Five tips for starting a new job in a pandemic
Everyone experiences a gamut of emotions when they start a new job. It’s only natural. There’s usually excitement, nervousness and anticipation, all rolled into a ball (usually sitting in the pit of your stomach) in the lead-up to your first day.
However, until now, the challenges most people faced on the first day have been pretty consistent. Finding a parking space, or navigating your route from the train station. Being met with a new security system (that you don’t yet have the fob to wave at), shaking a range of hands, learning (and instantly forgetting) many names, and finding the desk/cubicle/hammock (it happens) that will become your work home for the foreseeable future.
How things have changed. If you are starting a job right now, in the wake of a global pandemic, you can expect a quite different experience. To start, we’re all dressing from the waist up (don’t tell anyone), brushing our hair at the front and generally preening only what’s visible to our webcam. Then, after adjusting our angle (and background) several times, we’re ready to dive, headfirst into a video call, and our introduction to our new colleagues.
Welcome – if you’re starting a new job in this crazy, uncertain time, you’re not alone. And if you’re feeling a bit lost in the sea of uncertainty, fear not. We’ve got five tips to help you navigate the way:
1. Patience is a virtue.
Remember, it takes time to get used to a new job and new colleagues under normal circumstances. The same is true – even if you are not actually physically moving from your home office/bedroom. Whether in person, or on Zoom and Slack, you still put pressure on yourself to succeed. You still want to dive in and get a few wins on the board. Hit the ground running and impress everyone with your skills, wit and charm. But be patient. There’s an inevitable extra layer of learning that comes with having to master everything from in front of a laptop camera. It will slow down the whole experience. It will make team meetings more challenging, new routines taxing. This all means that these wins may take a little bit longer. And that’s okay.
Don’t forget, you’re not the only one new to this way of working. Your managers, your colleagues, your clients – are likely all still acclimatising to remote working. If moving into the future were an exact science that we could all instantly pick up, we’d be flying around in hover cars right now (or something like that). We’re dealing with unprecedented changes in both our personal and professional lives, and some are having an easier time than others in making it work. So, take it easy.
On top of being kind to yourself, remember to be kind to your colleagues. It can be easy to make assumptions about others behaviour (a common phenomenon called fundamental attribution error) when you are communicating through text and video. This means we rationalise our own behaviour (understand what we think, mean and say) but we are harsh when judging others (we can often misinterpret a 20 word Slack notification). Being mindful of this tendency will help us to be more patient when we are working remotely – and will be good for us all when we eventually get back into the office.
2. Communication is key.
The old adage “there’s no such thing as a dumb question” should be extended to incorporate “especially when you start a new job in the midst of COVID-19”. Hopefully, you’re joining a company culture where they embrace curiosity and value open communication. Even if you’re not, whoever has been tasked to onboard you will almost certainly be a helpful soul.
In contrast to a normal office environment, remote work has erected a small barrier when it comes to getting your questions answered. When you’re sitting in an office, it’s much easier to tap on someone’s shoulder and ask “How do you do this?” or “What do you think of this”. When working remotely it takes more of an effort to arrange a Zoom call to ask a small question.
Our answer to this conundrum? Compile a small list of questions. It will have three main benefits:
- It will make things easier for you – as you won’t be making numerous calls.
- It’s also more efficient and less disruptive to other people’s flow.
- It will force you to consider your problems at a deeper level. Instead of thinking of more questions later after your call has ended, you’ll have already asked them in the first instance.
As a side note, you might find these techniques useful for minimising disruptions in your collaborative work going forward. Plus, these little check-ins will also give you a chance to…
3. Bring the water cooler.
Casual conversations and small talk are an important tool for learning who your workmates are, both as colleagues and people. It’s the pigment that you use to paint a picture of these new people in your life. Without it, it’s quite easy for them to look like that paint by numbers canvas someone gifted you last Christmas that you never found the time to finish.
It’s a really sad fact, but remote work has caused random incidental contact to plunge. When you work remotely, you don’t bump into a teammate in the corridor, or find yourself walking to the local café together. The opportunity for a casual chat, therefore, has diminished considerably.
This means you might have to work a little harder, to find ways to connect with your new colleagues, and it doesn’t always come naturally. It takes a bit of deliberate action to create those opportunities in video conferencing, slack and emails. But trust us, it’s worth it.
Lean into the time spent waiting for other people to join a call and use it as a chance for idle chatter. Be curious, ask lots of questions, and you might be surprised what you learn. If you find small talk difficult anyway, then prepare yourself with a few prompts in advance. If prattling about the weather grows tiresome, maybe ask about something in their Zoom background or throw in a random hypothetical question like: would you rather 10% COVID for 10 days, or 100% COVID for 1 day? The results will enlighten you – and no doubt lift the mood of the meeting that follows.
4. Be prepared for a set back.
There are plenty of articles discussing the fact that Zoom calls are quite different from in person interactions. It’s more taxing on your brain, mainly because you lose fidelity on the signals we rely on to communicate effectively.
The flip side of this is, once you finally get the opportunity to meet these recurring flashing clusters of pixels in person, you will need to prepare for sensory overload. Where you have been laughing and joking on screen, there is often an awkward step back in how comfortable you feel around these people in person. It’s the opposite of catching up with an old friend after an extended hiatus.
No doubt, you’ll be acutely aware of how different the physical embodiment of your co-workers feels, in comparison to the person you’ve been constructing in your head from the endless hours of video calls. That’s okay! There’s not really anything you can do about this except be prepared for it and accept that it’s going to happen.
5. Lunch time.
We know you have probably been talking to your new co-workers on Zoom for half the day but it’s really important to get to know your new team mates in a less structured work environment.
Having a Zoom lunch once a week is a great way to break the ice. It’s easy to talk about COVID-19 or work issues, but try and use the opportunity to talk about your respective interests. This will help build and grow relationships with your colleagues.
Our mental health depends on human interaction and conversation with other people, so reach out to someone you haven’t quite gotten to know yet. Treat it like a real world lunch! Have your food and drink ready. Use a comparison between your limp cheese sandwich and their elaborate quinoa salad as an ice breaker. This will allow for much better, open communication with your team mates and boost everyone’s creativity and productivity.
Ultimately, it’s not easy starting a new job from your living room – but most employers understand the hurdles you are facing. They’ve already implemented and probably brainstormed ways to mitigate the frustrations that come with remote working. So our best advice is, just go with the flow, be flexible and, like every new job, you will eventually get the hang of it and feel like a pro. It just might take a little longer.
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