6 tips for starting a new job remotely

6 tips for starting a new job remotely

Though restrictions are lifting, many of us will be working remotely for a while yet — which means starting a new job has fundamentally changed. Here are six ways to make the process smoother.

As restrictions lift and the Canada’s vaccination rate continues its upward trend, there’s new optimism that the economic recovery has (slowly) started. The tech sector is helping drive that recovery — companies like Shopify, League and OpenText are all hiring.

But that means a new cohort of workers is about to start work remotely, something many of us have never done before. And honestly? It can get a little weird. Prepare yourself for Zoom exhaustion, communication challenges and getting to know your colleagues in whole new ways. Here’s what you need to know about starting a new gig while working from home.

Practise active listening

A good manager will make sure their HR system is remote-friendly, so you can easily do everything from signing contracts to filling out tax forms to getting set up on email and all the relevant software from home. But even the most comprehensive onboarding plan can’t cover everything there is to know about company culture. Serena Nguyen director, people experience and strategy at MaRS Discovery District, says the solution is simple: active listening.

That means you’re not just paying attention to what speakers are saying, you’re also observing their body language — and even the body language of everyone else on the Zoom call.

“You want to pay attention to the little nuances in your Zoom meetings,” Nguyen says. “It’s really hard to when you’re in back-to-back-to-back calls. But when you’re present and actively listening, you can actually learn a lot about the team dynamics, the project dynamics, the individual dynamics. It’s a great way to ramp up how quickly you get to know a company and culture.”

And she knows what she’s talking about — she started her role at MaRS during the pandemic. (To deal with Zoom fatigue, she’d block off chunks of time in her calendar to limit meetings to three a day.)

Be intentional about building relationships

In your first weeks on the job, your manager should introduce you to the co-workers you need to know. But it’s your responsibility to build those relationships.

It’s a lot easier in an office setting, where you can grab a coffee or chat in the hallways, but it’s still doable when working remotely. Nguyen recommends participating in your organization’s social Slack channels for organic socializing — and to book additional check-in meetings. “I’ll be 100 percent frank: it’s not easy,” she says. “But the reality is, going to subsequent meetings is where you can actually build a deeper connection.”

Be open with your manager

“Out of sight, out of mind” can be a real concern, especially for new employees. But clear, regular communication with your manager can not only help your manager understand what you’re doing on a daily basis, but it can also help them understand what you’re capable of — and when you’re going above and beyond.

As they were adapting to remote onboarding at the beginning of the pandemic, the team at Drop Technologies quickly realized that managers were the key to facilitating that openness, according to Alisa Antinozzi, the company’s people and culture manager.

“Sometimes, performance reviews only happen every six months or so, so it’s really important to have that open dialogue of ‘here’s where I want to be,’ or ‘here’s what I want to take on,’ or ‘I have more time, so I would really love to be involved in this project,’” she says.

But they didn’t place the onus on new employees; instead, they asked managers to take more of an active role in employee onboarding than they normally would, and offered additional training and coaching to make sure they had the support they needed, too.

Pick up the phone (sometimes)

Collaborating while working from home can be a challenge — but Antinozzi has a surprisingly simple solution to endless email chains: “One of our rules we implemented is, if you’re going back and forth several times, just pick up the phone,” she says. And it really works. While younger employees famously prefer email, Slack or really any other form of communication, a quick call can be far more efficient, and it’s a nice way to connect with co-workers.

Be a joiner

It may feel a little weird to log into a video chat to eat lunch with your co-workers or to take time out of your evening for a virtual happy hour, but Antinozzi says those events are actually a really good way to build a sense of community, whether you’re the newbie on the team or not. “We know the importance of feeling like you’re in the office and still connected to everyone,” she says. The company has optional lunchtime Zoom meet-ups booked in everyone’s calendar, they’ve planned trivia nights and game nights, and they’ve even encouraged employees to bring their hobbies to work. “We started master classes led by employees who feel like they’re a master in their field. We’ve been baking on camera together, doing yoga, meditation — anything that someone wants to lead, we encourage them to do that.”

Cut yourself some slack

Anyone who has started a new job knows it can take time to settle in, and that’s definitely the case when you’re starting a new job from home. But Nguyen says the same rule applies in both scenarios: give it time. “You need to recognize you won’t have it figured out within the first week or two weeks, or even months,” she says. “To really understand an organization and get a full grasp of the culture, you’re usually looking at three to six months. You need to give it time.”

And remember it’s still a pandemic, so your productivity might have taken a dip — and that’s okay. “I think the biggest thing that people struggle with is they feel like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t really productive today. I couldn’t get anything done,’” Antinozzi says. “I’ve had a lot of people who beat themselves up about that. And my question is okay, but did you wake up and kill it the next day? Were you more motivated? Sometimes it’s okay to take a step back. We’re going to go through waves in this pandemic, and it’s better to just be honest with yourself, and with your manager.”

This story was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated.

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