2020: The year of remote onboarding

Team member working remotely


2020 has been anything but typical, particularly when it comes to how and where we work. We’ve all had to adapt to a new situation and one key part of this has been rethinking how we onboard our newcomers. In this blog you’ll learn how we adjusted onboarding our new employees and what it was like to be part of the remote onboarding experience at Wise from three of our Product Managers.

We do things differently

When it comes to how we work, at Wise, we’re not traditional. Our strategy doesn’t emerge from the top-down, instead, it comes from the collective brainpower of all our people, who are organised in independent, autonomous teams. Teams make their own decisions –  they stay closest to our customers, so they choose what problems to solve and where to spend the most time. This means they can move fast and run multiple projects at the same time. 

And because we’re different from other organisations, for many of our new joiners, the first part of their journey with us may end up challenging them in more ways than one. 

So we’ve put together an extensive onboarding process to make sure they settle in comfortably and are set up for success. We don’t believe that leads and line managers should be the only ones to onboard new joiners. They steer the ship and make sure the process happens, but the team is involved from beginning to end. 

How our onboardings looked like before 2020

And right now, things feel more different than ever

Usually we onboard our newbies in-house and face-to-face, but 2020 has been anything but business as usual. When Covid-19 put the world on pause,  we had to think quickly and pivot our onboarding process to adapt to the situation.

So we figured out the best way to bring on our new joiners, successfully integrate them to their teams and help them build relationships virtually. It’s definitely been harder to onboard new team members but it’s not impossible when almost the entire company is already working remotely.

“It was like we were used to driving a car. All of a sudden there was nothing but deep water around us so we needed to build a boat. Quickly. While still in motion. We kept the engine and the key messages of onboarding but reengineered our approach for delivery. Increased the frequency of onboarding cohorts, decreased the size of groups and made sure everything was bite sized. Just enough, just in time, wrapped in flexibility. Starting a new job is hard as it is. Covid forced us all to adapt and adjust in various areas of our lives and we wanted to make sure that if we’re saying “welcome to Wise” to a new Wiser, that would be as easy as possible for them.” Henri from our People Development team.

But we’re in this together…

During global lockdowns, the panic buying of loo roll and challenging restrictions we’ve onboarded 243 people since March. Here are the stories of three Product Managers, who joined us in unprecedented times.

Relocating during a global pandemic – Ankita D’mello

I was over the moon when I received my offer from Wise to join the East Asia team earlier this year and started to begin the relocation process, moving from London to Singapore.  Little did I know that would be moving countries in the middle of a pandemic!

Everyone’s had to adapt

Making the moving parts work

As the virus continued to spread I became more anxious about actually getting to Singapore. It was only when I spoke to my soon to-be lead at Wise that I felt more at ease, they made me feel like everything was going to be okay. They acknowledged and understood how nerve wracking the situation was and that it was totally normal to be freaking out! The people team were awesome and they thought of everything from getting my work visa, to booking my flights and sorting temporary accommodation when I finally arrived in Singapore. They even took the time to regularly check in on me in my initial weeks just to ensure that I was settling into the company and country alright. 

I was one of the first people at Wise Singapore to be onboarded remotely. Although Singapore had not gone into lockdown, Wise had already made the decision to work remotely to minimise risk and was figuring out an effective system a day at a time. I really appreciated knowing that we were all learning as we went along because it made everyone’s individual efforts welcoming me into the company a tiny bit more special. 

Finding a rhythm

It didn’t take long to get into a comfortable rhythm of working from home. Daily check-ins with my lead ensured that I had a safe space to ask all the questions I had and the company made sure they carried on welcome events (virtually) and said hello to their newbies with online lunches/coffees. One thing I loved was how the company prioritised the mental health of their employees during an incredibly difficult time. Dedicated sessions with coaches, mindfulness webinars and support for parents were just some of the ways that the company helped everyone manage. I learnt that my triggers were checking the news too often, not knowing how to separate my work life from home life and feeling pressured to make all my time productive during lockdown! Just acknowledging these triggers helped me to stay calm and eventually kick the bad habits.

We’re missing our offices, but the safety of our team always comes first

Getting back to normality

Having been at the company for over 3 months, I’ve started to go to the office a “social distanced” day a week. It’s helped break up my week, feel a bit more normal and also means I get to meet my wonderful team in person! 

I feel so welcome, grateful and lucky to be part of an organisation that took to the time to make sure I felt part of a team in challenging circumstances and let me talk about my journey. 

Getting my dream job in a global pandemic – Angèle Lenglemetz

When I sent in my Wise application, I kept all my fingers crossed as Wise had been one of my “dream companies” for a long time. So I was super excited to join the regional expansion team as global currencies Product Manager. 

I joined at the end of April when we were fully locked down in London and it has been a weird experience to get a new job and join a company remotely, but the team did an amazing job welcoming me and making sure that I had all the resources I needed to be successful. One of the main reasons I didn’t feel isolated was that everybody in the team felt responsible for my success helped me navigate the weirdness as I went along.

Angèle’s sweet little home office

Why transparency is key 

Some companies tried to hide the reality of Covid-19 by avoiding sharing their difficulties with employees when trying to navigate the situation. When I joined Wise, I can’t emphasise enough how surprised I was by the level of honesty that management showed. Especially during team calls that all employees take part in.

The team made a huge effort to communicate what they knew but also what they did not know about the state of the business and forecast. Providing information was fundamental when making some tough decisions and ensuring that everyone was aligned. We also had weekly Covid-19 related updates and a detailed information space. For me, coming from a company that did the opposite and had no policy around transparency, it was so refreshing and showed us we were trusted, empowered and all in the same boat. 

Finding a way forward

Starting remotely is hard. There’s no two ways about it. And although my team has done some amazing work at making this a smooth process, there have been some days where I have struggled to really feel part of Wise and feel the same sort of engagement I would if I was in an office. WFH is something I find challenging as I tend to feed on other people’s energy. 

But I’ve found that talking to customers was the best way to remedy this. I wasn’t able to sit down with our Customer Support team but did organise some customer interviews that have been a game changer. Seeing the impact Wise is having on our customers’ and getting their feedback was great as it really motivated me to help us improve. I’ve also made time to join cross-team initiatives and updates in order to broaden my understanding of different parts of the business.

What I’d recommend to any product manager starting remotely: 

  • Do not lose contact with the customer base, even if it can be harder to keep up remotely 
  • Try to collaborate with other teams as much as possible

Interviewing during a pandemic – Emma Makinson

A former colleague introduced me to someone at Wise about a month before lockdown. She thought it would be a good fit for me: entrepreneurial, technical and impact-focused. I liked the sound of the place, and everybody I spoke to told me great things. I’d been an engineer and a strategy consultant previously, as well as working on a few early stage projects. I wanted to work somewhere where my slightly unconventional background would be appreciated, and where I wouldn’t be expected to have followed a linear path.

By the time I spoke to Wise, the pandemic was just starting to hit. London wasn’t under lockdown yet, but it was clear it would be soon, so my entire interview process happened remotely. That takes a lot of trust on both sides, you always feel like you’re losing something when you talk over Zoom, and it feels much harder to know that you’re making the right call. As an interviewee, it can be harder to judge how you’re doing, too. There aren’t as many signals to pick up on when you’re not in the room.

In the end, though, I felt really good about the whole process. I got quick responses from everyone on the interviewing team, even while other companies were slowing down their recruitment due to all the uncertainty. I really liked the people I spoke to – they asked tough questions, and expected substantive conversations, without expecting me to know all the answers. They felt like people I could learn from and connect with.

Social distanced team hangouts

Joining remotely

I joined the Wise London office in June where most of my team is based but we do everything remotely, so the biggest challenge during onboarding was building informal relationships. There aren’t many opportunities to sit with my colleagues and chat over lunch, and you don’t meet anybody new by the coffee machine. That’s hard in all organisations, but especially at Wise where we have completely autonomous teams, so if you don’t have a good understanding of what other people are working on, it can feel like you’re all treading on each other’s toes!

I didn’t expect that I’d also find it hard to evaluate my own performance. The Wise culture has transformed this experience for me. First, there’s a lot of feedback – I know if I’m on the right track now, because people tell me. Second, it’s extremely open and friendly. Everyone’s given me time when I’ve asked for it, and often proactively reach out to make sure I’m doing okay. Finally, it’s extraordinarily transparent, there isn’t anything I’ve wanted to know and not been able to find out.

The new normal

I’ve now been at Wise for about two months, and I’m happy to say I think I’ve found some rhythm. It’s an organisation that is constantly evolving and changing, so I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve totally found my feet. But I’ve been given a lot of freedom to move things forward and it already feels like that’s starting to take shape.

Despite remote working (and the whole global pandemic thing), I’ve been busier than ever looking at how to onboard people to our apps, delving into the story our analytics are telling us and putting in place feedback discussions. Most of all, though, I’ve been figuring things out from scratch every day, learning from people who’ve seen these problems before, and trying out all the things I think we need to do to move forward.

Adapt, adapt, adapt

The world has changed quite a bit since January and we’re making sure we adapt as it does. We’re continuing to hire and onboard people virtually, even as some of our offices are starting to open up and we’re still learning and improving and taking the challenges as they come. Hopefully we’ll get to go back to meeting our newbies in the office and celebrating their journey together in the not too distant future!

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