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Lightning Talks as a Way to Adapt New-Hires and Build a Sense of Belonging Online

Published: Monday, June 21, 2021
Updated: Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Adaptation of junior software engineers who get hired by a big IT organization to join accelerated technical career programs and spend all their onboarding time in intensive bootcamp study has always been a challenge. But at the pandemic time with all the onboarding activities and on-the-job bootcamps happening online it became an endeavor way more serious. Previously the new hires had friendly office tours, welcoming parties, could visit office events or meet their colleagues near the coffee machine and make friends. This part of juniors’ adaptation was hit the most when everything moved online and organizations started working – and hiring – from home. Technologies and digital tools can help you organize interactive online onboarding activities of all kinds and stripes, but you can’t underestimate the human touch that helps build trust and relationships, make adaptation smooth and enjoyable, and develop a sense of belonging which is a fundamental human need.

At EPAM Systems, APAC, we faced online adaptation challenge when we were moving online our intensive Emerging Engineers Academy – an accelerated in-house training program for junior engineers with no or little previous IT work experience (read more EPAM’s Inaugural Emerging Engineers Academy Program in Singapore). Developing a sense of belonging for this group of new joiners has always been crucial because it not only enables them to feel included and supported, but also helps them thrive and achieve more in the training program. With that in mind we set a goal to imitate the new joiners’ pre-pandemic adaptation experience that had always been happening naturally in traditional face-to-face EPAM office environments, but this time in a new online context.

The most important thing that helps our new hires develop a sense of professional and social belonging is their ability to meet colleagues in informal situations, talk to them, and feel that their colleagues are not simply passing by, they are here to support and show that they care. The solution that helped us ‘imitate’ the face-to-face interactions in the online format was a series of informal daily stand-up-meeting-like Lightning Talks delivered by the new joiners’ colleagues from different EPAM offices, levels, roles and functions on a variety of topics from engineering excellence to hobbies of our senior executives. The Talks were delivered specifically for the Emerging Engineers Academy students, which made them very student-centric and empowering.

Lightning Talks Example screen captures Lightning Talks poster used to invite speakers for the upcoming Emerging Designers and Emerging Engineers Academies.

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The Talks covered a wide range of areas: clean code, technologies and platforms, corporate social responsibility, mindfulness, agile culture, to name a few, but as the students say the topic was the last thing that mattered, the most important takeaway was the sense of belonging they developed to the organization as a whole, to their project team, and to the bigger EPAM APAC family.

As Chau Tran, Junior Software Engineer and one of the EEA students puts it, “I really enjoyed LTs. I did feel part of the team and got to know more about other people’ works and hobbies around APAC.” It was also eye opening and good learning experience because “I got to hear different stories and different ways people do their jobs and enjoy lives. For example, I was really impressed with the one about UI/UX design because it gives me a different perspective other than the developer's one about how final product is delivered. They not only helped me to widen my horizon but also made me feel like reflecting about my job and my life.”

Lightning Talks proved to be beneficial for the speakers, too. They feel included in our ambitious Emerging Academies project and they feel their contribution to the common endeavor really matters. Besides, the Talks have become a safe space for our employees to practice their presenting skills in a challenging Ignite format which allowed them to refine their strongest points, polish communicative styles to say less, but remain convincing and up-to-the point.

Vignesh Durairaj, Senior Software Engineer and a regular LTs speaker, says that "preparing for a 'Lightning talk' is different from those for longer talks … As a presenter I improved myself on how to deliver my message in a shorter period of time and to make my small-talks more concise but efficient. Imagine how much time can be saved when the talks are short and simple instead of an elaborate story telling."

It’s very rewarding to observe that both the speakers and the participants believe that the Talks make a big impact on the sense of belonging and amplify our ‘act as a team mindset’ which positively transforms the whole employee onboarding experience. 

Our next challenge is to scale Lightning Talks to other groups of new joiners and possibly to integrate them in the onboarding program because they should have a similar effect even on more experienced engineers who have worked in the industry for quite a while and who feel less insecure in a new corporate environment. Belonging, inclusion and human touch are integral parts of our psychological wellbeing and we believe in bright future and even bigger impact of Lightning Talks on the level of the organization, as well as bigger communities.

1 Comment
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I am consulting with a client on this same topic for onboarding remote new hire Scientists. My goal is to Welcome the newly hired scientists into the corporate community with 'happy hour' style get to know sessions.
Appreciate the post!
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