Connecting Remotely: How Forager Onboards New Team Members

Sarah Argue is Forager’s Head of People Operations. Originally from Michigan, she’s called Chicago home for the past 9 years. Prior to Forager, Sarah worked at a variety of startup and tech companies including RXBAR and closerlook where she led recruitment, onboarding, and training initiatives. Pre-covid, she enjoyed attending local tech events, grabbing coffee with other Human Resources professionals, and exploring Chicago’s rooftop hangouts. Most recently, she’s focused on convincing her fiancé to bring a puppy into their household for additional quarantine companionship.


The first day of a new job comes with a wide range of emotions: excitement, anticipation, maybe a few nerves. Usually those feelings mellow when Human Resources greets you at the door, shows you to your new desk, and introduces you to your team.

But what if your new desk is the worn, familiar one in your home office or living room? And what if all those meet and greets take place via Zoom?

Like so many companies, Forager moved to a distributed work model in late March due to the spread of COVID-19. Unlike a lot of companies though, that was also when we raised a $10M Series A to continue building our company and SCOUT by Forager, the only self-service shipping portal for North American cross-border freight. While a lot of businesses froze hiring or began to lay off employees, we were growing rapidly. In the past four months, we’ve remotely onboarded 30+ employees, or a little over 50% of our team. Foragers are now sprinkled across Illinois, Tennessee, Colorado, California, and Washington and span three countries (the United States, France, and Colombia).


A lot of exciting “firsts” for Forager

I was Forager’s first People Operations hire, and I was also one of the first employees to start remotely in the new, all-remote world. The former was why I applied to Forager. I was excited, like so many of us are, to join a company where I’d be responsible for building something from scratch. There wasn’t a VP of Human Resources above me, there wasn’t a 30/60/90-day plan built out in advance. This role was a blank slate; an opportunity to create an HR department that supports, empowers, and advocates for each of our team members and our culture overall.

As a new leader soon to be hiring and welcoming tens of new hires, onboarding was a clear priority. It’s a huge professional passion of mine in general. Every person and interaction in your first minutes, days, and weeks helps you determine if you made a great career step…or if you should be a little worried. Remote onboarding added a layer of complexity. How do you create that warm welcome and share the start-up buzz if you aren’t in person? And pragmatically, what does everyone need to experience at Forager (whether in-person or virtually) so they feel equipped in their new role?

During my first two weeks of work I met with every Forager employee. I learned who they are, what they do, and how their experience at Forager has evolved. From there, I began to build an onboarding program that made sense for our company and for a distributed workforce. We’re still changing, adding, and formalizing with each new hire, but I’m proud to say that we now have a system to help you hit the ground running if you join our team.


How onboarding works at Forager

Your onboarding begins the minute you receive (and accept!) your offer from Forager. Our goal is to make sure you have all the materials, knowledge, and connections you need to be successful day one and beyond.


1. Setting up your workspace

Before your first day, you’ll connect with our business operations coordinator so we can understand your work from home set up and how to best pair with it. What kind of laptop do you need to complete your work? How many monitors would be helpful? Do you have a preference on headsets? When is the best time to ship your materials? You may not have a Forager office per se, but you will have the equipment you need to start your own at home.


2. Preparing for your first day

One week before you start at Forager, you’ll receive an email with everything you can anticipate on day one, as well as some important tech details to ensure your remote “welcome to the team!” is as smooth as possible. It includes your schedule and a heads up that you’ll introduce yourself during our Monday kickoff call (no stress, you just say hi and we all beam at you from your screen!) It also thoroughly outlines how to set up Outlook/Zoom/Slack/all the other platforms we use to stay connected.


3. Learning the ropes of freight and your job

Every onboarding at Forager is a little different because every role at Forager is a little different. However, there are consistent parts of onboarding to make sure all Foragers understand how our roles contribute to the team’s success. Working remotely doesn’t mean there’s a lack of structure. It just means you’re learning and making connections on a screen rather than in a conference room! Your first week will include:


Intro to administration and systems

We aren’t going to assume you’re an expert in Outlook or that you’ve been using Aircall for years. During this session we go over Forager’s systems, how they work, and some digital communication etiquette so you aren’t left guessing “Do I thread my reply? Should I email this doc or Slack it? Cameras off or on during the meeting?”


A brief history of freight and Forager’s vision

I guarantee you got a good grasp of what Forager does and why we’re special during your interviews, but nothing compares to hearing about freight and Forager from our CEO and co-founder, Matt. Each of our onboarding classes get an hour run-down on the evolution of the industry, why Forager exists, and where we’re headed.


Overviews of departments

New team members meet with each department head who shares what their team does and why it matters to Forager. We are very intentional about cross-collaboration in a distributed model since we can’t lean on organic office conversations. It’s important everyone has a face, name, and connection to each part of the business. That way you feel comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas.


Meet your buddy

In that same vein, each new Forager gets an onboarding buddy from a different department. This is an opportunity to not only get to know someone with a different functional role, but also to make a new work friend! Whether it’s talking shop or comparing taste in music, your buddy is a built-in connection you can turn to as you learn the ropes.


Deep dives and role goals

Each team will have a different schedule to get you up to speed on your role. However, at some point during the week you’ll meet with your manager to go over a 30/60/90-day plan to make sure you feel prepared and motivated to make an impact in your first few months.


Friday All-Hands

Every Friday we close out the week with an all company meeting. Our leadership team answers questions about the business and shares updates across the company. We end the meeting with shout-outs to our friends in other departments. This is a time to reconnect on a professional and personal level. It’s amazing so see how much we achieve in a 5-day span, and it’s incredible to hear how we still support one another in the virtual world.


4. Check in

Every Forager has a 30-day check-in with me. I’m 100% available before then, but this meeting is a good pulse check. How is your job going? Is your role what you expected it to be? How is communication with your manager? Is there anything you’re stuck on? Did onboarding prepare you for working at Forager? I want everyone to feel happy, energized, and productive at our company. We all spend a lot of time working- it should bring you joy! This is a great time to troubleshoot issues, celebrate wins, and tweak our onboarding process so future teammates are even more set-up for success.


5. Staying connected

One of the biggest concerns I sense from Forager candidates is about culture and connection. How in the world do you get to know people when you’re alone so much of the time? It’s a great question, and one that I wish I could show rather than tell. Our team is pretty incredible at getting to know one another. You can see it in our Slack channels, covering everything from pets to food to DIY projects. You can see it during our all-hands Zoom calls, between prank Zoom backgrounds and shout-outs to team members in different departments. You can see it in our Forager Friday social activities where we laugh and joke over trivia, baking cookies, or Pictionary.

Remember that more than half of our company onboarded remotely.  Everyone’s in the same boat. We’re all looking for connection, so I challenge you to think about how you’ll try to get to know your teammates. Each of us is responsible for making this company great. It’s that initiative and drive that we hired you for!


The things we gain

I wouldn’t have chosen to onboard remotely, nor would many of my coworkers, but we know we’re incredibly lucky that all our roles can be taken online. We’re grateful that our leadership team prioritizes health and safety. And we’re impressed by how our teammates see virtual challenges as opportunities for creative new solutions. This period has helped us create an intentional and supportive culture, develop a habit of over-communicating, and formalize processes that cut across departments.

Now don’t get me wrong. I cannot wait to meet everyone in person! To see the non-pixelated versions of my coworkers and experience their personalities right in front of me rather than over a screen. But I know we can continue to form friendships, grow a business, and achieve great things before then. If that sounds good to you (and you’re up for the challenge) take a look at our open positions and apply today!