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How to pivot to hiring & onboarding remotely. During a Pandemic. During hypergrowth.

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

How does a company create a beloved new hire onboarding experience when experiencing hyper-growth? Sounds hard? How does a company now pivot that to remote during a pandemic? Learn how Bizzabo achieved the impossible during CoVid.

Here's the recap...One day 9+ months ago the executive team at Bizzabo made a brilliant strategic move. Pivot from building the in-person event planning platform, to building the digital event one. That master stroke has led to hyper growth in sales and investment. To meet this soaring demand, Bizzabo has had to build & scale the team quickly. While now having to do so remotely.

In this episode, we spoke with Tami Golan, the Chief People Officer, on how they pivoted to remote onboarding. While ensuring they've maintained their memorable employee onboarding experience. We started off with Bizzabo's in-person hiring & onboarding process. We then discussed how they shifted to remote onboarding overnight. What tools they use to onboard remotely. Finally, how they've been able to merge the best parts of the in-person experience to the remote version.

This is part Two of our series on remote onboarding. You can listen to Part One here & Part Three here.

Full transcript can be found below...

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Culture of communication & collaboration pivot

Like most Israeli companies, they are office first. The IRL relationships have no match digitally (I can agree to that). So priority one was ensuring the communication and cadence of communication didn't falter. Teams that may have met once a week started meeting daily. Others that met daily, met a few times daily. Bizzabo has worked tirelessly to ensure the shift in cadence translates to matched quality vs quantity. Natural & serendipitous interactions are are priority vs all focused on work.

Culture interviews & interactions

All Bizzabo managers are taught how to interview for culture fit. Ensuring beyond the work output fit, the candidate fits in well with the team and vice versa. Previously candidates were invited to the office for a few hours to hang out with their prospective team. Getting the chance to schmooze with future colleagues. Since the digital pivot, Bizzabo offers a digital office visit. Sharing videos of the office space, and interviews of current employees, and a document of 'who is their team?' They also provide a coffee card to ensure candidates are well caffeinated for their day in the office.

The virtual onboarding process

Onboarding is currently done in classes of 5-10 new hires every couple of weeks. These classes are specifically crafted to be a mix of various roles within the company. Engineers, BDRs, marketers, etc. The first 2-3 weeks are strictly onboarding. Virtual training sessions, both live & recorded, 1:1 personal training sessions, exercises, and tests to develop a deep knowledge of the company. The culture, the processes, and technical skills they need to know about the system. Most importantly it's designed to be as engaging and meaningful as possible. Not requiring people to sit eight hours in front of a screen.

Captain of the ship

A company's culture is defined by the executive team at its founding. It's then handed over to the company to continually redefine. From its founding, the Bizzabo founders put company culture at the head of priorities. Eran, Bizzabo's CEO, still spends four hours with each onboarding class discussing culture. Always noting, he's handing the onboarding class the keys to the culture castle.

What the future holds

Bizzabo historically hires the best talent wherever they are, but does focus hiring around their 3 offices: Tel Aviv, New York, & Kiev. They do plan to shift to a hybrid model post-CoVid. What that looks like, is still to be determined.

Parting words & best tips

There's no replacement for real life interactions. Whether a company fully returns to the office, shifts to a hybrid model, or remains fully remote it's essential for the team to have the opportunity to meet face to face.

Do not not simply shift in-person policies & procedures to remote. It isn't one size fits all. Remote onboarding, policies, & procedures must be specifically designed.

Hope you enjoyed today's episode. We'd love to hear your feedback on today's show. We'd love to hear from you about your onboarding experiences. Whether awesome or not awesome. Do also feel free to share any feedback on topics you'd like to hear us discuss.


Scott (00:08):

Hi everybody. Thank you so much for joining us today and tuning into today's episode of leading from afar. I'm Scott Markovits with my sidekick Tevi Hirschhorn, and today we're happy to be joined by Tami Golan. The Chief People Officer at Bizzabo. Bizzabo is the event management platform, and a company very dear to my heart. I was a mentor with the company in their early days and am certainly excited by the growth and success they've had to date. Including a recent massive funding round. I think it was $138 million. I've also always appreciated all the things I've learned about the efforts that you guys have put into the employee experience. I've heard many fantastic things about the culture of the company. In today's episode, we're going to learn a little bit more about how Bizzabo pivoted to remote hiring and onboarding. Obviously during the pandemic and specifically during a massive growth and hiring period. Of course, during the pandemic. So Tami, do you want to start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Tami (01:48):

Yeah, I'd be happy to. First of all, thank you so much for having me. So I grew up in Israel. I came to the US in 1992 to travel and I'm still here many, many years later. I went onto graduate school here in New York city for organizational psychology. I've spent the majority of my career in technology. In the startup world both in-house and as an outside consultant. So I had the pleasure of working with many, many startup companies. I love it. I'm not a technologist, but I love this world. I love the craziness. I love the fast pace and everything that comes with it from a people's perspective. I joined Bizzabo in September of 2019, pre-pandemic, and it's been an incredible ride over the last year and four months.

Tevi (02:44):

Awesome. nice to meet you, Tammy. Thank you for joining. So I guess I'll jump right into some of the questions. So HR is difficult enough. HR in a high growth startup is even more difficult. HR in a high growth pandemic remote. How have you maintained the culture and onboarding during these crazy times?

Tami (03:09):

Yeah, it's a good question and we've invested an enormous amount of time thinking about it. Obviously, the culture and values of the company started eight and a half years ago has, it's always been a very big and important piece of how this company was built and designed, From the first early days. So we have a very strong culture. We have a very strong set of values that we all feel extremely connected to. We practice it every day. This is not the slogan on the wall. This is truly really who we are. How we operate and how we measure ourselves against everything that we do. Then it started, and overnight went to work remotely. We immediately thought about the culture and tried to understand and assess all of our practices and everything that we do. What does that mean? What potentially needs to change. What do we need to do differently? This was very important for us to do whatever we can to protect our culture.

Tami (04:05):

It became very evident and it's always is in times of crisis that the culture is very much ingrained in the people. So there wasn't a lot that we had to do to design the culture. What we needed to do is to evaluate all of our processes, communication, cadences, and activities. All of those things we were doing anyway to try and assess them and move them into the virtual world to make sure that they're still meaningful and impactful. And to allow people to continue to practice all of those values and discuss them in an open fashion. That's what we did and still do and continue to evaluate everything against that. We are mainly protecting that culture and what we love about it. What we think is very powerful to ensure that it's not damaged in any way by the changing work conditions and the world conditions really around us.

Tevi (04:58):

Cool. Can you give an example of how you would try to make sure not to have any culture change or what some of those values are?

Tami (05:05):

Sure. As an example we are better together is one of our values that we feel very, very strongly about. We are people that like to collaborate, share ideas, debate, question, be curious, and learn. We looked at all of our regular cadences of communication. How we run team meetings. How we come together as one big company. How do we operate locally in different locations. How to work with our management teams to make sure that we continue to allow that space for people to debate, and to communicate. We enhanced as an example, the cadence of our sales organization. They meet every day instead of once a week to make sure everybody's on track and everybody knows exactly what's expected. Also to have the opportunity to discuss, debate and solve problems. Our engineering group initially had three meetings a day. Just checking during the day to make sure that everybody stays connected. So by design, we created those opportunities for people to have face time not exactly in person, but as much face time as possible to continue to have that type of informal interaction that we had in the office just naturally every day.

Scott (06:22):

Yeah, I love it. The opportunities to build that relationship with the team and the amount of time that you get to spend with the team is super important. Before we jump into how things changed and pivoted during COVID and when you've moved to remote. Maybe you can give us a brief description of what your hiring and onboarding process looked like pre-COVID and pre-remote work.

Tami (06:44):

Sure. So a big emphasis for us from a hiring perspective has always been about the candidate experience. We always and still do believe that on the other side of the process is a human being. We first and foremost need to create a good experience for them to make them want to come to Bizzabo. It's a two-way street. It's not about us selecting the right person. It's also about them selecting Bizzabo as a company that they want to spend their career at. We've had a very intense interviewing processing. The amount of time in understanding and trying to learn about the person in front of us. So every candidate came to the office for several hours on interview day to just get the Bizzabo vibe by being at the office. We allow people to meet their potential team. Not just the interviewing team, but also the extended team to make sure that they know this is a team they want to be part of.

Tami (07:39):

We have what we call a cultural interview. Where we train all of our managers on how to assess people's cultural add, not just cultural fit. With cultural add to make sure that they bring something to the table that can make us better and different. We measure candidates against our values. As an example, when assessing them, we measure them against their fit to those values. So we've done a lot of things. You know, in-person onsite to make sure that we bring the right people in. Then of course focused on their professional capabilities and their ability to grow. All of those important things, but they were always hand in hand secondary to the human being. Is that a person we want to bring into the company? Yes or no. So that was pre-COVID. After COVID, when everything turned virtual overnight we had to replace that experience with something different. We've done a lot of different things and continue to tweak and change it based on the candidate surveys that we do.

Tami (08:37):

Every candidate at Bizzabo gets a survey. We have a pretty nice response rate and you keep getting more and more ideas and thoughts about what works and doesn't work. Continuing to tweak it. As an example, one of the things that we did is to replace that office visit. We created a virtual office visit and recorded a video that we share with candidates to give them a sense of the office. How it looks like. The vibe. What's important for us in the office and how we operate. We created a document to allow them to get to know their teams. So it's tough to interview always, and it's harder sometimes to do it over zoom. It's even harder when you meet several people. We created the document for the candidate to get to know the teams.

Tami (09:26):

So they get beyond the LinkedIn profile. A picture of myself, and a little bit about me on a personal level. What I like and don't like. They can come to the interview prepared to talk to us as people. They understand who is in front of them. It just makes it a lot more personable and a little bit less intimidating when you come into that interview scenario. We incorporate all kinds of different other things. We send before their final interview with an executive, a coffee gift card to make sure they're caffeinated enough for the interview. We keep changing all of those little moments in the interview journey to make sure that it's a meaningful, rewarding, and personable.

Scott (10:13):

Right. You guys hiring? Sounds pretty good to me. We'll get to that maybe at the end. It's fantastic to hear how you were able to try to mirror the remote hiring process as closely as you could with that personal experience. Now let's see if you can maybe talk briefly about the actual onboarding. So once the person has been given and accepted the offer. What does that onboarding process look like now that you're doing it remotely?

Tami (10:46):

So onboarding really starts before their first day. We create a lot of personal moments between the manager and the new hire pre-onboarding. So they get from the team a nice welcome email. All of the things that they need to know. We often try to facilitate a meeting or virtual meeting right now pre-onboarding. So when they come in first, they did feel pretty comfortable. So we do a lot of different things just ahead of time to make sure that the first day is a good one. The onboarding plan itself, we have an incredible team who designed a very comprehensive onboarding program for each of the different roles within the company.

Tami (11:36):

It's usually two to three weeks. Somebody coming onboard at Bizzabo they spend the first two or three weeks only onboarding. So they're not onboarding and doing the job. They are not onboarding and answering customer calls They're onboarding. It's a combination of in-person over zoom right now personal training sessions and some recorded sessions, some tests, and some exercises that people have to go through to make sure that they learn deeply about the company. The company, the culture, the processes, and technical skills they need to know about the system. When they're finished formally with the onboarding they're ready to come in and start doing the job. It's a very good onboarding process. We get amazing feedback from candidates going through it. We also looked at that in the virtual world and it made all the adjustments that we needed to make sure that it's as engaging and as meaningful. Not requiring people to sit eight hours in front of a screen.

Tami (12:36):

So we took all of that into account. Another thing that we do that I think is very powerful is that we bring people on in classes. So right now we onboard a group of people about every two weeks. Anywhere between 5 and 10 people. January we have a very big class forming, but we like to bring them in groups. We want to try and facilitate a support group for all of those people coming on board. They create some very deep relationships with that onboarding class that lasts with them for a long time. The groups are very diverse. So we bring people from all different departments within the company. So it's not a group of BDRs. It's BDRs, engineers, someone from finance, someone from HR, and someone from sales. We tried to combine and create a very diverse team of people coming together. Going through this onboarding journey together which the feedback we get on that is also very very good.

Scott (13:40):

Can you maybe share one or two specific quotes that people have given you about the remote onboarding process?

Tami (13:50):

Yeah. We're very big on surveys, and we really like to take into consideration our employee voice. We do different touchpoints at different times, and we've enhanced that during COVID. To make sure that even being remote, we stay very connected. We don't assume we know what's going on. We actually get the feedback and know what's going on. So in the last survey that we did in September/October, 96% of the participants said that they had a very good and favorable onboarding experience. Which is phenomenal. Today I spoke with one of our team leads in our new Kiev office which is coming together very nicely now. Which is exciting. I spoke to one of the team leads that we hired there, and he told me that this is his fourth day with the company. He said that this is one of the best onboarding experiences he's ever had. So we do a lot of great positive feedback. People really appreciate that. We invest the time in them and allow them the space to learn, understand, and feel comfortable before we throw them into the deep end of the pool and ask them to swim. A lot of quotes like that. This is the most meaningful, or this is the best experience people have had. It's very rewarding to see.

Tevi (15:07):

I love that focus on people and culture during onboarding. Really giving thought to the person who's joining the company. From their first touchpoint with an interview and onboarding. That doesn't usually just happen though. Where does that value as a company come from? Is that coming from the leaders or is that something that people brought in by the people?

Tami (15:30):

It's something that was part of Bizzabo since the beginning. Our three incredible founders, when they founded Bizzabo already thought about the culture, and the type of company they want to create. Other than the technology and the solution. But actually what type of company they want to be part of. What kind of values are important to them. So that was very well-defined and designed from the beginning. There was a process in the company to define them better and communicate them and all of that incredible stuff. All of that came from the people. It's not the people team, it's the actual employees who lead the process and define all of those values and what they mean. And created some programs on how to implement them.

Tami (16:12):

So that's a big part of who we are just as a company. But you know that means absolutely nothing if you don't practice it day-to-day. Eran, our CEO, who's a very busy man, still to this day and will probably continue to do it, is investing four hours of his time with each onboarding class. To do a culture value, mission vision session that he's leading. Which walks people through the entire history of how those values were created. Why they're important, and what do they mean? How do we measure people against them to facilitate some incredible conversations? I've participated in many since I joined and it's by far my favorite session. To hear people who come from different companies and backgrounds and different experiences relate to what they're sharing.

Tami (17:08):

It's just an incredible experience and very unusual for a CEO to invest that much time. I know it's very rewarding for Eran as well. I know he loves that session, but it shows how incredibly important the culture of Bizzabo and those values are to us all the way from Eran. At the end of that session he usually ends by telling new hires, I'm handing you off the keys to the culture. Because it's not about me designing it. It's not the People team responsible to design it. All of us combined create the culture. It's so, so true. The people at Bizzao truly represent those values and feel very strongly about our culture.

Scott (17:55):

Something you said at the end that really resonates with me. When the company starts, it's the executive team that defines the culture. From there, it's really the team and the people that joined that really help redefine it and make the culture better. It's wonderful to hear that's a part of the ethos of the company. A question that I had that I think you may have hinted to it. As you're obviously hiring remotely now, are you looking at hiring in specific hubs in different cities or different countries, or are you looking to hire totally remotely? Wherever the best talent may be in the world, you'll take them there.

Tami (18:29):

Yeah. So as a general statement, we will hire the best talent wherever they are. Especially during COVID, but it's always been the case. We want to make sure we feel it. We owe it to our customers to bring the absolute best talent. To create the best solutions, and give the best level of service. All of that makes it tough. We owe it to ourselves to work with the best people. So we feel very strongly about hiring. That being said. We do have three main offices. We have an office in New York. We have an office in Israel in Tel Aviv, and now we have an office in Kiev. We try to get people into those or close to those offices as much as we can. We are not a company that will go fully remote.

Tami (19:10):

We love people. We love being together. We love collaborating. We love the office vibe and environment, and we can't wait for the day where we can just be in the same space. It will be such a huge relief when we can do that again. We are in-person, people people who love to give them the opportunity to be together. But we do hire, remotely all over the U S and now starting to spread all over the world. We absolutely will continue to hire the best talent.

Tevi (19:40):

Cool. So what tools do you use to onboard people remotely? Since you're saying you hope to someday go back to the office with vaccines arriving soon, will any of that change? Do you see that maybe shifting back to, and maybe leaving these tools behind?

Tami (19:59):

Probably not. My prediction and I can't know for sure, is that we will shift to some form of a hybrid model. I don't think the world of work will go back to exactly the same way that it was pre-COVID. I think it's a good thing. I think we were and a lot of different companies were very heavily focused on having people in one space for no apparent reason. To be perfectly honest from an HR perspective. So not that I'm glad about anything related to COVID, but I think it brought up a lot of great opportunities that we need to continue to leverage for years to come. So my prediction of what I think is that we will move in a hybrid world. We will have people remote. We will have people traveling, and we will have people gaining more flexibility in life in general.

Tami (20:50):

We will need to create programs and processes that can accommodate that. So my expectation is it would be a combination of what we do now virtually and what we did previously. We will need to create a whole new experience, just like for events. Something that is engaging for an employee in Texas as it is to an employee who sits in the New York office. So my very long answer is, I think hybrid is the future. What it looks like exactly, I don't know yet. We're thinking about it proactively and trying to take elements from the previous world to the current world and create something that would be meaningful for people moving forward.

Scott (21:34):

Interesting. I think we could probably have another podcast episode regarding the hybrid model, but that's not for today's show. The one other thing that I had in mind. We discussed what it is to hire and onboard before COVID and during COVID. Now if you can maybe just spice it up a little bit with that sense of now during hypergrowth. Raising a hundred plus million dollars is going to cause a big spike in hiring. How does that add to that experience of you're not hiring and onboarding one person a month. The one person a month or total during the COVID. You're obviously hiring a lot of people very quickly. What is that nuanced difference? If you could speak more about that?

Tami (22:20):

Maybe I'll take a step back and talk about the journey we went through during COVID so far in our business. In the events world, we woke up one day where all of the events were canceled or delayed. It was a very meaningful and significant moment for us. We took some very difficult but necessary steps to make sure that without knowing what the future holds in the March/April timeframe, that I'm sure we can all relate. We took some steps to reduce some of our headcount to make sure that we're set up for success in a few years or a few months. We brought most of those people back; at least those that wanted to come back, We've been growing like crazy since.

Tami (23:08):

So we've been other than a moment in time there, when we stopped hiring and had to take those very steps, we've been hiring like crazy since April or May. It's been at a pretty significant pace. We've probably onboarded about 80 people in the last few months. So we've been as we increased the volume of people that came on board, we continue to tweak our program. So now that we're in a hyper-growth mode and expecting to onboard 20, 30 people in a month, we don't think there's a huge amount of change necessary. We just think we need to continue staying very close to all of these experiences that are happening every two weeks now. Continue to learn from them and tweak moving forward as we add more people. We need more people and working hands just to support all of the people coming on board. In terms of the programs and the tools right now, we feel like we're in a pretty good place with the programs that we already been developed.

Tevi (24:07):

Nice. So since we've started some new methods to accommodate remote, and you've been in such hyper-growth, what are some of the pros and cons of the remote onboarding process? I guess not just pros and cons of remote, but maybe pros and cons of the way it was before COVID. Before remote.

Tami (24:29):

The big one in my mind is that at the end of the day, there's no replacement for in-person, right? There's no replacement to sit with someone in a room, have a cup of coffee, walk around the office, chat, see pictures of their kids, whatever it is. There's no replacement for that. Regardless of how you design a virtual experience. So the downside to these situations is you're just missing the basic human interaction that is so meaningful in life. Not just doing work but in life. I do think that there's a lot of efficiencies that came out of this virtual world. It's a lot easier to schedule interviews when you are virtual. It's a lot easier to ask candidates to take 50 minutes an hour for an interview when they're already at home, sitting in front of the machine versus taking a day off from work and trying to accommodate. Or they take an interview from the car because they feel uncomfortable taking it from the office. So logistically it's definitely better. There are some opportunities. There are some tools out there and thank goodness for technology. Because I always go back and say, "If this happened pre video conferencing, I don't know what we would've done." That would have been a challenge. Right? So there are a lot of different tools and a lot of different ways to leverage. Even zoom and all of the tools that come with it to do brainstorming sessions and allow people to present and ask questions and engage with them. So all of those technical tools are very efficient and sometimes more efficient than coming into the office and closing the conference room. So advantages and disadvantages are like everything else. For me, the human aspect and ability to physically meet with someone, shake their hand, see how they interact; is still missing. There's no replacement for that yet.

Scott (26:24):

I agree with that. Tevi, any more questions?

Tevi (26:25):

No, I think that's it. It's really interesting to hear that. A lot of people have said before the pandemic that they hate remote. They want the in-person meetings, but it's interesting to hear that there are these efficiencies. You're so right Tami. To take a day off of work as a candidate is really hard. To drive out somewhere far away for a role that may be within the first five minutes, you realize this is not the right fit. It's very demoralizing to be spending your whole day. So it's true on both sides of that, as well. From the People Team's perspective. If you're interviewing candidates all day, it's probably really hard to sit in a conference room where people are coming in and out and you just have to sit and smile as opposed to be in your own home. You could just take a five minute break between each interview and get up for a second. It's interesting to hear that efficiency on both sides, even if you prefer that in-person.

Scott (27:24):

Yeah. I have one more question for you Tami. Thankfully we're getting close to the end of COVID. For those companies who are now starting to hire or looking to hire remotely as we move out of COVID, do you have any tips or best practices that you can share with the audience for doing remote hiring and onboarding?

Tami (27:47):

You know, maybe two things. One, virtual is not the same as in-person. So don't try to create, or to use the same experience or same process virtually. Use the tools and leverage what you have available to create a new virtual experience that's aligned with your values and what's important to you in the process. The most important thing I would maybe leave with is, especially now, especially in a pandemic, you know, people are going through a lot. People are struggling, physically, emotionally, mentally. And financially. Every aspect of peoples' lives have changed in some way or another. There is a human at the end of it. I think it's really important to remember that, and it's not always the case. It always makes me very sad when I hear a candidate, that's had a lousy experience. When they're investing a significant amount of time preparing for an interview. Then, somebody doesn't show up, does not show interest, or doesn't get back to them after the interview. I find this just inhumane; especially now. So I would just encourage everyone to keep that in mind. Create experiences and know that on the other side is a human being. We need to be very reasonable.

Scott (29:10):

Every time I hear something about the culture of Bizzabo it impresses me even more. So it's fantastic to hear all the things that you've spoken about. For our listeners out there, maybe tell us what kind of jobs you're currently hiring for.

Tami (29:25):

All of them. We have a lot of roles globally. In Israel, in Kiev, and in the US, as well. Really across the company, customer success, sales engineers, solution architects, sales, and engineers. All of them. FrontEnd, BackEnd, DevOps, and everything you can imagine. In HR definitely some roles on my team as well. So we really are hiring. The marketing team and across the company. In general, we are looking for the best and most passionate people on the planet that love what we do and care about the events.

Scott (30:08):

Fantastic. We'll be sure to add the link for the job site in the show notes. So people who are interested can take a look at the jobs that you're hiring for and reach out. Tami, thank you so much again for joining us today. For sharing some fantastic wisdom and insights about the culture, onboarding, and hiring at Bizzabo.

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