed to be crucial for making new hires feel like they really belong and, as a result, display increased commitment to the project’s success.

This fact alone should convince you to arrange an analogous situation for the newly-employed remote developers. To foster a sense of commonality on their part, introduce them to your in-house hires, especially the ones involved in the given project. Holding a virtual introduction meeting, you can rely on your own employees to convey the organization’s values, talk openly about the product, and work out best practices for communication between the two teams.

communication in IT outsourcing – video call

Clarify expectations and extend responsibilities

Since you’re done with all the preparatory work and acquainting the in-house and the vendor’s experts, it’s time to proceed to the stage that can make or break your cooperation: namely, introduction to the project and its requirements.

  • High-level goals and corporate structure

Just as you would do when employing a developer on-site, let the outsourced remote team know what your company stands for, where it’s heading, and how a given project is going to support the process of attaining high-level goals. At this point, it’s also worth assigning a supervisor or a mentor who the contract team will report to and, if needed, ask for further clarification. Depending on the project and the size of your organization, it may be a Product Owner, a technical team leader, or a couple of decision-makers. Refrain, however, from appointing an over-controlling in-house mentor as micromanagement impedes development rather than facilitating progress.  

  • Communication and meetings

Familiarize the outsourced team of the communication tools and methods adopted at your company. Define what type of information should be communicated through which channel and how long it might take the in-house team to respond to emails so as to avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary frustration.

Be transparent about the working hours of your team – while the vendor’s team should already know how to handle the time-zone difference (if it exists), they may not necessarily be aware of your company’s rituals that influence the everyday workflow, e.g. the majority of the in-house project squad being unavailable for an hour in the afternoon due to having lunch.

Last but not least, explain what types of meetings you hold. Although most mature software houses are familiar with SCRUM, inform the outsourced team of the length of given rituals and invite them to all relevant calls if you follow the Agile framework yourself. Make sure you include the agenda and the necessary attachments in the meeting description as well.

  • Business logic and technological requirements

Last but definitely not least, onboard the outsourced remote team by giving them a proper, in-depth introduction to the project they’ll be working on. Focus on business logic and the adopted technologies but don’t let other important information, such as past mistakes, lessons learned, present challenges, and best practices slip from your memory. Of course, the degree of independence that you’ll give to the remote team depends on the type of cooperation you’ve agreed on. In the case of Team Augmentation, you’ll retain greater autonomy while going for Software Development outsourcing, you’ll transfer the responsibility to the vendor and give them greater freedom to put their expertise into practice.

Learn more about different cooperation models in IT outsourcing:
🔸 Staff Augmentation vs Project Outsourcing vs Managed Services - which cooperation model should you choose?
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Regardless of the cooperation model, however, comprehensive knowledge transfer is key to a successful partnership. As Piotr, our Project Manager observes,

Knowledge equals the right choices. Only once you understand the business logic can you implement the right solutions – and it works in all sorts of collaboration models. Obviously, when the client is a startup or a mature company building a new app from scratch and we act as a tech partner, learning about the idea behind the product allows us to suggest the best tech choices. But it’s equally important when the client bets on Team Augmentation. In this event, the tech stack is usually agreed on before the developers step in; nonetheless, sharing plans for the future product growth with the team ensures they’ll be much more than just code monkeys.

Try to step into a programmer’s shoes for a moment. You know what type of software you’ll be building but you know nothing about what it’s supposed to look like in a couple of years. As a result, rather than implementing scalable solutions (that are more time-consuming at the development stage but will be easier to maintain in the long run), you go for a simple technology that will have the client bear considerable rework costs in the future. But how could you predict that without knowing what the future holds for the product? And that’s how the technical debt is created.

Scalable Web Apps | Merixstudio ebook

Sharing business logic with the outsourced remote team at the project onset, on the other hand, allows the contract developers to show you a different point of view, provide creative input, and use their previous experience to the fullest when suggesting tech stack alterations or additions. This, in turn, generates greater trust between your organization and the vendor. It’s a win-win situation, really.

Meet in person

A well-thought-out onboarding of an outsourced remote team requires not only introducing the tech partner’s hires to your on-site squad but also fostering authentic camaraderie throughout the entire duration of the project. If the beginning of your collaboration was marked with your (or your company’s representative) attendance at a discovery workshop held by the vendor, you know that nothing conveys the sense of partnership and trust like an in-person meeting. So why not try it the other way round?

I remember visiting the client and their team when working on one project. Although our involvement started prior to that meeting, I think I could call it an onboarding experience of sorts because I was finally able to put all the names to faces in real life – and a video call can’t compare with this experience - says Marcin, our Frontend Developer.

However, when deciding to move a part of the outsourced remote team onboarding to your headquarters, remember to make it count. Plan the meetings ahead, keep the reasonable theory-practice ratio so as not to overwhelm the newcomers, and book some time for consultations (or even pair programming) with your in-house team. In other words, don’t just change the remote developers’ workplace but provide them with a different enriching experience.

Post-onboarding: keep up the good work

We can’t speak of growth unless there’s regular feedback involved – and onboarding of an outsourced remote team is no exception. No matter how well planned it is, the onboarding process can always be improved and adjusted to the needs of both your and vendor’s squad.

Don’t leave newcomers to their own devices

On top of that, bear in mind that onboarding is a continuous process. As the project progresses, developers come and go – and a proper introduction is just as important for the newly joined ones as it was for the original squad. Ideally, onboarding of such an employee should be just the same but if you lack relevant resources, you can opt for a fast track procedure as well. However, remember that the contract developers are busy working on their tasks so you can’t expect them to explain all the intricacies of the project to the new team member. They can support you but at the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to hold onboarding effectively.

Onboarding outsourced remote team: final thoughts

To sum up, onboarding is tricky. On the one hand, it might seem like the most trivial part of the software development process: you introduce yourself, hand over documentation, and have developers do their job. On the other hand, however, it requires careful planning, the ability to put oneself in the outsourced team’s position, and willingness to improve your processes.

Contrary to what it may seem like, onboarding is also a continuous process of understanding the project and implementing the best solutions befitting its future growth. That’s why it’s essential to onboard the outsourced remote team wisely – and I hope our checklist will help you achieve this aim.

Remote team onboarding infographics

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