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Better Commerce, Better World: Virtual Recruitment and Onboarding

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At Diff, we understand the impact of commerce on people’s lives and the planet. That’s why our agency’s values revolve around the phrase: better commerce, better world. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the meaning of this phrase demonstrated in the ways that online commerce, and the people behind it, have quickly evolved amid a changing retail landscape.

In this series, we’re chatting with Diff’s leadership team to learn how Diff is helping to better the world through commerce. In each blog post, we ask one of our thought leaders about the innovations they are observing in retail, and current trends. Previously, we interviewed Diff’s Production Director Adrian Gagiu to learn his insights on technology: AR, VR, and future commerce predictions.  

Audrey-Maude Côté is Diff’s Human Resources Manager. On March 12, Audrey helped in making the decision to send all of Diff Agency’s staff home. With the COVID-19 pandemic quickly worsening, Differs were told to work from home until further notice. Now, many months later, Diff’s employees continue to work remotely. 

We interviewed Audrey to learn about how her role, and the recruitment process, has evolved since the shift to working from home. Read on to discover how Diff has embraced a virtual recruitment and onboarding process!

Audrey on a trip to Jaipur, India in January 2019.

Tell us about your role at Diff. What does a typical day look like for you, and what do you love most about your role? 

We are a small HR team, so as the manager, I touch all aspects of human resources. I touch everything from immigration processes to performance. Because my role involves every department at Diff, every workday is different for me.  

Typically, my day will be governed by whatever is the current priority. For example, we have a lot of open roles to fill on the Systems Integration team. So, l spent much of last week putting my energy toward supporting our Recruiter, M.P. This week, my focus is on updating our performance management practices, so that they align better with the growth of the company.

My favorite part of my job is how collaborative and cross-functional it is. I get to interact with different people from different departments, which gives me insight about all aspects of Diff. I know a bit about marketing, and I know about design, and I know about our development work. It’s fascinating to observe how all of our teams work and interconnect. 

Tell us about your relationship with ecommerce. Was it always an interest for you?  

My first exposure to retail was in my first HR job, which was a role at a retail company. When I applied to Diff, I wasn’t specifically seeking a role at an ecommerce company. But as I went through the interview process, I could feel the passion that everyone at Diff has for this industry. I was further attracted to the people, and the culture of the company. 

Now, having been at Diff for a few years, my relationship with online shopping has evolved. I now understand all of the work, creativity, and collaboration that goes into building an ecommerce store. Knowing that, I feel I have much more appreciation for ecommerce. And since the start of the pandemic, that appreciation has grown even more, because I rely on ecommerce to do all my shopping.

How does the phrase better commerce, better world relate to the experience of Diff employees?

The meaning and relevance of this phrase has become even more clear since the start of the pandemic. Since lockdown, ecommerce has been essential in many different ways. It’s ensured that people can access things they need from home – like groceries, for example. 

Because our staff at Diff are “behind the screens,” the positive impact their work has isn’t always obvious. At the start of the pandemic, many Differs worked extra hours to help some of our clients adjust to suddenly selling online only. And, many of our Differs teamed up to help local businesses in Montreal get online fast. Our staff were able to help many businesses survive by helping them in the way that only we can. This volunteer work especially supports the vision of a better world through commerce. 

A seamless online shopping experience is the result of the dedication and collaboration of many people behind the scenes (or screens!). How does your team approach hiring in a way that ensures new hires fit into Diff’s established work culture?

Our approach to hiring is very collaborative, and it’s focused on ensuring new hires are a good culture fit, and a good technical fit. With every candidate, we are looking for signs that they are collaborative, open minded, creative, and passionate about technology. We do ask developmental questions, but we also just observe how a potential hire gets along with our existing employees.  

We involve many people from across Diff’s departments in the recruitment process. This is important because by introducing potential hires to various Differs, we can get a sense of how the potential hire communicates and interacts. This approach gives us an opportunity to see what they know or understand already about ecommerce. And, we can hear from Differs whether or not they feel the potential hire would fit well in their team and processes.  

What are some of the strategies that your team uses to find the right people for the roles we need to fill?  

Our favorite strategies are referrals, and leveraging LinkedIn. We find that referrals are often successful because if an existing employee recommends a potential recruit, there’s a good chance that the recruit will be a good culture fit. We also find that LinkedIn’s HR tools are effective for reaching new candidates. We use LinkedIn to post available roles, and to initially connect with candidates.

We also like to experiment with new strategies. For example, we’ve experimented with using Diff’s social media platforms to let our audience know we are hiring. More recently, we’ve leveraged AngelList, which focuses on candidates interested in tech start-ups or fast-growing companies. And, we’ve done promotion at universities to let new graduates know they can apply to Diff. 

What values do you look for in new hires, and why are these specific values important?

We actually have found that our company values have organically emerged. With Diff rapidly growing, we decided it would make sense to name these organic values. It’s important to identify them because values are an inherent aspect of our identities. All of us, as people, have values. It’s natural to highlight the values we hold not just as a company, but as a community, because it creates an opportunity for everyone at Diff to relate to each other. 

Our values are respect, collaboration, accountability, excellence, and creativity. These values indicate how we express ourselves, how we relate to each other, and how we treat both our clients, and each other. Our work is fast paced and client oriented, so accountability is especially important. Everyone at Diff is accountable for their work. We follow up on projects, say when we’ve made an error, and we are comfortable asking each other for help and guidance. 

Since the pandemic, workplace culture has changed immensely. We’ve chatted with you previously about how your team is building a positive company culture while working remote. How has the recruitment process changed to reflect this shifted culture?

With the switch to remote work, our company culture definitely shifted, and all of our hiring processes had to be adapted to be remote, too. The main change was the shift to conducting interviews over video calls instead of in person. There’s been some benefits to relying on video. It’s easier to facilitate meetings between candidates and Differs when we don’t need to ask candidates to commute to the office. And for candidates that are taking interviews while employed elsewhere, it’s much simpler for them to factor in a video interview during the work day than a trip to an office. 

But of course, video interviews lack the human to human element. When candidates came to the office, they were able to experience and see Diff’s culture in real life. It’s much harder to convey our culture over a video call. To help with this, we’re now having candidates meet with many different people over video. This helps to expose them to the culture a bit more. 

The hardest part of virtual recruitment has been onboarding. We had to adapt the way that we ship equipment and swag to new hires. And, we need to carefully plan their first few weeks at Diff to ensure they have everything they need. In the physical office, a lot of the onboarding process happened naturally. New hires would meet other Differs in the kitchen or in the common areas, and they would be able to pop into the HR office if ever they needed anything.  

Now, our onboarding process is very carefully planned. We book multiple video syncs with new staff throughout their first and second week to make sure they are meeting different people and teams. HR regularly syncs with them to check in on their experience so far, and to make sure they have everything they need. We’re now working on more training modules that will help new hires learn about the company and it’s different departments.

We are probably overcommunicating a little bit in our virtual onboarding, but we think it is better to over communicate than to leave a new hire wondering. It can be stressful for a new staff member to not have that face to face conversation and assurance at the start of a new job. So, we’re trying to actively predict the needs and wants of our new hires. Onboarding has definitely become more work intensive, but we’ve received positive feedback about our virtual approach to recruitment.

Do you think remote hiring is a sustainable approach to recruitment? Will it become the norm, post-pandemic?

I think remote recruitment is here to stay. Even before the pandemic, virtual recruitment was becoming more commonplace. I think that’s because there are real benefits to it. The process can move much faster where a candidate doesn’t need to commute to the office for multiple interviews. And, remote work opens up the possibility to recruit candidates in other cities. I always thought that virtual recruitment would be very challenging, but since being thrown into it, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how effective it can be.  

Are there any plans for new HR practices at Diff? 

The last time you and I talked, we were just a few weeks into the shift to remote work. We spent those first few weeks focusing on making sure all our Differs had all of the equipment and support that they needed to work at home. During that time, we learned how important it is to foster community even when we aren’t together in the office. It’s a challenge to foster community virtually, but it can be done! 

Now, we’re focusing more on “remote perks” for our employees, to replace the in-office perks that we had. For example, we will likely be sending more surprise deliveries to our staff in the coming months! We are exploring ways that we can reward and recognize our employees despite working from home. It’s difficult to find ways to acknowledge our staff’s achievements without that face to face time, but we’re determined to find a way – I’ll share updates soon!

We’re always looking for smart, curious, and driven people to join our team. Have a look at our job openings, and if you see one that you like, send your application our way. You can see all the roles we are currently hiring for, right here.

Read more about Diff's culture: Better Culture, Better World: Technology, AR and VR

How We're Building a Positive Company Culture While Working From Home

This article originally appeared by our friends at Diff Agency.

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