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Making Remote Work: How Elastic Hires and Onboards New Employees

For many companies, remote work, remote hiring, and remote onboarding are all totally new, novel concepts. For those companies that are still hiring, the transition has forced interview processes to adapt to a remote format in a matter of weeks. For some, it’s been a turbulent transition, with a steep learning curve. But Elastic, on the other hand, has worked as a completely distributed team and has since they were founded. We recently sat down with Mark Deubel to understand how they’ve been able to make remote work for their team.

Elastic currently employs a fully distributed team of 2,000 people. Their employees come from nearly 40 different countries, and span 18 time zones. Remote work, remote hiring, and remote onboarding is in their DNA.

Since 2018, Mark Duebel has been helping to shape Elastic’s hiring process in his role as a Global, Senior Technical Recruiter. HackerRank CEO and Co-Founder Vivek Ravisankar sat down with Mark to learn how Elastic manages virtual interviews and onboarding while working in a fully distributed team. You can listen to their full audio interview below, or keep reading for our key takeaways.

How Elastic’s talent acquisition team works with candidates

Elastic’s team has always been distributed, so sourcing candidates has its own set of challenges. To help, they’ve implemented a number of processes to get the process started from afar.

Taking a personalized approach

Mark said that whether candidates apply or Elastic approaches them, they aim to use personalized outreach. “ We have to tell them who we are because we cannot get them into a physical office. So, we start with a welcome message with links to who Elastic is as a company, interview tips...they highlight the best aspects about working at Elastic so candidates can get an impression of who we are and what we do.”

The other challenge that Elastic has had to overcome was coordinating across multiple time zones—18 time zones, to be exact. Elastic gives candidates the power to schedule their meetings with recruiters when it's convenient for them. Instead of dictating a meeting time to the candidate, they provide a scheduling link to the candidate, allowing them to select the time slot that works best for them. Recruiters make sure that their calendars are constantly up to date, which not only allows for more flexibility, but also more transparency. This isn’t only for the initial phone screen either: this scheduling process is used throughout the hiring process, even for hiring manager interviews.

Communicating with candidates

Elastic prepares candidates by providing an interview guide that outlines who they’ll be talking to, complete with links to their Linkedin profiles. It also outlines  the interview schedule, and what subjects each interviewer will cover. Elastic tries to give candidates as much information as possible about their teams, and about how Elastic works.

Quote from Mark Deubel that reads: “I always stress that it's the ‘why’ that counts. So if you're able to explain why we’re distributed, why this is successful, and why they need to prepare for it—you're already winning.”

So what happens when candidates start the process, but after the first round or two of interviews, it’s clear they won’t be a fit?

Mark said that talent acquisition has to be very deliberate in their messaging to candidates, and be very responsive. To address this, Elastic schedules feedback sessions with candidates after each round of interviews. That process is driven by their talent acquisition contact at every stage, allowing both the recruiter and candidate to give feedback. It also serves as an opportunity for the recruiter to invite them to the next round of interviews (or not).

Building confidence to make an offer (to a candidate you’ve never met in person)

Mark told us that before you even start the hiring process, you need to ensure your interviewers are trained in remote interviewing best practices. They shouldn’t just be trained on interviewing; they need to understand how to conduct structured interviews and sync with other panelists in a  completely distributed environment.

Facilitating the feedback process remotely

Real-time feedback is also key to keeping the process flowing. According to Mark, interviewers should be filling out their candidate scorecards within 24 hours.

Once the feedback from each interviewer is gathered, they combine all feedback into a set of public notes for the panel to review. Once the team has collective notes to review, they can start to see topics that may have been overlooked by the panel. It helps flag adjustments the team might need to make for the next interview.

Quote from Mark Deubel that reads: “There are a lot of people that are new to interviewing this way—so you have to build a very, very structured interviewing process. Start by building scorecards. Next, make sure each interviewer knows where their swim lane is, and who is responsible for asking which questions.”

By building this type of structure, Elastic gives interviewers the information and confidence they need to have a meaningful discussion with the candidate.

Onboarding and engaging teams from afar

From a logistical standpoint, onboarding candidates remotely takes a village. To ensure candidates are on the same page, the team intentionally over communicates what the onboarding process will look like—from offer letter, to payroll setup, to electing benefits.

Quote from Mark Deubel that reads: "Basically, as a candidate, we’re going to spam you in our onboarding system to make sure that you know what's happening at any given stage…We try to provide as much useful information as possible without tiring people out. That's the important thing.”

From there, the recruiting coordinator works between IT, HR, Finance and third-party vendors to get the new hire set up, and to ship them a welcome package along  with their equipment. The coordinator works closely with the new hire to ensure the equipment Elastic provides will set them up for success.

As soon as the logistics of the onboarding process are completed, Elastic’s hiring managers assign the new hire a “virtual buddy.” This virtual buddy system pairs existing employees with new employees that they can turn to for advice and direction while they’re ramping up.

Recreating the virtual water cooler

Sometimes, ideas are sparked over a water cooler, in passing conversations at the office. So how does Elastic create those opportunities in a distributed environment?

Elastic has a few solutions in place to help people connect outside meetings:

  • Always-On Video Conference Rooms: Elastic creates a handful of “always on” video conference meetings where people can sign and out at their convenience. When employees are working, they can keep the conference running in the background, giving them a chance to chat in passing with anyone in the room.
  • Encouraging Informal Conversation: Elastic sets up dedicated always-on video calls and chat channels to help employees connect about topics outside of work. It gives employees a chance to talk to co-workers on the fly, just as you would if you were in an office together. Mark suggests starting by setting up these spaces by department, and then expanding to company-wide channels.

Mark told us that before you even start the hiring process, you need to ensure your interviewers are trained in remote interviewing best practices. They shouldn’t just be trained on interviewing; they need to understand how to conduct structured interviews and sync with other panelists in a  completely distributed environment.

Building a remote-friendly company culture

So is remote hiring here to stay? Mark believes that remote hiring should be here to stay, not simply for the convenience of all involved, but because it works. But he also believes that many companies will eventually return to in-person hiring tactics.

And for those that do want to adopt remote hiring moving forward? According to Mark, the first step is to commit to building a remote-friendly culture.

Cultivating a culture of ownership and trust

To start, Mark believes that companies should focus on giving ownership to their employees from day one. According to Mark, giving people a sense of ownership builds trust between an employer and an employee.  It’s the first step to build a mutual sense of trust, and to create a culture of open communication within the org.

Quote from Mark Deubel that reads: ""When communication is so open, everybody's approachable. It's easy to just approach my CEO and say ‘Hey, I've got an idea.’ So things feel more bottom-up because you have the direct line to everyone, instead of feeling siloed.”

The second thing is to focus on developing excellent communications strategies. To Mark, it’s the core difference between a remote team and a distributed team. He says that one of the keys to effective communications in a distributed team is documentation and clarity. Which channels are we going to use, and for what? Are we going to use Slack or Zoom for calls? When should we use email? From there, you can build a communications charter that will set you up for success.

Putting skills first

By building a globally distributed team, Elastic is able to hire candidates from anywhere in the world. It means they can evaluate candidates purely on their fit to the role—not their proximity to the office. To Mark, that’s a huge advantage.

“It levels the playing field," Mark says. "It gives you so much more talent to work with. There’s so much undiscovered talent [around the world] that doesn't want to relocate.”

Text that reads: "Next: How to Create a Positive Remote Interviewing Candidate Experience"

 

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