Remote onboarding: starting a new job from your living room

Apr 21, 2020

5 mins

Remote onboarding: starting a new job from your living room
Madeleine Crean


When Boris Johnson advised the nation to work from home whenever possible to stop the spread of Covid-19, millions of workers abandoned offices for their living rooms and all of our face-to-face interactions turned virtual. But that doesn’t mean that people are not starting new jobs.

Imagine your first day on the job taking place in your living room. This isn’t your average onboarding experience: instead of walking into a new office, with a mixture of nerves and excitement in your belly, you’ll be perched on your sofa, juggling introductory Zoom calls and emails. So while this new experience of remote onboarding may be daunting, there are ways you can make the very best of it.

1. Get to know your colleagues

It can be strange interacting with a bunch of people you’ve never met day after day. Start off by sending an introductory email to your new colleagues to let them know you’ll be joining their virtual office. Be sure to follow up with those you’ll be working closely with: organize formal introductions through video chat, familiarise them with your skills and expertise, and get to grips with how the company is adjusting to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Although it’s more than tempting to roll up to your laptop in your pajamas, first impressions still count. You may want to make sure the background to your video calls is clean and tidy, and tend to a little personal grooming. Sara, who just started a job at a think tank, said that she found it more productive not to sink too far into the comforts of home. “It’s helpful to try to detach your workspace from your personal space as much as possible. That means trying to put myself into work clothes, change out of my pajamas, and set myself up at the kitchen table,” she said. “I’m trying to redefine my space. To recreate the division between workspace and personal space.”

Productivity at work isn’t all about the formalities. Take some time to do informal after-works to get to know your new colleagues more personally. Julia Wright, a sales assistant in financial research, said that this really helped her to integrate at her new workplace. “On the first Friday, the team had a happy hour Zoom call. I realized afterward it wasn’t a regular occurrence, it was really to introduce me to the team, which I appreciated… It was nice that even in this time of isolation there were clear efforts made to make me feel part of the team.”

Recreate the after-work pub experience over Zoom with a cocktail hour or try your luck with Houseparty’s interactive games. If you have an activity behind your video chat it will help break the ice so you can get to know each other.

2. Be patient

When you start a new job, you’re usually eager to ask questions and get to work. You haven’t yet found your place in the office and you need direction to get into the work pace. Starting a new job in lockdown can work against that instinct: your new workplace is likely to be struggling to get its ducks in a row and might not have tasks lined up for you immediately.

Resist the urge to feel guilty. Wright recommends that you put things in context, and realize you may need to adjust to a slower pace in the beginning. “IT departments all over the world are struggling to get people set up, so don’t be pushy, especially if you’re new,” she said. “No one expects the new guy, especially in these times, to hit the ground running. Everyone is adjusting. There are growing pains.”

3. Make sure your colleagues know your skill-set

You may have landed the job, but your new colleagues probably don’t know the full scope of your abilities. If you notice co-workers discussing an issue you think you can take on, put yourself out there. Kathy Rammage, vice president of human resources at an international consulting company, said that as a new employee, you might have an edge. “Keep in mind that as a newcomer to the organization, you’re in a unique position to see things with fresh eyes. You might be able to offer suggestions for improvement,” she said.

Don’t be afraid of being wrong, you might just have a brilliant solution nobody else has been able to come up with. Even if you don’t, you took the initiative and it will reflect well on you.

4. Have a workspace set up

Before you start your new job, get a workspace organized at home. Whether it’s your kitchen table or a desk in your bedroom, a quiet place where you feel comfortable is important to keep you productive.

Ask your company if you can get all the equipment you need to be sent to your doorstep before you start if possible. If you can’t, talk to your employer about how you can set up with whatever technology you have available at home. Wright had to wait a month for her monitor and laptop to arrive, but her company was able to help her in the meantime. “My manager went through all my available tech before putting me in touch with an IT whizz who was able to set up work apps on my phone and iPad, so I had the basics to train,” she said.

It might be tricky at first, but your employer should understand, and you’ll get through it.

5. Get an idea of the office rhythm

Your new company is likely to have a system for keeping in touch. Make sure you familiarise yourself with the schedule so you know when big meetings are happening . It can be easy to miss them if you’re not paying attention. Keep a note by your side so you don’t forget.

Make sure that you have access to all the means of communication and project management—Slack, Zoom, Trello, Google Hangouts, Monday etc.—used at your company. This is important, not only to start your work smoothly but also to establish your presence amongst your colleagues.

6. Let your employer take the lead, but be proactive

There are ways to show what you’re made of, even as your company acclimatizes to the new normal. Try to engage and show your resourcefulness whenever you can.

Rammage said, “It is probably not going to be the easiest or most typical onboarding that you and your new employer have ever had, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be positive. It’s important for a new employees to demonstrate proactivity and resourcefulness whenever they begin a job. Now is no different—in fact, it’s even more important. Do what you can to get yourself up to speed on any projects, client files, or internal processes. Put your hand up whenever you can: perhaps that means providing a second set of eyes on work already completed to check for quality or maybe it means offering to create a first draft of something to save your teammate time during what is surely a busy period for them.”

7. Be time sensitive

In an office environment, it’s easy to pop over to a colleague’s desk to ask a question, but over email and messenger, it isn’t quite as simple. Being a new employee means you will have plenty of queries, but try to be efficient in how to find the answers. Make a list so you can ask about all your queries in one email instead of five. Set up a weekly chat with your manager, dedicated to all queries that you have. Be patient: everyone is adjusting to working from home, and it might take a little time for colleagues to get back to you.

8. Be kind to yourself

Everyone makes mistakes when they start a new job, it’s normal. To add to that rookie pressure, we are dealing with unprecedented changes in our professional and personal lives. You will make mistakes, things might be harder to learn and get accustomed to, but don’t let that get you down. Nobody is expecting you to go in, guns blazing, solving every problem in sight. Sara said that given these exceptional circumstances, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. “I’ve told myself, I’ll probably be asking a lot more questions than usual because there are so many things you can’t observe first-hand. The fact that there are strange circumstances justifies that I may have to ask a lot of things.” Don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, we are all learning and adjusting together during the lockdown.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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