Alongside the excitement that comes from starting a new job, it’s natural to also feel some apprehension — particularly in a climate like this one.
After all, the onboarding “usuals” we’ve come to expect look anything but usual right now. Many of these rites of passage involve being physically at an office — and for a lot of today’s new hires, it could be many months yet to come before you’re actually meeting any of your coworkers outside of a Zoom call.
How, then, can you ensure you’re still starting things off on the right foot against a backdrop of overall strangeness and uncertainty? We heard from experts about the steps they advise taking during the first week of new, remote employment to boost your image and ensure you’re setting yourself up for success in the long run.
1. Start communicating even before your first day.
“I would suggest that successful onboarding starts before your first day!” Stephanie McDonald, an FGB VIP and a recruiter with Zapier, said. “I recommend reaching out to your new peers via email (ask the hiring manager or recruiter for the emails of the people you’ll work most closely with) and introduce yourself. Express excitement to learn from them and work together.”
It’ll help you start on a prepared and personable note, and you can also use the opportunity to start collecting some of the preliminary intel you’ll need in your first week.
“I have also shared what I’m most excited to learn in my new role to prepare my new teammates that I’ll be looking to them for guidance as I onboard,” McDonald added.
2. Then, keep proactive communication going.
“The first thing I’d suggest is to be proactive in ‘saying hello’ within the larger group and on a 1:1 basis,” Kristen Yealy, an FGB VIP and Account Manager at BetterUp, said. “When you are introduced as a new hire in a Slack or other comms channel, respond to the message and follow-ups, and as you meet others throughout the week, be the first to express interest in setting up a virtual coffee chat to learn both about them and their tips for the onboarding process.”
Mark Webster, Co-Founder of Authority Hacker, recommended taking this approach, too.
“It goes without saying that you should be communicating throughout the day with your team, but if you want to go one step further, a great way to let people know you’re around and who you are is to announce yourself,” he shared. “In the morning, let everyone know you’re starting to work and what you’ve been tasked with. If you’re heading out for lunch, let the group chat know you’ll be out for a while and they can contact you via mobile if they need you, and generally don’t be afraid to announce that you exist… By actively making your presence known, you’ll slowly become part of the team without having to force yourself into people’s days.
3. ”Set up weekly 1:1s, stat.
“For key people, you’ll be interacting with a lot (peers, someone in another department, etc.), set up weekly half-hour 1:1s with no particular agenda, just to talk,” Meghan Titzer, an FGB VIP and director of product development, said. “This replaces the ‘hallway conversations’ that would normally be happening. You can use this to talk about business items, ask for advice on X topic or person Y, or just get to know the other person (exactly as you would in a hallway conversation!).”
4. Identify a mentor (slash onboarding buddy).
Chances are, your boss may not be available to answer each and every one of your onboarding queries in fast fashion. That’s why it can help to proactively identify another source who you’ll be able to turn to, Branka Vuleta, founder of legaljobsite.net, said.
“Having a coworker that will help remote employees integrate into a new environment easier is always a plus. In cases the company failed to assign remote employees with a peer-coworker to help during the transition, remote employees should be proactive and ask who they can turn to in case they need it.”
5. Give your remote workspace a little TLC.
Going into your first week, make sure your physical surroundings encourage you to keep rather than lose focus halfway through your 500th virtual onboarding meeting.
“Create a workspace separate from your place of relaxation,” FGB VIP and Senior Software Engineer Tina Webster said. “Where you set up for remote work is important. For instance, when you work from your bed, you’re going to relate to working with relaxing and being lazy, which is the opposite of the feeling you want to have for work. Set up somewhere in your home that you do not use often, or in an office space if you have one.”
6. Get your digital ducks in a row.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is be clear on how you’ll stay digitally organized throughout onboarding, advised Leena Patel, FGB VIP and CEO of Sandbox2Boardroom.
“Invest in a secure platform where you keep checklists, onboarding documents, your company operating manual and other key information that will help a new employee get up to speed quickly,” she said. “We use (and love!) HRPartner for small to mid-sized companies.”
Relatedly, Jessica Wise, Creative Marketing Manager at HelpSquad, also recommended recording your onboarding calls and training sessions so that you can more easily refer back to them later.
“Use screen recording software to record training sessions and meetings,” she said. “That way you don’t have to take notes and can give your full attention. Then, you’ll have the recordings to refer back to later. There are tons of free screen recorders out there!”
7. Build breaks into your schedule.
There’s a lot to get through during your first week at a new job, and that feeling may only be amplified when you’re being onboarded remotely. However, it’s important to still build in time to step away from your computer and stretch throughout the day, the same as you would ordinarily.
“Don’t forget to take care of yourself during your first week,” Alyson Garrido, an FGB VIP and a career coach, said. “Onboarding may mean lots of screen time, so be sure to step away from the computer during your breaks — even if that just means a few laps around your kitchen. Grab water and strike a power pose before your next meeting rather than scrolling or trying to cram another email into a short break. Start forming the habits you’d like to maintain in your new role.”
8. Cover off on expectations early and clearly with your new manager, and ask for what you need.
“Talk with your manager about initial expectations,” Andrea Madden, an FGB VIP and marketing strategist, said. “Your manager might already have a road map for your first week or month on the job, but make sure you are crystal clear about things… find out what your new job needs from you right away and how you need to get it to them. A lot of the initial paperwork that you would do at a new job might need to be done digitally, especially if you don’t have access to a printer or scanner at home. Find out what they absolutely need from you, and how quickly they need it.”
Of course, this communication goes both ways. Just as your manager should be giving you the info you’ll need to be successful in your new role, so, too, should you be direct and transparent with them.
“Be honest with your new job about what you need to be successful,” she added. “We are all navigating and adapting to a very strange time in history, and companies are well aware of the need for adaptability and flexibility. I wouldn’t recommend asking for an entire home office setup or something very expensive on your first day, but if you know that there are certain things you need in order to do your job (i.e. software or hardware, certain office supplies, network tools, Bluetooth headset for calls, etc), then you shouldn’t feel scared to bring them up.”
9. Ask the right questions.
Even now, months into the pandemic, some companies are still struggling to translate their onboarding procedures to a remote format. Drawing up a list of high-impact questions you’d like answered will help keep things on track if they start to feel less than totally organized, and it’ll show initiative on your end, too. Here are some questions that Laurie Battaglia, FGB VIP and CEO of Aligned at Work, advises asking your new manager:
- How do you like to be communicated with? How often, and in what manner (call, text, internal chat system, email, etc.)?
- What hours do they work, and what hours are expected of you?
- What outcomes?
- What does it take to succeed here, and what usually leads to failure?
- What are the important relationships and partnerships that you’ll need to participate in?
- What are those people’s roles and contact info? What is the best way to reach out to them?
- Who are the other team members, their roles, contact info, and communication preferences?
- Are there standing meetings that you are expected to attend? Are they on your calendar already? Who runs the meetings, in case you need to ask to be included?
- What training are you expected to complete?
10. And clarify how you’ll get answers.
“Since you can’t stop by someone’s desk to ask a quick question, it can take some remote workers longer to get up to speed,” Karen Rubin, an FGB VIP and an executive coach, said. “You want to learn as quickly as possible, so ask your manager, peers, and even direct reports how they prefer that you reach out to them with questions. What’s the method: email, phone call, text, DM? And what cadence works best for them? Some people prefer that you save up questions and ask them all at once, while others would rather you reach out as they come up… Most importantly, figure out a way to record answers to these questions so you’re not making the same queries multiple times.”
11. Show up — in every sense — for virtual company events.
Ekua Cant, an FGB VIP and coach to American expat women in London and ambitious women globally, recommended “being a joiner” for any and all virtual events the company is holding.
“Join in on virtual company events — show up fully with your camera on!” Cant said. “Take an interest in meeting new people. Furthermore, take your own initiative and arrange bi-weekly virtual coffees with new teammates and your manager.”
When meeting with others online, Genny Heikka, an FGB VIP and Owner and Founder of Her Team Success, echoed the importance of utilizing video.
“Take the initiative to be camera-ready and go live on video,” she said. “Only 7 % of our messages are conveyed through our words, so we miss a huge opportunity to communicate effectively and at our best when we hide behind our screens. I know going on video can be uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes!”
12. Be clear about representing your personal brand from day one.
“Decide on and embody your personal brand,” Treasa Fitzgibbon, an FGB VIP and life coach, said. “Even though you may not be meeting your colleagues in person for the foreseeable future, your personal brand remains key to your success in your new organization. From the moment you start with the organization, you are representing yourself and your personal brand. Every interaction you have with your colleagues needs to re-enforce the values you embody. Choose your personal brand wisely – what do you want to be known for?”
In this current moment, emphasizing a few qualities, in particular, may be a good idea.
“In these uncertain times, it is critical to be seen as respectful, professional, energetic, positive and with a strong work ethic,” she added. “While working remotely, you can still show your colleagues who you embody. From active and positive engagement on Zoom meetings to turning in work before deadlines, you can quickly prove your value to the organization.”
13. Ask for feedback sooner versus later.
“Once you’ve asked all the questions and started tackling tasks, do make it a point to ask for feedback after your first week,” Ben Aston, founder of the Digital Project Manager, said. “Working remotely requires much dedication and self-discipline, as you determine your own success. To make up for the lack of an in-person work environment, it takes more effort on your part to stand out. Ask a simple ‘how am I doing?’ to your colleagues and manager to not only see where you can improve but what your strengths are. This not only helps you accelerate your learning curve but shows that you are open to criticism. It shows you are eager to learn and have the drive to succeed.”
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.