Hiring + employee onboarding during a global pandemic

Hiring and onboarding can be a challenging during the best of times, so adding a global pandemic into the mix can only make the entire process more of an…adventure, right?!

We chatted with Neil Ternowetsky, Co-Founder & CTO of our alumni company, TRAINFO, to find out more about his experience with onboarding and hiring during COVID19. 

TRIANFO exists to help solve safety issues around railroad crossings. Their mission is to make travel safe and efficient. They provide real time updates on railroad crossings and blockages to road users and roadway authorities.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where TRAINFO is at currently, and why you’re hoping to expand?

Absolutely! We’re building a technology that can be used in self driving vehicles. Our mission is to eliminate accidents at railroad crossings, and minimize travel delays caused by railroad crossing blockages.

We’ve done a great job expanding across the Canadian market, so we are now shifting our focus to the US market. We’ve gained a lot of traction with customers in the US, and we’re looking to grow our team to accommodate that. 

So even before COVID-19 struck, was the expansion something you had in your plans for 2020? How many employees were you hoping to onboard?

We just hired one new team member and we’re hoping to onboard another three before the end of July. The goal is to hire 30 new team members by the end of the year. This was our plan pre-COVID, and once the pandemic really developed, we decided to evaluate and ensure our plans wouldn’t be impacted before going ahead. 

After evaluating the current crisis, we found our growth was not being impacted and that we still needed to move ahead with our initial plan to hire 30 before the end of the year. 

What has the process been like for you and your team?

Interesting! 

We onboarded the first successful candidate in-person because Manitoba has lifted some restrictions, and we’re now able to slowly make the return to the office. That being said, the interview process with that particular candidate was done remotely. Some of our key takeaways from that experience were that we found it difficult to read body language, and it was hard to interpret what candidates were saying/meaning over video. Especially those with the camera off. 

Some candidates were definitely more prepared than others, and we found those that weren’t willing to have their camera on were often those who were often less prepared overall.

Not being able to see someone does make it difficult to get a full read on them. The people who refused to go on call just didn’t hold up as well in our evaluations. 

My advice to candidates going through any hiring  process right now, is to be prepared to have video chat and have your camera on, it allows the experience to be as close as possible to the real thing. I will add that it was hard for us to ignore their surroundings, so it’s definitely important to have a clean and tidy space to have your interview. 

These are strange times, and having a video interview at home with all of your pets and kids is not an easy situation. If a child or pet sneaks on screen, sometimes the best thing to do is embrace it! We are all human, and these little moments have definitely humanized the entire process. 

We can definitely see that there have been some challenges for you as you navigate through this process, can you tell us if there are any positive takeaways or things you might continue?

We definitely still prefer to do this in person. We have been successful with our recent hire, and we all agree that we’ve been able to get through more interviews in a shorter period of time – which has been a plus. The main issue we see with it is we want to be able to show potential candidates our corporate culture. That is really important to us. 

So moving forward, we might host preliminary interviews over video conference and then invite a shortlist back to have their interviews in person. This could be a good middle ground and a way for us to complete initial interviews more efficiently. 

That seems like a good balance, and a great way to maximize your time! You mentioned corporate culture. Has that been difficult to show potential candidates right now, and has that even been difficult to nurture with existing employees? 

As I mentioned, we were fortunate to be able to onboard our new hire in person, since Manitoba has lifted some restrictions that apply to us. We were prepared to follow through on the remote onboarding process, of course, but were happy to find out that we wouldn’t have to go that route.

We do have plenty of things in place to try and keep our team as close and connected as possible despite not being able to see each other face-to-face, though we have slowly started returning to the office.

We had started using different team channels and conferencing tools, and I’ve even started a dad joke of the day with the team to keep things light and fun, like they would be if we were able to get coffee together in the office. 

We’ve also started playing games over lunch occasionally, which is a great way to help break up the day and keep our team connection. 

Overall, we all agree it’s not quite the same as being in person and most people were itching to come back and get back to the team. Nothing beats the real thing!

It’s safe to say that hiring and employee onboarding is not an easy task to take on during a global pandemic. The flip side? Finding fun and creative ways to bring out the best in your team during these difficult times is something we will all remember! 

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