This year has brought extraordinary disruption to businesses around the world, but while the circumstances have been devastating to so many, it has created significant growth for others.
For my colleagues and I at edtech company, Education Perfect (EP), the canary in the coal mine moment came in February when internal data showed existing customers were unexpectedly using our remote education platform more than usual and there were new enquiries coming in quickly.
It started in China, and as the pandemic spread around the world, so did the need for online remote learning solutions. It wasn’t long before the seemingly exponential growth in users meant that existing customer support levels were inadequate. We needed to hire fast, but hire well to maintain the high levels of evangelism within our teacher and student communities.
Company growth before COVID-19
The EP office in Dunedin is home to almost 100 staff, just over half of the global team. Over the last 12 months we opened new offices around Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore and have continued to grow our teams in these locations.
Previously we had the luxury of onboarding staff in-person with new remote team members travelling to their nearest office to receive face-to-face introductions to the team. For us, it’s incredibly important that new team members are immersed in the team culture as soon as they begin their role at EP and build up relationships with colleagues; fostering and developing the ‘oneteam’ spirit that we’ve been building across the company.
In-person contact was something the entire business took for granted.
I hadn’t ever considered a world where we would need to recruit and onboard entirely remotely, at scale.
I also hadn’t planned for full ‘digitalisation’ of the onboarding experience we’d so successfully developed.
Over the past six months EP have supported more than 1.5 million students and more than 4,500 schools, across 92 countries.
To support the growth, we recruited and onboarded 49 new team members, most of those fully remotely.
How we were so successful and the lessons we learned
The benefit of internal referrals
As soon as we realised we immediately needed an additional 15 or more customer support staff to address the increased customer queries when school closures were announced, we reached out to the wider EP team to see if they knew anyone in their networks.
Within an hour we’d filled the spots; we had partners, parents and friends of the EP team joining us. The team were thankful to be given the opportunity to offer work to their friends and family, especially those impacted by reduced hours or redundancies due to the pandemic.
The need to adapt quickly and review regularly
With so many new starters joining EP with next to no lead time, we had to work fast and adapt quickly.
We had new hires starting most days over the course of a month which allowed for smaller batches of training and more one-to-one time with a trainer. Using an interactive approach, we reviewed and improved the training and documentation after each batch based on feedback from the group and reviewing how efficiently the new hires got up to speed.
We set up Slack channels for the team to ask questions and receive support. Training 15+ new hires over the course of two weeks had its challenges, but we always prioritised connecting as a team and reinforcing the positive impact we were having on schools in such difficult times.
A key factor in achieving this was having a flexible team and identifying existing strengths in our colleagues.
Each of the managers previously responsible for physical conferences and events quickly pivoted to running training with new hires and organising virtual events for teachers and students.
The importance of effective and regular communication, especially from leadership
We introduced daily check-ins with the groups of new hires to ensure everyone was on the same page and there were no blockers.
We quickly whipped up some FAQ documents and help guides to avoid similar questions being repeatedly asked. We also encouraged the team to call if they had questions that weren’t covered in the guides, rather than waiting for a response on Slack.
As most of our calls were made via Google Hangouts and Zoom, we requested that the team join with their video on which made the connections a bit more personal. It’s easy to get distracted on video conferencing and jump into Slack messages coming through; video keeps you focused on the meeting.
The EP leadership team regularly communicated with the wider business to ensure the wider team, including new hires, felt supported and connected. We sent out a survey one week into the full lockdown and asked questions focusing on timely communication, adapting to the remote work environment, staying connected and feeling supported. This allowed us to efficiently pinpoint improvement areas across the business and act quickly. We identified the need to support the team in staying connected with the wider business. We surveyed again four weeks into lockdown to ensure we were making improvements.
Centralised information hub for all staff information
Over the last 12 months, we built out our internal destination for employee information, EPeeps Hub. This hub has been extremely helpful for new hires and allowed them to see the most recent company announcements, who’s who in the business (particularly helpful when working remotely), policies and training documentation.
We previously managed all this documentation through our Google Drive and across various Slack channels but found it much easier to hold it all in one place. Documents, updates and processes can quickly become out of date so we have a dedicated person who’s responsible for keeping it up to date and tying all the documents together in our ‘single source of truth’.
Staying connected with virtual social events
Social events are a big part of our week and support our culture. We run weekly fitness and yoga sessions for all staff, Friday social drinks in the office and regular quizzes. When we moved to remote working, we quickly switched to Zoom fitness and yoga sessions, Zoom quizzes and weekly fitness challenges.
We introduced ‘Bingo Perfect’ to help motivate the team to try something new; and connect with other colleagues in a social setting with activities such as having a virtual coffee with another employee.
Customers are the real winners
While there is a slow move back to our offices for some staff, with such a large permanent remote team, we’ve found ourselves getting better at appreciating the challenges of the remote team members. Our hiring and onboarding has been refined and will forever be better for new hires. One of the biggest positive gains is how much our customers will benefit from highly engaged, trained and enthusiastic staff.