Starting a New Job — Remotely

21 May 2020 Brijesh Mongia

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Despite the unprecedented numbers of people filing for unemployment, the job market hasn’t come to a complete halt. There are companies who are still hiring and many who were in the process of interviewing when social distancing measures went into effect.

If you’re lucky enough to be starting a job during this time, you face an interesting challenge. You may find yourself starting your new job from home. And the chances are good that your new employer’s onboarding process was not designed for that situation and adapting that process is unlikely to be their top priority during this crisis.

You should always be proactive in getting acclimated to a new role but when you won’t work side-by-side your new colleagues for the foreseeable future, it’s especially imperative that you take an active approach to getting up to speed. Here are five things you can do to fill the gaps and minimize the bumps as you transition into the new job.

Schedule a lot of brief check-ins with colleagues

One of the hardest things about starting with a new company is that each organization has a culture of its own. And that culture is often made up of unspoken goals and norms and is often wrapped up in a unique language that members of your new team have already learned to speak with ease. In my consulting work, I’ve often been baffled by terms that employees regularly use inside companies but have no meaning outside it.

You learn these subtle aspects of the workplace through everyday interactions with colleagues, hearing conversations, and having discussions about what other people are working on. You pick up on workplace jargon and you surmise from these conversations what activities are valued and what styles of work are appreciated.

Under normal circumstances, these interactions are a natural part of being in the office. Now, you’re going to have to manufacture them. Reach out to your new colleagues and set up quick 10- to 15-minute one-on-one discussions. These can be by phone or video and shouldn’t be one-offs. Try to meet with your colleagues regularly to mimic the short, informal interactions you’d have in person. Use these conversations as a chance to ask questions you may have about your current projects, but make sure to ask people what they are working on too so they have a chance to describe their work. Pay attention to any implicit statements about what they think is most important.

Rapidly assemble your mentoring team

Throughout your career, you need a team of people who will mentor you. There are two types of mentors who are particularly important inside your current company. The first is someone who knows how things get done in the firm and who can help you to navigate the variety of procedures that you have to go through to do everything from getting reimbursed for expenses to accessing equipment. The second is a person who is well connected throughout the organization and can introduce you to people you need to know.

Ordinarily, you can afford to develop these relationships slowly. When you start working for a company remotely, though, you want to identify initial candidates to play these roles for you as quickly as possible. You can’t just make your way around the office finding colleagues you know who might point you in the right direction. Instead, your requests are likely to involve emails or queries on Slack, and those responses can be slow. If you put some good mentors in place quickly you make it easier to be productive quickly.

However, don’t feel like you have to commit to having these people as mentors throughout your tenure at the company. The downside to choosing quickly is that you may settle on someone who is available but not the perfect fit. As you get to know the organization better, you may choose to reach out to other people to be your guides. But, having someone early on is better than having nobody.

Announce yourself as new

When you start a job in an office, people tend to notice when they see a new face around. And under normal circumstances, you can expect people to introduce themselves and even offer help.

That is not going to happen when you’re the new person in the virtual office. Ideally, your new manager will introduce you but you’ll likely “meet” many of your new colleagues as one of a sea of faces in a virtual meeting. That means you need to be more explicit about announcing yourself as the new person in the office. If there is a team meeting, see if you can get a moment to introduce yourself. But, also let people know you’re the new person in forums like Slack and by sending some brief emails to other people in your unit. That may be hard if you don’t like to call attention to yourself. But, you want to let folks know that you’re new and that you would appreciate their help in getting settled. Many of your colleagues would like to welcome you, they just need more explicit reminders to do so than they might otherwise.

Ask for help

In the office, colleagues often pick up on a quizzical facial expression or tone of voice and may offer assistance in they think you need it. On video and phone meetings, it’ll be hard for people to see if you are confused or not keeping up. As a rule, when there is something you need, say so.

You might be worried that your colleagues won’t want to help. After all, everyone has a lot already going on. Quite a bit of research by Vanessa Bohns and her colleagues suggests that people are often much more willing to help than you believe they will be. So, don’t wait for offers of assistance. Ask for what you need.

Keep a daily diary

When you’re in the office, it’s easy to take care of problems as they arise. You can often just get up from your desk and find someone to help you solve it. When you’re working at home, if you dash off an email or a note on Slack asking for an answer, your request may get lost in the noise. And if it’s a small issue, you may even forget to follow up.

So end each day by going back through your schedule and making some notes about how things went. Write down the tasks you accomplished and also the obstacles you faced. If there are particular issues that are still unresolved, highlight them. Then when you have your next meeting with a supervisor or colleague, raise those issues and ask for their perspective.

Your memory for what happens each day is strongest around things that are compatible with your general script about how work is supposed to go. That means that you are least likely to remember the novel aspects of your new workplace — which are precisely the elements that you need the most help with. Writing down the events of your day while they are still fresh in your mind is a great way to overcome this bias.

It’s never easy being the new person on a team and the current situation certainly makes it tougher. But by being proactive you can more smoothly acclimate to the new team and organization and prove your value more quickly.