“Trial? Like a probationary period?”
I had gone through several rounds of interviews, including a two hour video call with 12+ attendees. I thought I had a Knack offer in the bag, so I was surprised when the “employment offer” ended up being an invitation to “trial” with Knack. I had never trialed with a company before. At first take, it seemed like a huge risk. I was asked to engage with Knack on a contract basis for ~2-4 weeks to decide if it was going to be a good long-term fit (AKA if I’d gotten the job). Needless to say, I was hesitant.
“Can I do some take home work instead?” I asked, my risk averse personality shining through.
“We’d really like to get a sense of how you work and collaborate in real-time and a trial is the best way to validate that,” answered our CEO, Brandon. “Plus,” he added, “it’ll give you a chance to feel us out — see if this is a company you could be happy in long-term.”
Skeptical as I was, after a few days of deep consideration, I agreed to the trial. On a bright summer day in June of 2018 I logged into Knack’s systems for the first time, said hello to the crew, and nervously started working my way through the dubious trial process. Two weeks later, I walked out of my trial and into a full-time position with Knack, eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to trial. From the other side, I could see how the trial period at Knack makes total sense.
Fast forward to today: I now help run the trials for each new Knacklehead that comes through our metaphoric door.
As anyone who has ever worked at a company knows, onboarding is hard. Most employees spend their first day being shown around an office, taken out to lunch by the team, then sitting around and waiting to be told what to do. In remote companies, we don’t have the luxury of in-person interaction. We have to be thoughtful about how to properly introduce new members to the team, the company, their work, and, oftentimes, introduce them to the intricacies of remote work for the first time. We have to immerse them in what it means to be a Knacklehead while they type away, secluded in their own home, hundreds of miles away from their new co-workers. Enter the Knack trial process.
Every new hire at Knack goes through the trial process, an approximate 2-4 week period (sometimes longer depending on the role or person) in which we, and the candidate, get to test the Knack employment relationship waters.
We run trials at Knack for a multitude of reasons, the most important ones being:
- Validation of skill sets – can the person actually do the job we want to hire them for?
- Alignment with culture – does this person not only jive with our culture, but can they add to it in a unique way?
- Fit with team – will this person operate well within their specific team? (This does not mean hiring all like-minded people; it often means hiring a diverse set of individuals and assuring they can communicate effectively.)
- Remote work ability – will this person thrive in a remote work environment?
- Two-way validation – after spending some time with us, does this person like the work, the people, the company, and remote work environment? Will they be happy here long-term?
In addition to validating the criteria listed above, we use the trial period to immerse candidates in the Knack environment.
To that end, we kick each trial off with a welcome call. We use the time to discuss:
- Broad company tool use – What tools are everyone across Knack using and how are they using them
- The trial process – A candid discussion about how nerve wracking the trial can be, but assurance that we’ve all been through it, want to see each trial succeed, and are available to help in any way we can
- What it’s like to work at Knack – what a day in the life might look like, plus insights into Knack’s approach to policy and process building and how we broadly communicate
- Work-life optimization – Our spin on work-life balance: the ability to leverage Knack’s flexible scheduling and open PTO policy to optimize one’s day-to-day life
- Knack culture – What cultural values drive work and decision making at Knack
- Tips for acing the trial – Pro-level tip #1: tThe key to a successful trial is constant communication. If you think you’re communicating too much, then you’re probably communicating just enough.
We also provide an ample amount of resources for trialers to dig through as they have time. We make sure they have access to:
- A trial orientation Trello board
- The company handbook
- The product knowledge base
- The company playbook and Guru account
- Full access to Knack’s Slack
After the welcome call, trialers are given some time to accept some system invites, jump into Slack, and get a lay of the land. They’re then sent into another 1:1 meeting where they get a more role specific orientation as well as insight into their trial project(s). After that call, we give trialers space to take autonomy over their work. We’re available along the way to help remove blockers and answer questions, but we generally let trialers take the reins so we can see how they approach the work and engagement with the team.
By the end of the trial period, trialers should have:
- Completed or neared the completion of a project(s)
- Familiarized themselves with how Knack, specifically, approaches work
- Engaged with peers via team meetings, 1:1s, and informal/team building hangout calls
- Explored the company’s resources to learn historical information about product decisions
- Engaged in some of our more rapport building Slack channels
If the trialer is able to commit to a full-time trial, 2-3 weeks is generally all the time we, and the trialer, will need to decide if long-term engagement is going to be a good fit. More often than not an offer of employment is extended, but not always. Although it’s a bummer to part ways with someone we’ve spent several weeks building a relationship with, there are no hard feelings when a trial doesn’t work out. In the long-run, it’s better for both parties if we’ve discovered early on that there wasn’t going to be a good long-term fit. For trials that do result in an offer, we enter the true Knacklehead onboarding phase, already having done most of the work!
Once a Knacklehead has received an official offer for long-term employment, they are generally able to hit the ground running due to the amount of orientation that occurred during the trial period. That said, the onboarding work is not done. The operations team and team leads help each and every Knacklehead make the jump from trial to long-term employment.
We do the standard onboarding things:
- Send the new hire some swag
- Add their bio to the company website
- List their work anniversary and birthday on the team calendar
But, we really try to focus more of our efforts on making sure the new hire has enough company familiarity to have an impact on the team and the product.
Some requirements regarding a new hire’s contributions remain unchanged from their trial. They’ll often continue the work they started during their trial or will begin working on similar tasks or projects. They’ll still be expected to communicate early and often and to engage in Slack in a transparent way. They will, however, also be expected to level up in other areas of their work (as is every member of the Knack team at any given time).
Once a Knacklehead is offered long-term employment, they’ll need to:
- Read the handbook in its entirety, adhere to the policies therein and sign an acknowledgment accordingly
- Think critically about how to truly optimize their work and life in a way that is more enjoyable and sustainable for them (even if it looks different from how others work at Knack) and to work accordingly
- Take more ownership of their work and to drive the direction of their work as a result
- Engage in difficult conversations to improve their work as well as that of their peers in order to drive the product and company forward
Even though the trial period is over and the expectations are high, no new hire goes it alone. Every member of the Knack crew is still available and eager to answer questions, point to resources, and generally lend an ear or helping hand. In fact, those joining the customer success team will be paired with a number of different mentors during the first few months of their time at Knack. Those on the development team will have had an assigned trial buddy that can still be leveraged as a buddy during their first few months of work. Anyone hired to a different team will have a mixed network of support peers to assist with any questions they might have. In addition to having these onboarding support systems, each new hire will still have access to an ample amount of resources that provide in-depth insight into the product, team, and company.
Within a month or two of working at Knack, most folks will have had enough time to settle into the Knacklehead groove. That said, I’d argue that no onboarding is officially complete until a Knacklehead has attended an in-person Knack retreat. (We like to think that we’ve gotten this remote onboarding thing down, but let’s be real, there is nothing like meeting your co-workers face to face for the first time.)
Retreats not only prove to a new Knacklehead that their co-workers are real-life human beings (and not deep fake Slack bots), they also provide an invaluable opportunity for Knackleheads to align focus, get strategic company insight, ask questions and get face-to-face answers, get to know one another, and generally just enjoy each other’s company. I can’t say this is the case for every Knacklehead, but I went from feeling incredibly nervous about engaging in a trial period, to feeling like a true fuchsia Knacklehead by the time I left my first retreat. There is nothing quite like wiping the floor with your co-workers at Trivial Pursuit or cheers-ing Lime-a-Ritas with ~20 of your colleagues at a retreat to make you feel like you’re truly a part of the team. 😉