Starting a new job remotely is tough in normal times, let alone during a pandemic. I know—I experienced it firsthand.
When I joined Quartz in early April, the company was two weeks into the original US lockdown orders, which shuttered the New York headquarters to which I’d anticipated trekking each morning. Suddenly, everything was online: onboarding, training, even casual conversations to meet my new coworkers.
I quickly discovered it was harder to put faces to names, figure out who did what, and learn about the company’s culture, especially while everyone was adjusting to the pandemic. There wasn’t anyone to casually walk by and chat with, or “Pssst” with my questions about story formats and how to file expenses. I had no new desk to colonize with my favorite knick-knacks and photos, and I still don’t know what the best office lunch spots are.
As jobs slowly return to the US and other countries, my experience will prove far from unique. Many offices remain closed in anticipation of vaccine distribution, and a significant number of people who acclimated to working from home during the pandemic will decide to stick with it indefinitely. That makes it more important than ever for companies and employees to get remote onboarding right.
1️⃣ Prepare for Day 1, before Day 1
The first day of any new job is overwhelming: It often comes with a rush of paperwork and introductions, all of which can be harder to follow through a screen.
One thing you can do as a new hire is ask for more information about onboarding ahead of time, says career and talent coach Tiffany Waddell Tate. “Especially in a remote environment, their answer should give you some clarity as to whether [the onboarding process] is something they have together or not,” she says with a laugh.
Find out what you should expect—are there a lot of first-day trainings or will you be hitting the ground running? Will you be meeting a bunch of people right away or over a longer period of time? Is there any material you can or should review in advance? These kinds of prompts will help you understand what the organization expects of brand new employees, says Tate, and could even nudge the company to finesse its own plans.
(One tip from Quartz onboarding: Consider asking for or seeking out a new-hire buddy, which we call “manatees”—neither a mentor or a mentee, but as helpful as either one. A new-hire buddy shouldn’t be your manager, and isn’t necessarily someone who works on your team. But they can offer a more informal on-ramp to the company—and answers to frequently asked questions—by chatting with you a few times over the first few weeks.)
2️⃣ Have an expectation-setting conversation with your manager
Everyone is different, including managers. It’s important to ask yours how and when they like to communicate, especially since IRL isn’t an option. “You can’t assume that what worked before is going to work in your new job,” says career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine.
Many managers have specific preferences about checking in over email, phone, or via chat, as well as when and how often they’ll want to touch base. Here are some other questions to guide your conversation:
- Do you prefer I ask questions as they come up or during a weekly meeting?
- What would success look like for my first 90 days?
- Are there metrics I should look to for evaluating that?
- Who are the people I should know within and outside of my team?
- Do you have any tips from your own first few months here?
This is also a good time to make clear what’s helpful for you, like regular one-on-one time to ask questions and receive feedback (strongly encouraged!) “It’s important to have clarity and understanding about what the requirements are,” says Virgil Smith, a career consultant and former senior media executive at McClatchy and Gannett.
It’s also helpful to seek out norms at the company writ large—don’t ask someone, because they won’t be able to describe it. Are people extremely on time? Are they formal or informal? Do they curse? How are they dressed? Is email more a mode of communication or a mode of documentation? Do they use gifs and emoji? These are your only portals to your colleagues, so figure out how to use them in a way that helps you integrate.
(One tip from Quartz onboarding: Try your hand at a user manual, a one-page rundown of individual working styles that can help colleagues adapt to one another. Better yet, exchange user manuals with your manager and/or with others on your team. It has the side benefit of being a great icebreaker.)
3️⃣ ABC: Always Be Communicating
Staying connected with coworkers and your manager is crucial, even though remote work means that’s now an all-digital relationship. “It’s going to feel like over communication, because you don’t have the water cooler, the hallway, the kitchen, to bump into people,” says Ceniza-Levine. “Everything has to be planned. You have to initiate it, because the alternative is absence.”
In addition to regular meetings with your manager, informal video chats with coworkers are great opportunities to ask about their work, the group culture, and what’s typical to the company versus unique to pandemic times. Get in the habit of asking everyone you chat with who else you should be talking to or meeting; those introductions can be an important catalyst for building relationships, even in a remote environment.
(One tip from Quartz onboarding: “Good communication” is a goal, not a strategy, which is why we use a technique called the 5-15. As Quartz at Work’s Cassie Werber explains: “Each week, everyone on a team spends 15 minutes writing feedback in a templated report sent to the team’s manager. The manager takes five minutes to read and respond to each report, and 15 minutes to collate their own feedback for their manager. This continues up the chain.” Building this kind of personal documentation habit will also keep your invisible work from getting glossed over.)
4️⃣ Remember the value of social capital
“Social capital” refers to the personal connections and relationships that someone can use to facilitate opportunities—in other words, the power of a strong, connected network. As a new employee at a company, this may over time include people you can bounce ideas off of, in-house experts you can consult, senior leaders, and champions of new projects and promotions. These relationships are especially important for new employees still learning about a company’s culture, professional development resources, and opportunities for growth.
“[Social capital] is not essential for somebody to become successful,” says Kevin Davis, founder of the student training and mentorship nonprofit First Workings. “It just makes it a lot less difficult.”
With contributions from Phoebe Gavin.