Working from home is currently widespread due to COVID-19, and while many believe that companies will adopt more flexible remote work policies after social distancing restrictions fade, the practice is still fairly new for the vast majority of us (including employers). Many organizations, even those that allowed some of their employees to work from home before COVID-19, haven’t fully adapted their processes to accommodate the transition from office life. If you are starting a new job with an organization that is temporarily or permanently remote, you might experience some turbulence as companies navigate the new virtual office landscape and build programs to support it.
Joining a new team can be both exciting and uncomfortable under normal circumstances. It’s possible that starting a new role virtually could present more and unique challenges, no matter your preferred work and communication styles. In this article, we discuss strategies to successfully start a new job while working from home.
The importance of asking questions
It can be intimidating to ask questions in an unfamiliar setting, especially when you want to prove that you can do your new job well and fit in well with your new team. Asking questions, however, is a critical part of the learning and growth process, so your managers and peers expect you to be empowered in this way. It’s especially important to seek clarification under the current circumstances when many are still learning how to effectively collaborate while working remotely and communication barriers are abundant.
Here are some ways you can become more comfortable with asking questions and how it can help you settle into your new job, virtually:
Asking questions can reduce onboarding frustration
Asking plenty of big and small questions–and feeling comfortable doing so–can help ease potential frustration. For example, it’s possible that your orientation program hasn’t been fully adapted to meet the needs of new employees in this environment. It might feel clunky or difficult to follow and it’s okay if you feel overwhelmed. You’re probably not alone. In this case, consider asking your manager for more comprehensive information, resources or training to help you understand company policies, team dynamics or expectations about your role.
Asking questions can recreate office dynamics
It can also be frustrating to lose the efficiency of asking the person next to you for help. Online chat tools like Slack, Google Chat or Microsoft Teams aren’t direct substitutes for in-person interactions, but they can still work to your advantage. Try to use them in a way that resembles how you would regularly communicate with your colleagues if you were sitting beside each other in an office. In other words, think of virtual chat as the new casual way to ask a quick question.
Asking questions regularly shows you are committed
Another good practice is to keep a running list of questions that aren’t time-sensitive. As you think of questions throughout the day, identify whether you need an immediate answer to meet an upcoming deadline. If not, add it to your list and schedule a regular meeting with your manager to discuss your questions while you are ramping up in your role. You might start with meetings once or twice a week and adjust down as needed.
Asking questions can help you understand your manager’s expectations
Thoroughly understanding your manager’s expectations for your deliverables and performance are imperative to a successful start. If you haven’t already received one, ask your manager to help you build a plan for your first 30, 60 and 90 days in your new role. This will help you set a clear path that is mutually agreed upon for your goals and performance measurement.
Asking questions makes your onboarding plan more seamless
If you have received a 30-60-90 day plan, review it carefully to ensure you can meet its requirements and consider discussing it with your manager if you have any questions or concerns. While it's generally beneficial to show your willingness to work towards challenging goals, it may also be helpful to realistically examine the expectations that have been set for you. If you have concerns about your deliverables, it’s important to positively approach the topic and propose reasonable solutions that still display your willingness to grow professionally.
Asking questions can help you track your progress
Consider scheduling weekly check-ins with your manager to track your progress against your 30-60-90 day plan, asking about ways you have succeeded and areas of improvement. If you’re meeting all of your goals, then this is a great opportunity to highlight your value at the company or potential to take on more responsibility in your role. If this isn’t the case for you, don’t worry. It’s normal to need some time to build up your abilities in a new job and weekly progress meetings with your manager can help you find solutions or strategies to stay on track or recalibrate goals if necessary.
How to use your soft skills when starting a new job
It is true that starting a new job virtually may require different soft skills than starting a new job in person. For example, when meeting new colleagues for the first time, you may not be able to rely as much on body language and tone on a phone call or video meeting. Therefore, it's important to make efficient use of this time by preparing talking points before the meeting, asking clarifying questions and following up with a recap to ensure you walked away with the right information and action items.
Here are five additional ways to support healthy professional interactions when starting a new job away from the office:
1. Be patient
Be patient with yourself, your colleagues and your manager. Remember that most people are still trying to learn and develop best practices for working remotely and it may take time to reach an ideal state of collaboration or management.
If you find yourself losing patience with a coworker or a process, take a minute or two to step back from the situation, breathe and consider workable solutions. For instance, you might come to the conclusion that it would be more effective to discuss something on a call instead of over chat, or you may be able to come up with a thoughtful question to get the answer you need. You could even find that the best solution is to simply take a break and move on.
2. Pay attention to cultural cues
Take note of your team’s virtual and social cues and, when appropriate, try your best to mirror them to help you ease into the group. For example, pay attention to the tools your team uses to communicate such as phone or video calls, virtual backgrounds and email or chat. They might use email to share information about meetings or operational processes and Google Chat for updates about smaller tasks. In that case, you’d want to do the same. If you have any questions about your team’s online communication preferences, you should feel comfortable asking them for confirmation.
You should also observe the social dynamics of your new team. For example, are their interactions more formal or casual? Are they wearing business attire or is the dress code more relaxed? Do people ask in-depth questions during virtual team meetings or do they typically reserve them for small group or one-on-one discussions?
Related: What Is Work Culture
3. Be self-aware
When communicating with your colleagues, observe how your word choice, tone, body language or timing is received. If you feel like something you communicated was misunderstood, consider reaching out in a separate chat or call to clarify. You might also consider adjusting your behavior accordingly so the misunderstanding is not repeated. On the other hand, be aware of how you interpret others’ communication and remember that we often perceive neutral written language as negative.
4. Stay positive when possible
A confident and positive attitude can go a long way when making first impressions. It might take some extra effort to maintain a positive attitude during a time as chaotic as the current climate. It’s important to note that a positive outlook doesn’t mean that you need to suppress your emotions and behave in a way that doesn’t feel true to yourself or your current situation.
A positive attitude refers to behaviors like your ability to encounter a problem and attempt to solve it in a creative way, to help your team build a solution even in the face of uncertainty or to show resilience by failing, learning and trying again.
Read more: 10 Tips for Maintaining a Positive Attitude
5. Be proactive
Another way to build healthy relationships on your new team is to approach your new assignments, team challenges and social interactions in a proactive way. This might mean you clarify expectations and deadlines upfront or you might suggest a solution to a problem without being asked to do so. You could also initiate meetings with your new colleagues to ask questions or simply get to know them.
Read more: 9 Ways to Take Initiative at Work
Building new professional relationships virtually
Working from home can add barriers to organic communication and relationship building, but it’s still a critical part of starting a new job. In fact, workplace friendships can improve productivity and morale. Doing so can also make working together towards a common goal more efficient.
When you start your new role, your manager will likely send an introductory email to your team. If not, you might consider asking them if you can send a group chat. Include a photo of yourself and a few work-appropriate personal details to help establish a connection. For example, you might share a hobby, whether you have a pet and what city you were born in. You could even encourage your colleagues to reach out about any shared interests. For example, “If anyone knows of a good hiking trail in the area, I’d love to hear about it!”
You might also request virtual lunches or morning coffee with your colleagues, organize after-work video hangouts, happy hours or trivia to learn more about your new team. During those casual meetings, try setting the tone of conversations by sharing your hobbies and interests to encourage your co-workers to do the same.
Read more: 8 Ways to Build Workplace Relationships
Setting boundaries to avoid burnout
During the first 30 days of your new job, it might be necessary to put in some extra hours to acclimate yourself to the environment, but it is best to set boundaries for your work hours to avoid burnout. If expectations for your weekly hours weren’t made clear by your employer, determine them with your manager early on. In addition, try to establish definitive start and end times to your day and build in daily breaks that allow you to regather your focus.
You should also try to set boundaries that prevent your home life from distracting you during the workday. For example, you might designate certain hours for activities like laundry and dishes. Set up your work desk in a quiet space and share your schedule with others in your home so they’re aware of when you’re in meetings or in a focused state.
Give yourself more time to ramp up
It will likely take you more time to feel fully capable in your new role than it normally would in an office setting. We are accustomed to a workplace culture where we rely on face-to-face interactions and the ease of in-person communication to make progress on daily tasks. Most companies, managers and employees are still adjusting to the changes and a natural result of that is a slower ramp up time for new additions.
Be patient with yourself, ask for help if you need it and remember that we’re all in this together.