Buddy Programs at Work for Remote Employees

 

In the last two years, more and more companies are operating remotely, which includes recruiting remotely and virtually onboarding employees. Buddy programs at work have shown benefits for a smoother new hire onboarding process, and they can be even more important when dealing with remote workers.

A work buddy system has a clear focus for culturally and socially integrating a new hire. Without doubt, cultural integration can happen more flawlessly when employees share a space and have multiple opportunities for casual interactions, such as coffee breaks or just bumping into each other in other shared office spaces. Creating a buddy program at work will help mitigate the distance imposed by remote work and foster new employee connectedness to the workplace.

introdus, employee onboarding software, is a strong believer in the power of social connections for creating memorable onboarding experiences. After all, it is only human to want to belong. When you start working in a new company you are an outsider to a group of people that have pre-established patterns of activity and preferences for doing things. So, we are firm believers that having a buddy at work can be immensely beneficial for remote workers.

As such, this article will discuss some of the key benefits of implementing a buddy onboarding subprocess for new hires. We have devoted a section to a real life implementation example of an onboarding buddy program at work from social media management firm, Buffer.

Buddy Programs at Work Insights

Onboarding is your first real chance to make sure that your employee is set up for success. It is critical for  employees to feel welcomed and informed, to know what their measures of success are going forward, and for them to hit the ground running.


—Nicole Miller, Director of People at Buffer.

Buddy Programs at Work Address the Challenges of Working Remotely

 

Buddy programs at work offer companies with the possibility of addressing some of the challenges associated with remote work, two of the most relevant being loneliness and a missed opportunity for learning by observation.

 

Loneliness

 

Loneliness is the second most commonly quoted problem associated with working remotely, according to Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report.

Imagine the following scenario: you just started a new job, completely remote. It could even be that you are the only person from the entire team that lives in that particular state, so absolutely no real life engagement possibility. If your company makes little to no effort for cultural and social integration you will feel lonely and isolated right away.

What do you do when you have some small questions? Sure, you can write an email. But how often do your teammates actually check their emails? Do they check them constantly? Or maybe they only check them at the end of the working day? Is it acceptable to write on another platform?

These are all really legitimate questions, and although your new employer provided you with a “Code of Conduct” or a “Company Guidelines,” chances are you won’t find your answers there. Cue the onboarding buddy. You know that you have a person whose very role is to answer these kinds of questions.

When your company implements buddy programs at work, you know exactly

  • who to contact, 
  • where to contact,
  • as well as the person’s time zone or working hours.

All of a sudden, you don’t feel that lonely and isolated anymore, do you?

 

Learning by Observation

 

Another key aspect that working on-premise entails is learning by observation. You can learn a lot simply by seeing how your colleagues interact with each other, or by listening to any technical consultations some co-workers might have in the office area.

The only interactions you can observe as a remote employee are those occurring in a team video call. But that is a very limited exposure to team interaction. This means less signals to collect that would help you understand expected cultural behaviors. Additionally, it also means acquiring less cues on who is the go to person for specific queries: who in the team is most experienced with a specific technology? who has done your exact job in the post but has switched to something else?

The virtual onboarding buddy can bridge these gaps in knowledge  by providing you with additional information, but also by being your go-to contact point for asking these very questions.

Buddy Programs at Work Insights

Buddy Programs at Work bridge gaps in knowledge by providing you with additional information, but also by offering you a go-to contact point.


Buddy Program for Remote Workers Example: Buffer’s 3 Buddies

 

Buffer’s experimentation with buddy programs at work provides us with very interesting insights into ways of conceptualizing and implementing such programs, as well as the benefits of buddy programs at work.

It is worth to notice straight away that Buffer has been a fully remote company since 2015, so they have had even more time to experiment with remote onboarding than the companies that have been forced by the global pandemic to switch their models of work and recruitment & onboarding.

Nicole Miller, the Director of People at Buffer, highlights the unique advantages of utilizing buddy programmes for both the new hires and the buddies themselves, who gain first-hand leadership experience: “We believe that our current teammates are our greatest asset to help shepherd new folks into the team: they’ve been a newbie before, they’re excited and looking for opportunities to share, and the process provides an opportunity for servant leadership across the whole company.”

Buffer’s implementation of the workplace buddy program is unique as they provide new hires with multiple buddies that have a very distinctive focus of activity.

Buddy Programs at Work Insights

Our current teammates are our greatest asset to help shepherd new folks into the team: they’ve been a newbie before, they’re excited and looking for opportunities to share.


—Nicole Miller, Director of People at Buffer.

The Role Buddy

 

The Role Buddy is, as the name suggests, someone whose activity and consultation will be strictly linked to role specific questions. The role buddy is often a peer that is already a part of the team that you are joining as a new hire. In case the role buddy is from another team, it is essential that he/she performs a comparable role to the one that you are going to perform, so as to ensure that they can provide you with any relevant information you might require by having first-hand experience with the role itself.

As Buffer describes the purpose of the role buddy is to “help new teammates learn the ins and outs of the role, systems and expectations for that particular job.”

 

The Culture Buddy

 

The Culture Buddy is defined as “a point of contact on all things Buffer culture and values […] the guide as they learn and absorb it all.”

The culture buddy figure is closest to what a generic onboarding buddy’s role is defined in many companies: assist the new hire to integrate socially and culturally.

While there is a high chance that the role buddy belongs to the same team as you, the new hire, the culture buddy will typically be from a different team. The culture buddy is selected to help guide you culture-related discussions, providing additional context to company history and norms.

The culture buddy support is meant to be active for at least the first 6 weeks, after which he can continue being around, on request.

 

The Buffer Mastermind

 

The Mastermind programme was created out of a perceived hunger for: cross-area context, deeper connections, and a need for having a work friend and consistent partner (who is there to stay even in cases of changing area or management).

Employees are matched with a “mastermind” buddy on the basis of 4 key criteria: different teams, similar tenure, similar role, time zone overlap. These criteria reinforce the aforementioned hunger for a cross-team connection and consistent partner. Of course that it makes most sense to be paired with someone with a compatible time-zone and someone who has similar interests and experiences.

The mastermind conversations are structured as a 1-hour session held on at least a bi-weekly basis. The role of the masterminds is to “establish a deep connection with a peer outside your immediate area for long-term support, accountability and continuity.”

The mastermind sessions debut with discussions on each individual employee’s personal stories covering their upbringing, work history, hobbies etc. It is an exercise meant to set up a connection based on vulnerability and employees getting to know each other beyond surface-level. Then, further conversations tackle work at Buffer, with covering questions such as “How are things feeling in your role?” or “Is there anything blocking you?”

It’s interesting to note that Buffer made the executive decision to make the mastermind sessions required, only allowing opting out in special cases, so as to reach optimum success.

Buddy Programs at Work Insights

I believed we couldn’t be successful if we didn’t push folks a little to get outside their comfort zone and try to connect with another teammate.


—Nicole Miller, Director of People at Buffer.

By using buddy programs at work, newcomers, even fully remote ones, gain the support system and guidance necessary for settling effortlessly into their new roles.

By having multiple figures involved in your onboarding process, you gain an instant network of people that can offer you advice in your role, an insight into your new company’s culture, as well as a trustworthy channel that can help you communicate any arising concerns.

All of this can guarantee you a positive and engaging start at your new job, setting the stage for a successful employee lifecycle.

Implementing Buddy Programs at Work is seamless with an effective Onboarding Software.

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