Like many young people looking for their first break into the job market, the future felt pretty bleak for me three months ago. My days and weeks of applying to jobs felt never-ending. There weren’t enough companies hiring, the number of people applying for jobs was off the scale which meant competition was no longer fierce, but impossible. I was torn between applying to as many jobs as possible across the UK to kickstart my career, to applying to local part-time work just to earn some money, to looking at potential postgraduate study and training courses. With my plans out the window, I was no longer sure exactly what I wanted to do, but knowing I needed to do something. My days lacked purpose and without it, I felt lost. To anyone reading this who finds themselves in this position, please know you are not alone and you’re doing amazingly well under the circumstances.
To those of you, like me, who have been fortunate enough to find work and now face the challenge of starting a new job remotely, this blog is for you. Since starting my current job as a Digital Content Coordinator eight weeks ago I have undergone the whole process remotely. This includes everything from the interview process, to meeting my colleagues to being trained on the company’s many systems; all without meeting a single soul in the flesh. Whilst this is very strange, I think it’s also kind of amazing? This isn’t something that would have been possible twenty years ago – after all Skype was only introduced back in 2003. But this also goes to show how new this working-from-home thing is. It’s a situation that office workers have been forced into very suddenly, not one that’s been chosen.
This gives those of us who are starting a new job in this environment very little to go off. What films have you seen where the main character rolls out of bed, strolls downstairs and start their very first day at their big new job from their living room? It’s an unheard of, never-seen-before phenomenon. There’s no commute to work, meeting someone at reception, shaking hands with your manager or being shown to your desk. In other words, there’s no handbook to starting a job remotely during a pandemic – until now. Speaking from my own experience I’m going to share my tips and advice on starting a new job remotely and how to get the most out of it.
Create a workspace:
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should do your work from your bed or the sofa. Whilst we’re not all privileged enough to own a home office or even a desk, making sure you have an area you can dedicate to your job is vital when working from home. Ideally, this will be a space where you have a flat surface to work on and a comfortable chair to sit in. Not only will this help your productivity and concentration, it will also help to separate the two spheres of home and work that have suddenly become closer than ever. A few tools and accessories you might want to consider investing in are:
• A desk lamp
• Good quality headphones
• A comfortable seat cushion
• Desk organiser
• Wireless mouse
It’s also worth checking with your employer to see if these are things they could provide you with or potentially reimburse you for.
Communication is important in any job, whether at home or not, but starting a job remotely and trying to build those important work relationships across video chat makes good, clear communication a necessity. Since starting my job, I have used Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet to connect and discuss work with my new colleagues. Despite the quality of these applications, their reliability can still come under question when different devices are being used, along with different WIFI networks. You should therefore prepare yourself for the odd audio or freezing issue. These happen to the best of us and should therefore not be dwelled upon. Remain calm and attentive in these calls and most importantly, don’t be afraid to speak up. When you’re talking to someone face-to-face in real-time, awkward pauses and sound issues aren’t really a thing, because you have someone’s facial expressions and body language to respond to as well as what they’re saying. Whereas over video chat, you have to be a lot more attentive to these signs, like when someone’s about to speak and when they are giving you the chance to share input. This can be tricky, as speaking too soon means you end up talking over each other, and leaving it too late risks them moving onto another subject. That’s why, from my experience, I find it best to be direct and confident when speaking. When you know what you want to say and you see an opportunity to speak, don’t hesitate, take it and run with it. Equally, don’t be shy in saying some of the following:
• “Sorry, could you repeat that last point”
• “Going back to what you mentioned earlier…”
• “Could you please clarify what you meant by:”
• “So, to recap…”
I also find myself needing to give more responses over video chat. Due to screen sharing and multiple people on one call, the person speaking needs verbal clarity to know if they’re being heard. In-person, a head nod might do, but over video it’s safer to respond with a “yes”, “okay”, “sounds great” more often than not. Whilst you might not feel it’s necessary, they will definitely appreciate it and make them feel as if they’re not just speaking to their laptop.
Following swiftly on from my last point, I strongly encourage you to attend these calls with your camera on. This best replicates the real world and means your colleagues can put a face to a name. Wouldn’t it be strange meeting and speaking to someone in real life who had a bag over their head? It hinders communication and rapport and makes for a bad first impression. So, be brave and turn your camera on when you have these calls, you can always change your background via the app if you want to. This is the closest you can get to meeting your colleagues in person, so it’s imperative that you appear open and engaged. It also assures them that they have your complete attention, and you’re not doing anything else on the side. After all, they’re giving up their time to speak to you, so the least you can do is return the favour. If you wouldn’t do in person, then don’t do it virtually.
Starting a new job remotely during a pandemic might be new for you, but don’t forget it’s also new for your employer. Their usual methods of training and introductions have gone out the window and instead they are attempting to accommodate someone they’ve never met, in an environment they have no context of. Because of this, steps may be missed when introducing you to your role or systems of work. Don’t be scared therefore to ask for clarity if you feel something has been missed or you’re not sure how something works. Asking questions is the best and quickest way to learn and if anything, will probably act as a friendly reminder to something they were going to take you through anyway. Questions also means interest and a willingness to perform your job well! So never feel ashamed in this!
Say yes (to everything)
Getting to know your colleagues is a lot harder when you’re not sitting next to them every day or passing by them at the coffee machine or cafeteria. That’s why it’s all the more important to seize any virtual social occasions that may arise. Say yes to one-to-one calls with colleagues you haven’t met yet, attend workshops, monthly meetings and training sessions (even if they’re not directly related to your work). This is a great way to gain a wider knowledge of the company and meet more people outside of your direct work circle. It raises your profile and lets people know you’re there if they need you. This also gives you more practice with using and speaking on systems like Zoom, which will improve your video experience and boost your confidence.
Finally, be yourself (that’s why they hired you) and good luck!