For all the ways office workers have adjusted to working remotely during the pandemic, the arrangement can be tougher for those starting a new job remotely. Getting to know the company, colleagues and even the lay of office politics is all the more difficult without the experience of being able to connect with others in person.
And months after workers were sent home en masse in the spring, many are still connecting with colleagues both new and old completely digitally. Roughly 42% of the U.S. labor force is working remotely full-time, according to research from Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, and the number of companies announcing long-term remote work are continuing to stack up with time.
For those starting a new job remotely, CNBC Make It spoke with workplace experts on how you can set yourself up for success.
First off, celebrate your new job
Applying for a new job, even in more traditional circumstances, can be an energy-depleting effort. So take some time to celebrate landing a new role, says Austin-based therapist and Inclusive Therapists founder Melody Li.
If you’re coming off of a long search, you may feel anxious about starting a new job, especially if you’re in a remote setting and unable to rely on the usual in-person interactions to settle in. Given the job market, you may also be starting a job you’ve never done before in an unfamiliar industry, or you might be returning to a previous job you haven’t done in years.
Try not to let impostor syndrome, where you doubt your ability to succeed in the job you were hired for, get the best of you. Li recommends writing out a list of your top skills and displaying it in sight of your workspace. “Get clear about your areas of strength, and be honest about your areas of growth, too,” Li says. “Jobs are an opportunity for us to learn and master new skills, and it’s OK to come in with a growth mindset.”
Set up a new space
Dan Black, global recruiting leader at the consulting firm EY, says it can be helpful to mark the transition of starting a new job by changing up the physical space where you’ll work from home. Refresh your remote-work space, whether you’re setting one up for the first time, or you’re just adding a new piece of art or a plant to your desk.
“It can really help you psychologically and start with a new set of eyes, like, ‘OK, I’m now part of something different,'” Black says. “‘Sure, I’m still in the same house or apartment, but there’s a new feel to this.’ Mark that occasion.”
Level-set with your manager
After your first few days of orientation, you’ll want to have a more in-depth talk with your manager about their expectations for you in your new role.
Ask big-picture questions about what they hope you will accomplish in the first six months to a year of you being on the job. What are your boss’s priorities, and how does that then translate to what your priorities should be?
These questions are all the more important if the organization has gone through challenges due to the pandemic, says Dana Brownlee, founder of the corporate training company Professionalism Matters and a Forbes contributor. For example, if your boss signals that their priorities have shifted from focusing on in-person sales to online operations in the last six months, you can come to the table with solutions of how your skills, or ones you’re ready to learn, will help the team meet their new goals.
“Show you’re willing to do what needs to be done to be highly valued and still have a job six months to a year from now,” she says.
Set communication standards
In a remote work setting, learning how to communicate with one another digitally becomes all the more important. That’s why, Black says, as you get to know your new team members, one of your first questions to them should be: What’s the best or easiest way to communicate with you? Get to know if they have a preferred method (email, instant message, phone or video), time of day or even frequency of getting in touch. Tell them about your preferences so you can meet in the middle.
If you’re a manager, have those conversations with the people who will report to you. And even if they don’t have a clear preference, they’ll almost certainly be able to identify some communication pet peeves, Brownlee adds.
Keep in mind that you should revisit this conversation over time, says Claire Wasserman, founder of the career community Ladies Get Paid and author of a book out in January. Keep an eye out for misinterpretations in written text and remember it’s not personal — instead, it’s likely coming from a lack of a prior working relationship or missing information. When these issues arise, Wasserman says, offer to get on the phone or video to sort out the situation and see how you can avoid crossed signals in the future.
“At the end of the day, relationships are built on communication and trust,” Wasserman says. “If you’re not taught this, and you’re making assumptions, we know what kinds of problems can happen.”
Get to know your team
Getting to know your colleagues will take more effort when you can’t run into them around the office. Brownlee recommends you carve out at least 30 minutes of pure networking each week when you’re new. Do so first with the people you work with directly, such as your manager, your peers or people who report to you. “I would not make the mistake of just sitting back and assuming your manager is going to set it up for you,” Brownlee says.
As you continue getting to know people in the company, ask your new connections if they think there’s someone else in the organization you should know within the first three to six months with the company. They might be able to help you arrange an introduction, or you can reach out to them yourself. The beauty of being online, after all, is that you don’t have to worry about swinging by someone’s desk or bothering them — the message will reach them when they’re available. Plus, “what’s great is you’re new, so it’s not going to seem out of left field to be doing that,” Brownlee says.
Internal networking is part of doing your job well and also building your career, Wasserman adds. After a few months, consider hearing from someone who’s been with the company for a number of years, your HR partner, the executive assistant who supports your team — essentially allies who can help you better understand the company beyond your immediate team.
Lay the groundwork for a deep working relationship
Of course, scheduled interactions can’t completely make up for the rapport you build with people when you can see and chat with them in person. Make time for more personal conversations, Li says, and ask questions that show your curiosity in how they’re doing as a person. For example, is your colleague homeschooling their kids right now? Have they moved during the pandemic to better suit their lifestyle?
Expressing real interest in others’ lives “can help create a more relational rather than business-like connection, which is difficult to sustain at times like this,” Li says.
Brownlee adds that you can mention if you’ve experienced professional or personal challenges during the pandemic, particularly if you’re a new manager to a group of people. These details can help your team understand how you work best and why, given the circumstances — for example, if you can only take evening meetings over the phone because you’re caring for your kids during the day. “It’s helpful as a manager to role model and set the tone,” Brownlee says. This can encourage your team members to be candid about what does and doesn’t work for them, as well.
Understand how your organization has been impacted by the pandemic
If you’re joining a company that’s gone through pandemic-related challenges, such as budget cuts or personal losses due to the virus, team morale might not be high. Understand that low spirits in the organization aren’t a reflection of you joining, Li says, and show compassion to people who’ve had to adapt tremendously in the last year.
You may want to ask your boss directly about how shifts within the company could impact your role. Equip yourself with real information from trusted sources about what’s been happening at the company rather than relying on the rumor mill, Brownlee says.
On the bright side, “a good thing is you can come in with a new fresh perspective and great attitude,” she adds. “You just might be the recharge they needed.”