Namogoo hired and onboarded 26 employees across three countries during a pandemic. Here’s our playbook.
For a growing startup, hiring and onboarding dozens of new employees every month, across three countries, is no small feat. Add a global pandemic, remote-only work, and multiple lockdowns, and we’re talking challenges of epic proportions.
In this interview, we sat down with Keren Halperin, Chief People Officer at Namogoo, to understand how the company successfully recruited and onboarded 65 employees in 2020, 26 of them in the past three months alone. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Keren, tell us a bit about Namogoo pre-COVID.
2019 was a banner year for Namogoo. We signed up dozens of new customers, including top US retailers like JCPenney. The company was awarded the prestigious “#1 startup to work for” award by Dun & Bradstreet. It raised a $40M funding round. Things were looking good, and 2020 was poised to be even better, with new product launches, global expansion, and ambitious growth goals.
And then COVID happened… What happened to Namogoo?
Initially, our world turned upside down, just like everyone else’s. For the business as a whole, the first few months were confusing and stressful. Fortunately, Namogoo benefited from a diverse e-commerce customer base, with many of our customers being able to successfully adapt to our new normal. Namogoo ultimately decided to continue expanding and hiring, and we accelerated hiring starting July.
Interviewing is an important step in the hiring process. How did you modify it for the new COVID reality?
We’re a global company, so we were used to Zoom interviews. However, once COVID hit and interviewing became 100% virtual, we needed to adopt a new mindset: it’s OK to hire someone you’ve never met in-person. Our new primary goal—and challenge—during the interview process was to create a sense of belonging in a situation where everyone is remote. That said, we do try to meet face-to-face during the final round of interviews (while adhering to each country’s current COVID health guidelines).
How did new employee onboarding & training change?
We experimented with many different things, large and small, with the goal of creating more personal connections between employees and teams. There was no one silver bullet. Here are some activities that worked well for us:
Namogoo’s top 5 activities for remote onboarding during COVID:
1. New, intensive 2-3 day training for new employees. We developed new, information-packed training involving all departments, and recorded all sessions. This replaced in-person training at the office.
2. Bolstered our internal portal, Life@Namogoo. We created dedicated pages for all training presentations, and featured additional product and company resources. We wanted to make sure employees had easy access to material, since they weren’t able to just tap someone on the shoulder and ask.
3. Personalized multimedia welcome package. Each new employee gets a welcome package delivered to their home, a welcome email, and a personalized welcome video from their new team.
Welcome to Namogoo!
4. Personalized buddy / mentor program. We had a buddy program pre-COVID, where new employees were matched with a “buddy” to welcome them to the company and serve as a resource for all their newbie questions. With remote work, it was harder to achieve the personal connection between the “buddies.” To help with that, we created a list of 10 questions / conversation starters for the pairs of buddies, introduced them to each other on Slack on the new employee’s first day, and had them meet for coffee (virtual or in-person), Namogoo’s treat. We also sent them a care package to open together during one of their meetings.
Namogoo Buddy “get to know you” questionnaire
5. Replicating the “walking around the office” new employee experience. To connect the new hire to as many employees as possible, we now introduce every new employee at our all-hands meetings and virtual happy hours. We schedule first-day meetings for the new employee with HR, her team, and our office manager. We miss the random hallway introductions and kitchen encounters, but we’re doing the best we can.
Beyond recruiting and onboarding, what other changes or new initiatives did you launch during COVID?
Overall, our challenge is creating a sense of belonging when everyone is remote. Before COVID, Namogoo had three sites—Tel Aviv, New York, and London—and we worked hard to make sure employees all felt like part of the same company. Now, every single person is a site.
We regularly run engagement surveys, and they help us uncover and understand the challenges our team deals with. Things like Zoom fatigue, lack of knowledge about what’s going on at the company, feeling less connected to the pulse of the company. Communication and collaboration suffered, especially across teams.
Back in March or April, we had thought that things would get back to normal within a couple of months. Unfortunately, we now know that this is an ongoing situation, and we’re trying to create new processes and structures to make this work. Our thinking shifted from near- to medium- and long-term and we know remote is here to stay in some way.
We have activities focused on three dimensions: improving communication, taking care of employees, and taking care of the community.
Namogoo’s top initiatives for improving communication during COVID:
- Weekly all-hands and daily team meetings. The weekly all-hands really helped, especially in the US where employees loved it and waited for it all week, and almost everyone attended every week. Later on we reduced the frequency to once every two or three weeks, as there weren’t as many updates.
- Fine-tuning Zoom. We realized Zoom meetings had to be smaller and more focused. In larger meetings like our all-hands, we use the Zoom Breakout Rooms feature with groups of three people, who chat and mingle for ten minutes.
- Cross-team engagement. We started facilitating small cross-team group meetings, to make sure people get exposed to folks outside their immediate teams.
Socially-distanced meetups. In the US, we facilitated small-group, socially-distanced meetups and picnics, full of Namogoo-sponsored goodies.
Namogoo’s top initiatives for taking care of our employees during COVID
- Supporting parents by trying to schedule meetings at convenient times, offering more flexibility, and helping employees and managers understand that sometimes you need to “let go.”
- Supporting employees who live alone and may be experiencing loneliness and boredom. We had talks with external speakers, and sent suggestions for courses and activities.
- Food and drinks always help. We sent many care packages to employee homes: chocolate, cookie baking kits, drinks for virtual happy hours. We sent packages with lots of food to employees who were quarantined.
Bake some cookies!
Just because you’re in self-quarantine, doesn’t mean you’re all by yourself
Namogoo’s initiatives for giving back to the community during COVID
– Together with the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, we created Hopa, a not-for-profit website for connecting performing artists with tech companies or individuals who wanted to book private experiences during COVID.
– Namogoo has always invested in giving back to the communities we operate in through donations and volunteering. We started donating to more organizations, and emphasized supporting small, local businesses with things like buying employee gifts from local suppliers.
Bringing the farmers market to the office
Private lessons with top musicians
Is there anything that happened in the past few months that you consider to be an opportunity or a pleasant surprise with regards to recruiting and onboarding?
Not having a commute is something that many employees appreciate. It creates more focus and reduces stress. But ultimately, we strongly believe in an office environment, and building our culture based on meeting in-person at the office. We believe that nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting.
Fortunately, there are enough tools to bridge the gap, and to build a recruiting story and a candidate journey that are good enough. When we’re back at the office, we’ll definitely continue to use some of the new tools and activities we launched during this period.
What tips / advice do you have for other Israeli / global startups recruiting during COVID?
- Figure out what your strengths and culture are, and lean into them. If you’re good at social media, do more of that. If your recruiting emails are effective, double down there. The bar keeps getting higher, and candidates and employees now consider many things as table stakes. You really need to take things to the extreme to distinguish yourself.
- Realize that there’s no silver bullet or a magic trick. Do the “basics,” but do them well to set yourself apart.
- You can’t just replicate online something that worked well at the office or in-person. It needs to be a different experience, tailored to the strengths and shortcomings of the virtual world. Oftentimes, one thing that worked really well in-person or at the office will need to be replaced by many small virtual actions.
- Last but not least, now more than ever – be nice and respectful. We’re all going through an incredibly rough time. Searching for a job or starting a new one at this time is scary and lonely. Try to help as much as you can.
Lastly, what’s next for Namogoo in terms of recruiting?
We continue to grow and hire across multiple teams and locations. In Israel, we’re hiring software developers, customer success business analysts, product managers, and product marketers. In London, we’re hiring sales people. In the US, we’re hiring in sales and partnerships. All in all, we have about 20 open positions – check them out here.