Connect, connect, connect

Alexa Pogrob expected to start her new job as a vocational specialist at a community mental health agency in Red Bank, N.J., in late March.

Then, you know, everything happened.

New Jersey went into shelter-in-place, and her new organization hadn’t developed a plan for virtual onboarding. So human resources asked her to hang tight for a few weeks until the agency figured things out.


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“I had already told my old boss I was leaving, obviously,” Ms. Pogrob, 27, said. “I had to ask them if I could stay on longer at my old job. Thankfully, they said yes.”

By April 20, Ms. Pogrob had received a work laptop and iPhone from her new employer, filled out the requisite paperwork and already been looped into three-way calls with colleagues and her soon-to-be-patients. The first few weeks, she said, provided more confusion than clarity.

“I wanted to call my supervisor and ask for more direction, but it was like, ‘Am I going to bother her?’” Ms. Pogrob said. “I didn’t feel comfortable really talking to co-workers like, ‘What’s the deal, what’s the office climate like, who do I talk to, who do I not talk to?’ I felt like I was out on my own.”

In ordinary circumstances, starting a job is an act of showcasing both professional expertise and social prowess. Onboarding virtually, especially during a coronavirus pandemic, can feel distant and impersonal. In normal times, Zena Everett, an executive coach and the author of “Mind Flip: Take the Fear Out of Your Career,” typically advises recent hires to take their time getting acclimated to a new position and to resist the pressure to make a splash.

“Now it’s the opposite,” she said. “You need to get in and start collaborating really quickly.”

While the office as we know it may be on its way out, you can transition into a different role, both logistically and culturally, if you’re cordoned from your organization’s workspace and fellow employees. It’ll just take a little more legwork.

Nail virtual onboarding

Onboarding is a monthslong acclimation period that goes beyond just filling out paperwork. Before you even accept a new role, you should have an idea about what to expect during virtual onboarding, Adunola Adeshola, a career strategist, said. She suggests asking about the onboarding process in light of Covid-19 and what changes have been made to ensure that new hires are successful after they join the team.

Since you’ll be learning about your new role and your team through a computer screen, it’s important to give the technology you’ll be using a test run before your first day, Sherry Sims, a career strategist and the founder of the Black Career Women’s Network, said. Make sure you’re up-to-date on the company’s preferred communication tools, which may include Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other digital-collaboration products.

Since quick office pop-ins are a thing of the past, constant communication is crucial. You’ll want to find out your boss’s preferred communication style on Day 1, Lisa Jacobson, a career consultant, said.

“You have to ask your boss, ‘How do you want me to communicate with you? Do you want voice, phone, text, email, and how often is good?’” she said.

Ms. Jacobson added that new workers should avoid relying on email when asking questions (more information can be accurately given on a phone call), and that they should try troubleshooting on their own before reaching out for assistance (you’ll be able to explain what your process was and where you’re experiencing roadblocks).

As you navigate the ins and outs of your new role, assemble a digital Rolodex of important contacts within the organization so you don’t have to rely heavily on your manager for solutions, Ms. Jacobson said. Find a go-to person on the help desk, someone in administration, an expert in any essential programs — a network of knowledgeable colleagues who can help make the learning curve smoother.

Learn the culture

Company culture — the spoken and unspoken professional social order — can be difficult to master in a bubble, since there’s no way to engage in the subtle actions that can matter, like overhearing conversations between co-workers or reading the conference room. However, “culture isn’t based on where you are located, it’s based on how people interact,” Ms. Adeshola said. “How do people work together? How do people talk to each other?”

While the conversations you’ll have with your direct supervisor will teach you workflow and communication best practices, Ms. Adeshola said, ask your peers or junior colleagues what they love about working for the company and find out the strategies and hacks that help them get the job done.

In meetings and email, take note of how your co-workers interact, as this can clue you in to the team’s social norms, Ms. Sims said. How quickly team members respond to Slack messages and whether colleagues respond to email after hours help paint a fuller picture of company culture. However, just because your new colleagues are using GIFs in email doesn’t mean you should respond in kind right away.

“When you’re virtual, your email tone needs to be clear, it needs to be neutral, until people can engage your personality,” Ms. Sims said.

Connect with co-workers

Despite the physical distance among colleagues, talking with the people you work with is crucial, and since face-to-face meetings are impossible, you may seem like a faceless bot existing in some other reality.

While working virtually, it’s easy to get your work done, send your boss a status update and close your laptop at the end of the day without chatting with a single co-worker, Ms. Adeshola said. “That isn’t always the best thing.”

In fact, employees who have a best work friend are more than twice as likely to be engaged in their job than those without office BFFs, according to a Gallup report.

During your first few weeks, you should make time in your schedule for a 15-minute video or phone chat with your team, experts say. Ideally, the current employees would initiate the meeting with the new hire, said Bernie Frazier, a career strategist and the author of “Your Success Is in You!: Empowering and Equipping You to Create Your Best Career Ever!”

“To me, it’s the equivalent of when you move into a new neighborhood and you have the welcome committee welcome you,” she said.

But if you haven’t received the virtual invite from your colleagues Ms. Frazier said, you should go ahead and set up those introductory meetings to learn about their roles, how you’ll work together and what they’re like.

To come off as authentic in your conversations, Ms. Jacobson suggests doing a little research on LinkedIn or looking at internal company profiles of your colleagues to find any common ground worth discussing, like a shared alma mater or a mutual love of distance running.

Get up to speed

While you and your manager both want you to hit the ground running, the reality of virtual work — kids to look after, pets to walk, partners or roommates to appease — may not be conducive to a productive start. During your first week on the new job, you should explicitly outline what your boss expects you to accomplish during the first month, priorities and deadlines, Ms. Frazier said.

“It’s thinking about these types of categories and talking to your boss and mapping out those first few weeks and that first month so you can start to develop your routine and your rhythm for your day,” she said.

Ms. Sims recommends that recent hirees set a daily schedule and to-do list to help keep them on task.

Because of the nature of remote work, Ms. Everett, the executive coach, said, new employees need to be proactive in getting involved in current projects — you shouldn’t wait around to be asked. Through collaboration, you get to know your colleagues as well as gain firsthand insight into how tasks are executed.

“I think it’s about just talking to people — not meetings — just picking up the phone, saying, ‘I see you’re working on this, how’s it working? What can I do to help?’” she said.

Keep track of your progress

Since things can easily fall through the cracks during remote work, build credibility by keeping tabs on what you were able to complete and quickly relaying those successes during your daily or weekly check-ins with your boss, Ms. Everett said.

However, don’t simply give your manager a play-by-play on what you did or didn’t do last week, she continued: Request and give feedback on tasks and projects, ask questions and let your boss know where you’re having issues, and provide a status report for current assignments. This way, both you and your supervisor will remain on the same page even with miles between you.

“You can’t just do a good job now,” Ms. Everett said. “You’ve got to visibly do a good job.”

c.2020 The New York Times Company

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Lyle Konner CLU,CHS,EPC,CPCA
Financial Security Architect
KTJ Financial Solutions Ltd.
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