Q&A with Coconut Software CRO: Hiring and Onboarding During the Covid-19 Pandemic

2020 has been an unprecedented year - with so many changes to workforces and ways of working, we wanted to speak with a technology executive to get their perspective on managing and running a technology software company in 2020.  

We recently sat down with Jim MacDonald, CRO at Coconut Software, for a Q&A to get his insights and experience hiring and onboarding during the quarantine period stemming from Covid-19.

Here’s what we found out: 

Many tech leaders we’re speaking with have shared they are continuing to make plans for strategic hires in 2020.

Tell us about your market outlook and anything you can share about your hiring or growth plans.

Even though we were successful in raising our last round in November, as a leadership team, we were all wondering how long this will last, given the questionable future of a pandemic-laden economy. A month? A year? So we decided to build a new business model for the remainder of the fiscal year that cut back on spending and assumed new, “worst-case” revenue targets to ensure we were ready for whatever the next three years look like.

Have you hired and onboarded new staff members during the quarantine?

Yes, we successfully hired and onboarded a new Head of Product Marketing. Fortunately for everyone, the candidate had made it to our headquarters in Saskatoon for the final interview shortly before the quarantine. 

Although we made the decision as a company to freeze all hiring, we considered this hire to be strategic and part of our bigger go to market business plan, which is why we decided to continue with the offer. 

Looking back, this was the best decision we could have made. We’re already seeing a positive impact and have a series of wins from the work that this individual is already engaged in. 

Describe your experience of remote onboarding.

Fortunately for us, we have some real strength in our Human Resources team. They took the baton to ensure a smooth onboarding process, including sending our new candidate a laptop and welcome package to their home to make sure she would feel like she was joining a really warm, supportive company (which is our culture).

One week before she started, she was added to all the regular meeting invites. When her first day came, it was a Monday, she was on the first call: our 9 am sales stand up.

Everyone welcomed her and we all laughed at how weird it was to welcome a new team member by video, but overall, I would say it went very well and was a positive experience for all.

Describe your experience as a leader during this quarantine/lockdown.

It’s surprising how well and how quickly our people have adapted to doing business through video. It’s our new normal.

This is not just something we’re dealing with internally, we’ve also been learning how to adapt and work effectively with our customers and partners who may not be as technically proficient, and for whom the adoption of video has been slower. We’re all learning together.

One big thing that has come out of the Covid-19 quarantine is our desire as a senior leadership team to optimize and create efficiencies. 

One example of this is having to ask ourselves, “do we really need to have satellite offices?” Does it make sense if this work from home lifestyle becomes a longer-term way of life and way of doing business? 

Has anything good come from the experience of a remote/quarantine style of working and leading?

Yes, last year we struggled as leaders to figure out a way to get our Saskatoon based employees to feel more part of the teams they were on when other team members were based in Ontario. Today, employees are feeling more a part of their teams than ever!

Why do you think that is?

Now we do all of our stand-ups together, using video, every day. Gone are the days when someone would walk over to someone’s desk and ask a question which the other team members wouldn’t hear. 

Now everyone is getting all the information at the same time: LIVE. It's made the marketing team more cohesive than ever before. It equalizes everyone as everyone has access to everyone and to the same information.

Any lessons or struggles you’ve learned from, that you can share.

There’s no doubt that we all miss connecting with people, the physical closeness of a team. 

On a personal level, one of the downsides is not having an off switch when you work at home. Even though my one hour commute to the office was a pain, it forced a break in my day. I would use that time to listen to the radio or a podcast. Now we’re in environments where many of us don’t have natural breaks throughout the day until we stop to eat. Some people handle this situation better than others. For many people, this is not easy. This is something, as managers, we need to keep an eye on.

What suggestions do you have for other business leaders who will be hiring and onboarding new employees in the future? 

  • Know that the hiring process will be harder. No doubt about it. Do the best you can.
  • When it comes to onboarding, spend more time and energy ensuring that the “welcome to the company” process is as engaging as possible. 
  • Take the time to send things to the new employee before their first day.
  • Get them on the right distribution lists.
  • Ensure they have access to the right Slack or GChat channels.
  • Include them in your regular meetings.
  • Try to recreate the process of walking them around the office, making introductions. Yes, this requires more energy, but it's important. 

Through these recent events, we’ve learned that not all of our employees have an effective workspace at home. While in week one, a coffee table seemed like a good workspace, it’s not a long term solution.

We’ve responded to this by allowing people to take home their second monitor to connect to their laptops. In some cases, we’ve permitted people to take home their desk or their chair.  

Employers should spend time understanding what their people need and provide an allowance to turn a bedroom, living room, kitchen, or den into an effective working space.

The most important lesson is that we are all in this together and our team is working hard to stay connected. Continuing to invest in employees' happiness and productivity is a key driver in maintaining and pushing our business forward in 2020.  

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