A headshot of Ruairi Conroy in front of the docks with buildings and the Galway skyline behind him.
Ruairi Conroy, Galway site lead, Diligent. Image: Conor McCabe

How this company used tech and thoughtful planning to onboard staff

16 Aug 2022

Diligent exceeded its hiring targets for Ireland during the pandemic thanks to its interactive, tech-led onboarding experience for new recruits.

One month ago, US-headquartered software company Diligent officially opened its new office in Galway’s Bonham Quay development.

Around six weeks prior to its opening, Diligent employees began coming in to get acquainted with their new office. For many, it was their first in-person office experience with the company.

Diligent first began hiring in Galway and the surrounding region in 2020, in the middle of public health restrictions and nationwide business closures. The company found itself in the unusual position of having to recruit and onboard its new Irish team entirely remotely during a pandemic.

‘It’s been an interesting journey. Recruiting and onboarding that level of staff fully remotely has certainly come with its challenges’

And yet, Diligent exceeded its initial target of 200 hires in Galway. It has hired 275 people since 2020 and its office opening came with 50 additional vacant roles. Its growing Galway team is key to the company’s European operation, with around half of its EMEA business conducted through it.

As a SaaS business, providing clients with software for their ESG, governance, risk and compliance needs, Diligent is perhaps in one of the sectors better suited to remote working. But the way it built up its operation in Galway over the past two challenging years is testament ­– in part, at least – to its onboarding programme.

Ruairí Conroy, site lead for Diligent’s Galway operation, has a lot of experience in leading onboarding programmes. He told SiliconRepublic.com that Diligent’s onboarding over the last two years was the “by far the most successful” he has seen to date.

“It’s been an interesting journey. Recruiting and onboarding that level of staff fully remotely has certainly come with its challenges,” said Conroy, adding that he and his team had to carefully consider the best way to bring new staff into the company.

“We had to totally reimagine what previously was a three-day induction in person where you got the lowdown and everything, and then you’re out working with your teams and straight into it. We had to really take a step back and think about the mindset and the experience people have.”

To make matters more complicated, Diligent was also opening a product innovation centre in Budapest around the same time. That centre required more than 200 staff, all of whom were also hired and onboarded fully remotely, so Diligent brought on almost 500 people virtually in two European locations alone.

How was this achieved? Careful planning, outside help and a lot of thoughtfulness, according to Conroy. For the outside help, Diligent partnered with a consultancy based in New York to create an interactive, multimedia experience for new recruits. The process took a number of months.

‘There’s so much happening when you start a new job, it’s really important to keep it diverse, keep it interactive, ensure that there’s high energy and a high degree of differential experiences happening’

The main thing, said Conroy, was to ease the nerves of new recruits who were embarking on a process that is intimidating at the best of times.

“When you start any new job, there’s a great deal of anxiety. But when you do it without those physical touch points of being around your manager and building relationships more naturally, in a face-to-face setting … We really wanted to be a lot more thoughtful about how people experience that onboarding, even before they even start.

“There’s so much happening when you start a new job, it’s really important to keep it diverse, keep it interactive, ensure that there’s high energy and a high degree of differential experiences happening. That’s certainly what we designed.”

The week before someone started at Diligent in Galway, they received a welcome pack from the HR team. Conroy referred to it as “week minus-one”. This pack included the agenda for the worker’s first week, so they knew ahead of time what to expect. It also had the company’s policy book, written by CEO Brian Stafford, as well as things like T-shirts and water bottles.

The first week was then broken down into a series of different sessions. Each day revolved around a different theme and new staff were either led by a facilitator or were split into smaller groups.

In their smaller groups, new staff were given different tasks to work through. They worked on a customer simulation on their third day, which involved getting a product overview before being plunged into a simulated situation where a significant PR issue is starting to evolve for a company. The challenge was designed to encourage staff to use Diligent products and work together with their team members.

As well as the instructor-led and group activities, there were also several self-led sessions. According to Conroy, employees had the opportunity to listen to podcasts that were designed specifically for new recruits by the company’s executive leadership team. These podcasts offered short briefings about the history, culture and future of Diligent.

Soon after, new recruits were brought into sessions to meet their managers. They were also assigned a buddy and a “starter network”, or a group of three of four people that they’re going to be working closely with.

Workers had to complete a few tasks for their managers, which included filling out a welcome slide and putting in a picture of themselves, and answering questions about how they like to work, such as what motivates them and how they learn. Managers also helped each employee to figure out a plan for their first few weeks at Diligent.

Conroy said he likes to personally welcome all new starters over Slack. “I do a welcome every Monday morning for all the new staff and you get your high fives and all of those emojis from strangers that you’ve never met.

“But it’s a nice touch,” Conroy added, “to start to fuel integration into the business.”

‘There isn’t a degradation of the onboarding experience because you’re not in the office. It will be really important that the standard is kept super high’

On their first working day, staff attended an an IT session for 90 minutes, to get everything they needed in terms of tech setup and the different apps that are pertinent to their role.

New staffers also got welcome sessions at 9am each day for their first week. These sessions offered workers a broad introduction as well as a chance to look back on the previous day’s learning.

There were “some fun icebreakers as well, so you can start to build those connections and relationships with different breakout room activities,” said Conroy. The overall aim is to keep things engaging and stimulating for people.

After about one month at the company, new staff were put back into their week one groups to discuss their experiences and how they found their first month.

As Conroy pointed out, the onboarding experience Diligent created is all about “embracing technology” and providing “different interactive opportunities to mix folks from the Galway office, different teams from Budapest, from the UK, from other parts of Europe that might be joining at one time”.

As for the future of onboarding, Diligent plans to retain some of its hybrid and remote aspects. Conroy acknowledged that when everyone was remote working, it was more of “an even playing field”.

Now that offices are reopening, including Diligent’s own in Galway, the company’s top priority is “ensuring that everyone’s facilitated in where they work and how they like to work.”

“There isn’t a degradation of the onboarding experience because you’re not in the office,” said Conroy. “It will be really important that the standard of the onboarding experience is kept super high.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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