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Starting a New Job? Take Charge of Your Remote Onboarding to Ensure Success

Starting a new job can be a little nerve-wracking, especially nowadays. Anxiety is normal. What do I need to do? How do I prove myself to my new manager and coworkers? Will I fit in? Will my remote onboarding be awkward or ineffective?

Navigating the Onboarding Process

COVID-19 has made the onboarding process even more difficult as thousands of new employees are brought into organizations remotely. This is new territory for most managers and companies so the path might be a little bumpy. Many are making it up as they go along. What that means for you – as the new employee – is that you may have to take a more active role in your entry to the organization.

In an office environment people gain a lot of information about you informally. Casual interactions over lunch or coffee build relationships and connections. But in a virtual working environment, much of this contact is missing. It’s up to you to create those opportunities virtually, and make the most out of every communication with colleagues and managers, despite working remotely.

It’s natural to feel isolated and a little bit disengaged when working remotely. Pretty much everyone is struggling with this during the pandemic. It’s even more pronounced, though, when you are the new member of the team. It’s important to remember that many workers are adapting on the fly to working from home, dealing with distractions, trying to manage family responsibilities and just dealing with their own emotions. So, if you feel “out of the loop,” don’t take it personally. Realize that everyone – including your manager – is trying to figure out this new way of working.

Taking Control of Your Remote Onboarding

Here are 11 ways to make your remote onboarding smoother.

Get the information you need. In this topsy turvy world, sometimes the basics get overlooked. Ask your manager to clearly explain your job responsibilities and performance expectations. Learn who the main players are by asking for an organizational chart and a primer on who does what, including good resources within the company (e.g., Ashley really knows Java; Bryan is great with the sales database, etc.).

Clarify reporting relationships. Find out who will give you your daily responsibilities – it may not be the person who hired you. Ask your boss directly, “Who should I be talking to every day about my tasks? What is the process? What are your expectations? Who should I go to for an answer if you’re not available?” While it may be uncomfortable to be so assertive, if you’re feeling lost you need to be vocal, or risk others thinking you aren’t pulling your weight or too timid to speak up.

Ask all questions. When you are new in the job, there really are no stupid questions. For real. Think of this as your honeymoon period. You can ask anything. Keep notes of any questions or concerns that come up over the course of the day and check in with your manager. Don’t self-censor. This is your opportunity to lay the foundation and find out everything you need to know to do your job well.

Solicit feedback. Most people are not thrilled about asking for feedback. But as a new employee that information is essential to keep you on the right track. Again, it happens more naturally in the office. Your boss stops by your desk, a colleague shares her thoughts over lunch. But in a virtual working environment, it won’t happen informally so you should ask for it. “What am I doing right?” “What could I do differently?” These are good questions to ask of coworkers as well as supervisors.

Be seen. If there is an opportunity to engage via video, take it. Whether you are comfortable or not with Zoom, G-Chat or Skype, use face-to-face communication technology to its fullest. Because you’re new to the organization, people don’t know you – or your face. And when on video calls, be present. No multitasking or stealing looks at your phone. Be attentive, ask questions, take notes and use all the nonverbal behaviors you would use if you were in person, for instance, maintaining good eye contact or nodding to show you are listening to the speaker.

Be professional. When colleagues don’t know you well, every interaction is an opportunity to look good. Dress as you would in the office. Set up a home office that is as professional as you can make it. Can’t find a clean background for video calls? Find a virtual one (but skip any that are too distracting. It’s not about being clever. It’s about people listening to what you have to contribute.) If the company follows firm guidelines on when the workday begins and ends, follow them, sitting down at your desk on time.

Use the common communication channels. Every organization is a little different in both the formal and informal ways that employees communicate. Is the company big on email, use Slack religiously, hit each other up via IM, or have another team workspace platform? Are colleagues more likely to pick up the phone, or send a text message? Pay close attention to these communication channels and be sure to follow suit.

Get a buddy. It’s common in many organizations to assign a buddy to a new employee. This may get overlooked in the virtual working space so make sure it happens for you. Ask your manager to pair you with a colleague. Set up virtual lunches, coffee breaks or even a happy hour. A buddy is helpful in so many ways, from giving you the lowdown on the company culture (“how we do things around here”) to someone you can ask questions that you might feel uncomfortable asking your boss.

Participate in anything you can. If HR has set up a fun virtual activity, join in. If your boss asks everyone to contribute a photo of their favorite quarantine snack or dream vacation, send it in. Virtual happy hour? Go for it. Give your coworkers as many opportunities as possible to get to know you, and for you to get to know them. And, yes, even if you are an introvert. You can always bow out gracefully when you get tired. And if you’re an extrovert, you need the energy that comes from interacting with others. Too much time in front of the computer will drain your batteries.

Connect personally. In a way, this time of everyone working remotely is an opportunity. You can have more quality one-on-one interactions than you might in the office. A phone call to ask a business question can easily segue into asking how your colleague is doing. Are they at home alone? Homeschooling their kids? Build that relationship by genuinely reaching out.

Chill. It’s easy to second-guess yourself when you’re new to a job, and even more likely when you are working remotely. Without contextual information, for instance, emails can be misinterpreted. “Did I mess up?” “Is he mad at me?” “What does that exclamation point mean?!” If you’ve never met the person, it’s difficult to know. Try not to assume the worst or overthink it. If you are concerned, check it out with a phone call.

Ensuring Onboarding Success

Onboarding can definitely be trickier when remote than in person. But keep in mind that you are truly not alone. Use the communication methods at hand to connect with your new colleagues and build the relationships that will make you successful in your new position.

Photo credit: Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

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