Taste of Instacart
New Carrots at Instacart – A Year(+) of Remote Onboarding
I love Maya Angelou’s words: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This sentiment guides how we approach onboarding at Instacart: by focusing on how engaged and enabled people feel, starting the moment they sign their offer letter.
I’m Breegan Harper, and I manage the corporate new hire onboarding experience. I’ve been a “Carrot” since early 2019, when I joined Instacart to build out our onboarding & orientation programs. I love doing work focused on engagement and belonging—I joke that my favorite job of all time was as a summer camp counselor when I was 19, building impactful experiences for kids, and I’ve infused that same energy into my career.
The truth is, starting a new job can be a pretty vulnerable time. People have different emotional experiences, from feeling anxious to excited, relieved, or simply unsure of what to expect. But that’s why I love working in this space—it’s a key moment for everyone, but impacts each person uniquely.
Our program has evolved a lot over the past few years. We went from hosting orientation in our San Francisco, Toronto and Atlanta offices every week, to building out a fully remote experience for new hires joining us from their kitchen tables and makeshift home offices. Throughout the transition to remote, we stayed rooted in program principles focused on delivering positive first experiences while enabling New Carrots to get up to speed and start making impact quickly. I want to share how we approach onboarding, what you can expect if you’re a new hire, and what we’ve learned along the way if you’re building onboarding at your own company.
Why onboarding matters
Onboarding is a foundational part of the employee life cycle. Research suggests that the experience can impact productivity, engagement, and retention. Onboarding is our chance to help New Carrots build connections, get set up to do their best work, and start making an impact immediately.
The nuts and bolts of a successful onboarding can look different for every team, but from a general perspective, onboarding seeks to drive three main factors: Enablement, Alignment, and Belonging.
- Enablement: “I feel I can do my job and have the network, tools, and support I need from my team.”
- Alignment: “I understand Instacart’s mission, my particular role, and how I can make an impact achieving our mission.”
- Belonging: “I feel like I can be myself here, I am valued and celebrated, and I see myself as part of the team.”
Because we place such an emphasis on Belonging at Instacart, a lot of onboarding comes down to facilitating a positive and connecting experience—after all, people might not remember every detail, like Slack channels to join or who to contact for insurance questions (that’s what our Wiki is for), but they will remember how supported and engaged they felt during their first few weeks.
It’s been a uniquely challenging year for everyone. I start each Orientation Day by acknowledging that starting a new job remotely from our living rooms or home offices (which often double as a bedroom) may feel different than prior orientation experiences. Starting a new job is already a big deal, so I want to put to rest any anxiety new hires have around how they’re showing up on their first day.
To help people feel welcome and keep it real, I always introduce my dog, Rusty, and show new Carrots my work from home setup in my living room on Zoom. With the added complexity of onboarding virtually, I take extra steps to make sure folks know that distractions are okay, kids popping into the screen are welcome, and laugh at the fact that none of us are likely wearing shoes!
The onboarding team: It takes a village
Onboarding is truly a team effort: there are at least 50 different people involved at various points in the process, whether they are orientation presenters or working on the backend to prep hardware and train new hires on our tech. These folks are truly rockstars. From the start of working from home, I knew that if the team had laptops and wifi, they could still facilitate a great Orientation and make every New Carrot feel welcome.
Transitioning to virtual onboarding wasn’t only about shipping laptops and learning how to make Zoom presentations engaging (although that was a feat in and of itself!). We knew we needed to create space for relationship building through virtual channels. I’m still good friends with people I met on my first day in the office, so I know the power of spontaneous connections when you’re starting a new job—and I now understand the challenge of creating them virtually. We kept it simple by building in program elements like Zoom Breakout rooms, Instacart trivia in the chat, swag giveaways, and encouraging folks to unmute and engage with Orientation speakers. This helps us focus on the content and connection, and feels a lot like the casual, authentic atmosphere we have in-office.
Remote onboarding: What to expect
When someone signs their offer, they’re officially part of our family. They get access to an online portal to fill out all of their pre-arrival information and our IT team starts building their new hire account and preparing their laptop. Each employee also receives a home office reimbursement to outfit their workspace while we’re working remotely, and to make sure they’re repping Instacart no matter where they’re working from—every New Carrot receives a personalized box of swag.
When their first day rolls around, New Carrots kick things off with a conversation with our Co-Founder, Max Mullen. Max spends an hour with new hires every Monday to talk about Instacart’s founding story, how we got where we are today, and how our employees exemplify our company values.
New Carrots then set up their shiny new laptops with our IT team, dive into how we use different platforms, where to find information on our internal Wiki, and how to download and use our Beta app to give feedback to our Product teams (and unlock a free Express membership). Our Benefits team meets with New Carrots, ensuring each person has the information they need to make the best decisions for them when it comes to our Benefits packages, flexible time off policies, and various perks and wellbeing programs. Instacart cares deeply about the holistic health of our team, and every employee has access to mental health resources, including sessions with licensed therapists.
Throughout Orientation, New Carrots meet with leaders and members of teams across the company, including Care, Research, Shopper Operations, and Business Development. We dive into company strategy, our customers and Instacart Shoppers, and listen to real calls between Instacart’s Care Team and customers to deepen our understanding of the product and our users.
It’s equally important that New Carrots get a sense of our culture and how our Diversity, Equity and Belonging (DEB) strategy shapes how we operate as a company and community. We introduce our seven Employee Resource Groups (which anyone can join, including allies and advocates), and make sure folks get connected with our DEB learning resources, including regular office hours to talk directly with the team focused on DEB.
Even our new CEO, Fidji Simo, took part in Orientation on her first day in August!
Because we believe it’s just as important to connect over things that aren’t work-related, we also host virtual events just for New Carrots like meditations, home scavenger hunts, and trivia games to get to know your onboarding cohort. As cities re-open, we have also hosted optional outdoor New Carrot lunches and meetups.
A key part of Onboarding pre-Covid was the Shopping Trip. Every New Carrot, regardless of which team they were joining, would complete a shift at a local grocery store, fulfilling real customer batches. Not only was this a chance to familiarize the team with our Shopper product, but it also created a deeper understanding of the Shopper experience that is central to our business. We’re looking forward to re-launching Shopping Trips in the near future and having everyone participate!
18 months later
Since going remote, Instacart has nearly doubled in size, and we have onboarded over half of our team remotely. The majority of our team has never met in person or stepped foot in one of our offices! We’ve learned to foster meaningful connections while virtual, and have had a lot of fun along the way despite never meeting face-to-face. As we look forward to and anticipate supporting a hybrid workforce of in-person and remote employees, we’re still grounded in the key program pillars around Enablement, Alignment, and Belonging.
Our growth over the past year has driven home the importance of the work the team and I do, and grounded us in the why: it’s all about facilitating positive, impactful first experiences at Instacart. Sure, there might be chaos outside of our screens—kids running around, dogs barking, Zoom school going on—but on screen, we want New Carrots to know they can show up as they are, ask questions, and let the chaos in. After all, one of our core values is “go far, together.” We can’t wait to welcome you!
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