I could have never imagined this scenario. I resigned from my last job just days before the state of MN implemented their Shelter-in-Place order, shutting down most workplaces. I had three weeks before my new job started. I had to wind down my old job and prepare to begin my new career from home.
The first thing that entered my mind was if my new employer would rescind their offer. I certainly would not have blamed them if they did, as the world is full of uncertainty. Luckily they did not and, in fact, reached out more than once to reassure me.
So as the days passed and my start date neared, my new Mac laptop showed up at my house, along with a headset. I was excited to get it set-up and working before my start date, so I could hit the ground running. As you might have expected, when a new employee onboards, it is common they have access to the corporate network to complete critical set-up activities. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that access, and despite some great assistance, we couldn’t get the computer fully operational until I was able to connect to the corporate network. My new boss was more than happy to meet me at the office on my first official day, so I could get access to the network and get my computer set-up.
While I had the chance to see the offices during the interview process, I never got the full tour. On my first day, my manager gave me a tour, got me to my office and helped me get my computer set to go. The only downside is the offices were gorgeous and had great amenities that I wasn’t able to jump in and enjoy. So it was back to my home office, which honestly felt isolating.
Day two, my calendar was busier, and I started to get engaged with a new team and my peers. I wasn’t sure of the protocol, but in every meeting, I had my computer camera on so I could make a personal connection. The majority of folks also turned on their cameras, and the conversations felt more normal. Between video conferencing, the company messaging platform, and the intranet, I was able to navigate around, although I was still quite lost.
We are all dealing with this remote work situation..
What I missed the most in starting work remotely was being able to pop out from my desk and ask a question. To make those quick connections with my teammates that share my floor and quickly establish rapport with my new boss and team. I had to make a great effort to make these connections and find answers to my questions.
A month into the job, I have learned how to be more self-sufficient faster than I may have otherwise. I am more inclined to reach out and ask for help, picking up the phone to ask a question or firing off a chat message. During meetings, I asked questions and was more willing to comment, as it was the only way I could learn. There was no ability to ask that “dumb” question to a colleague as we walked out of a meeting. In effect, I had to put myself out there more than maybe I usually would have.
I have also found that I have an instant commonality and unique experience to share with my new co-workers. First, we are all dealing with this remote work situation, and second, not many start a new job during a pandemic. It made making connections with others easier. I had to warn my new co-workers that those loud noises they may hear were my dogs barking, or they may see my daughter, wife, or father-in-law in the background. All in all, these work from home perks, humanized who I was.
In hindsight, if you have employees starting with your company remotely here are a few tips you might want to consider:
- Assign a virtual onboarding buddy – Someone who can answer those dumb questions, help navigate administrative tasks, and give insights into cultural norms.
- Work with your infrastructure teams to ensure equipment is set-up, permission, and ready to go when mailed to the employee.
- Share cell phone numbers and be active in texting as a way to do a casual drive-by.
- Schedule a video HH in the first two weeks with the employee’s team to connect.
- Set the precedent that video is on during meetings; when using video format, your screen into a grid view, so you can see all the participants.
- Update your intranet with an onboarding guide that highlights key information sources (company calendars, org charts, administrative tools).
- Re-evaluate your collaboration tools and make sure they are easily accessible from the work computer, mobile phone, and even a home computer. Google Suite and Office 365 have excellent capabilities that can quickly improve collaboration.
This pandemic will eventually pass, and it will leave a permanent mark on our society. We have seen other countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, and China recover from prior outbreaks. Their social norms returned, but personal protection such as face masks and distancing stuck around. I genuinely hope we can get back to a place where we can balance virtual and physical work. I still want to get on a plane and meet my team, customers, and partners. I want to grab lunch or coffee with my peers and have a sense of community at work and home. I also want to be able to work remotely, be it at home so I can be there for my family, get a workout in, or be there for that contractor that needs to come by. I also want to be able to flee Minnesota winters without having to take vacation time, working from a warmer climate when I can. I think all of these things are possible, as this pandemic has taught us that physical presence isn’t necessary to have productive work lives.
Here are some links to perspectives from others
“What it is like to start a new job during a pandemic – Fast Company”
“Virtual Onboarding – Starting a new job in the coronavirus pandemic – Bloomberg”