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About 42% of the US workforce is working from home full-time due to COVID-19, with no clear return to the office in sight. But it’s one thing to suddenly be in Zoom meetings with people you already know, and entirely another to build relationships from zero with people you have never met—and some whom you may never meet—in person in a new role.
If you’re looking for a new job during coronavirus, you’re not only going to have to interview virtually, you’re going to have to prepare for building new professional relationships remotely, too.
We asked a few remote onboarding experts for their advice on making a positive first impression as a new employee working from home.
Ask For and Set Expectations and Deadlines Up Front
Clear communication in the first weeks with a new team is a must to hit the ground running. On your first day, or during your onboarding process, ask your new employer questions about how your tasks will be communicated to team members, what your schedule will look like, and what expectations they have for you to report progress on projects, says Janet Mesh, CEO and co-founder of Aimtal, a digital and content marketing agency based in Boston that’s always been a fully remote team.
Mesh and her team use Trello for project management as well as a clear roadmap for new hires that explains who’s who in the company and where they should bring specific questions. Ask who your key colleagues will be in this new position, and who you should set up one-on-one meetings with first. If your team is scattered around several time zones, which hours will be most vital for you to be fully available?
Don’t Sit on the Sidelines
Making yourself heard in meetings can be challenging before remote work, and Zoom video chats can add additional hurdles to that. Mesh recommends using conference software chat features to ask a question if it’s not easy to speak up on a conference call, or to clarify a point if you get interrupted.
“Advocate for yourself, and don’t be afraid to do that,” Mesh says. If you find that you’re regularly getting talked over in meetings, you can go to your supervisor and discuss possible solutions.
“Some of the most successful remote workers are not always just waiting to receive tasks or the direction of things, but you’re actively participating in building that [company] culture,” Mesh says.
How to Provide (and How You Best Receive) Feedback
Similar to every job, in a remote job it’s important to understand how your manager wants to receive feedback, Mesh says, so ask up front. She prefers for her employees to make notes on their one-on-one Trello boards—a project management tool—and then she can decide from there whether it requires further attention with a phone call. You should share with your manager how you best receive feedback, too, she says, whether that’s “in-person” via phone or video, or written out clearly via email. And when you do need to provide feedback about something that’s not working for you?
“My recommendation so you don’t come across as if you’re complaining,” Mesh says, “is to be thinking already about what the solution is.”
Make Sure You Know the Technology
Every company uses a different set of tools, whether that’s Dropbox or Google Drive, Zoom or Hangouts, Slack or Microsoft Teams, Trello or Asana, and so on. Ask what suite of programs your new company uses and make sure you take time to familiarize yourself with them and see assistance if there’s something you don’t understand. You don’t want to be that one person in the meeting who’s always struggling to turn on their video or microphone on Zoom, says Ben Taylor, founder of HomeWorkingClub.com, an advice site for aspiring remote workers and freelancers.
Check-In with Your Supervisor and New Colleagues
It can be hard to connect with a new manager or colleagues in virtual meetings, even if there are just three or four of you. To build stronger foundations with people you’re going to be working with most closely, it’s important to invest time to get to know them individually, “outside” of work and “face-to-face” not just over chat. Hopefully, your new coworkers will have thought of this already and will lay the groundwork for you, but if not, speak up. You can ask your manager to set up a virtual coffee date, for example, where you can take an hour to get to know one another outside of work.
Communicate as Clearly as Possible
Emojis aren’t exclusively for casual texts with your friends anymore.
“Slack and emails take away all body language and tone of voice, which can make it difficult to infer meaning,” says Grace Everitt, creative director of the all-remote Tako Agency, which specializes in web design and development for Shopify sites.
“Learn how to type and use emojis to make your meaning as clear as if you were speaking it aloud.” Mesh says her team uses gifs abundantly as well, which can help convey the tone of a message without voice or body language.
Ask for Help When You Need It
If you’re struggling to connect with colleagues or to understand something about your company’s culture—which absolutely can still exist even without in-person co-workers—ask for help. Reach out to your manager and set up a video call to discuss how you can address any issues you’re facing. But be tactful when asking for something you need, Taylor cautions.
“Maybe frame it as, ‘Obviously, under normal circumstances, I’d probably be doing a walk around the office and getting to know people. How would you suggest I bridge that gap?’” Taylor says. “Ask it as a non-aggressive, open question.”
Everyone is facing their own struggles with regard to the pandemic, so keep that in mind and stay flexible during the onboarding process.
“It’s alright for meetings to be delayed or for you to make mistakes,” says Noa Aziz, CEO of Zentern, which organizes now-virtual internships in Japan for students around the world.
“Due to the pandemic, we all needed to make changes and most companies are trying very hard to improve their company’s digitalization, so in case something happens, be flexible and understand that we are all in this.”
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.