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March 2, 2023

mins to read

Onboarding New Designers Shouldn't Be a Problem: Here's How to Onboard Your Remote Team

Pandemic years have caused higher turnover for a variety of reasons. People realized that they prefer flexible working conditions, and some went through job loss and learned that it is not as scary as they had thought. Despite the crisis, people become more demanding when choosing a workplace and tend to quit easily when the new place doesn’t feel right.

To make employees love their new job from the very first day, you have to ensure a smooth onboarding process. Remote workers can’t enjoy all the perks that in-house folks have, so it’s even more important to make them feel comfortable. And onboarding can mean more than just giving them tasks and assigning a corporate email address.

After you’ve dedicated time to hire an experienced designer you feel relieved knowing that someone would now take care of UX design. Yet however experienced this person is, it doesn’t mean that they can just take on the work without in-depth onboarding. The more time you dedicate to onboarding in the first few weeks, the more value the employee will bring to the company later.

Eleken design agency has been working with clients remotely for years. We know that onboarding is needed even when you hire a remote designer working in an agency. Here is all the advice that our designers would love to give to all the people who start working with us as clients. Read on if you want to know how we onboard our new employees.

Rules to the smoothest remote onboarding

1. Schedule regular Q&A and checkups

You should not only be ready for tons of questions from a new designer or even more, but you should also dedicate some time to asking these questions, apart from answering all the ongoing ones. The calls don’t need to be long, often 15 minutes will do. Having regular short calls also helps newcomers not feel abandoned in all the mass of new info that they need to process.

Asking many questions does not mean that the designer doesn’t know well enough how to do their work. Even when you hire a seasoned professional, there’s still so much that they need to know about your product that only you know.

2. Give access to all the info designers need (and more)

There’s nothing new about the fact that you have to give access to profiles and team workspaces on different apps. Yet, there is a common problem when product managers only provide the most basic information about the product.

Naturally, you don’t want to share all the internal documentation with a person who is still on a probationary period. On the other hand, the designer’s work process can benefit a lot from having that extra information.

Do you have any data on user feedback? Old designs? User journey map? Share it with the designer. “All info there is, should be given” — that’s what our senior designer Maksym says about onboarding. And let the NDA take care of privacy.

3. Introduce newbies to the communication channels

Whilst new employees working in the office get introduced to company culture as soon as they come and almost automatically, doing that remotely is trickier. First of all, company culture is less clear in online communication. And what’s present is more subtle. You can just call it communication style instead of the heavy term “company culture”.

Here is an example. So many teams use Slack for internal messaging. The functionality of the app is the same, but the ways people communicate on it are endless. Some teams would spam group chats with memes, while others prefer personal messages and avoid emojis (by the way, Eleken designers believe that the use of emojis in Slack is a key to establish good communication with new team members). 

Even though most of these differences are unspoken, I’m sure there are a few rules of your internal communication manners that you can explain to the newcomer to help them avoid awkward situations. It can be talked through during a call, but if you notice that there are quite some rules in your company, consider writing them down in your onboarding guide.

4. Do not limit communication to one person

Product managers or senior designers are likely to be the ones who do the most of the onboarding work. Dedicating lots of time to questions and checkups doesn’t mean that newbies shouldn’t ask questions to other colleagues.

Give your newcomers tips on who they can refer to with different questions: developers, marketing director, HR manager, and so on. This way a designer would get to know more team members and avoid feeling awkward bombarding you with questions all the time.

5. Foster personal communication between team members

This is one of the trickiest things about integrating remote employees into the company. If you have ever been to a corporate online party, you probably know they suck. Well, at least 95% of them.

zoom party onboarding new designers
I do envy people who can have fun at these parties. Image credit: Cache Bunny

So how do you compensate for the lack of office kitchen chit-chats? They seemed so pointless before, but turned out to be a missing link between team members when the world has shifted to remote work. For new employees, it was a natural addition to the onboarding process — informal, yet very helpful.

To make up for that, you have to get creative. Depending on the kind of relations you have between the team members, the solution can be different. For example, “donut” meetings. All the people have to be matched into couples randomly. Each couple has to schedule a video call where they can talk informally about anything (better not work-related). That way workers get to know people from the company that they may not have been in contact with otherwise.

onboarding new designersdonut app
Image credit:

6. Don’t stop after the first days or weeks

After the discovery onboarding phase, a designer is ready to work on actual tasks. That is when many product managers exhale and let designers to themselves. Here is an argument that can make you inhale again.

We know that the beginning of work is not the most productive period for most people. However, a thorough onboarding can improve that. The more inputs a product manager gives, the more efficient the work of a designer will be. The newcomer may spend lots of time doing research when they could get the same info from a manager in a few minutes. That is why explaining the product roadmap, existing user flow, and technical tasks for future designs is so important.

How we do remote onboarding

As a fast-growing design agency, we are in a constant process of hunting for new talent. Our onboarding process is different from a product company because UI/UX design is our main focus and therefore the processes are more about workflows than the concrete product.

Since we hire new designers regularly while working remotely, we have an established onboarding process that doesn’t get affected by the absence of the office kitchen (ok, maybe a little).

First of all, we open all the accounts and give access to the team working spaces on Slack, Figma, Notion. We are quite minimalist when it comes to working tools. A crucial thing is the designer handbook: each new designer has to study it before they start working. Typically, we give 1-2 days to get familiar with all the cases in Figma and all the helpful resources in Notion.

Designer onboarding program

The next step is making a concept: the designer chooses an idea and goes all the way from user flow through wireframes to visuals and animations, and finishes with Dribbble shots. And each stage goes through a number of iterations, of course. Introduction task is created to check the new person’s design process in “real-time”.

This is how the probationary period at Eleken goes. Usually it lasts 2-3 months, after which a designer is ready to work with a real client. During the first months, newcomers get used to our working processes and are welcome to ask any questions to the community of other designers working for different clients but who are still a part of the same team.

A senior designer mentors all the rookies and provides constant feedback on their work, but new designers are encouraged to talk to other colleagues and ask some not design-related questions to our people manager.

Recently we introduced regular internal education sessions, where one of the experienced designers shares their knowledge on some topic, such as communication with clients or typography. The notes of these sessions become part of onboarding documents for future employees.

Key takeouts

It’s been a long text, but all in all, the rules of onboarding remote designers can be written in a few words:

  • Have some time and patience for answering all the questions
  • Give access to as much information as possible
  • Make sure that designers communicate not only with the product manager or senior designer, but with other team members as well

Onboarding remote designers is not that big of a challenge, at least from our experience. To find out how Eleken nails all the remote design processes, read our article “How to Become Extremely Successful in Designing With Remote Teams”.

Masha Panchenko


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