Being onboarded remotely during a pandemic can be a lonely affair. One quick look in either direction will quickly remind you that you’re physically alone (perhaps in your girlfriend's bedroom) and devoid of the familiar workplace attributes you were accustomed to in the past.
Things like lunch-and-learns, water-cooler chats, and the countless, seemingly trivial questions that can swiftly be answered in person by your more experienced pod-panions have been replaced by digital chat channels, reactionary GIFs, and weekly Zoom happy hours. The aforementioned "little things" that make up the workplace ecosystem have evolved to say the least.
I recently started a new job at the beginning of June. Early into the first week, it quickly became apparent that the old way of doing things no longer applied to this new reality, and if I didn’t adjust my approach, I would struggle to get up to speed quickly. In a joint effort to successfully onboard myself and, in turn, educate our readership, I have documented some key thoughts over my first 30 days on the job, starting with the first one listed below: the importance of self-reliance.
One must embrace self-reliance in order to thrive during times of uncertainty.
Even if your company has a structured onboarding process and well curated wiki, the people best positioned to help you get up to speed quickly will (both subconsciously and consciously) not be able prioritize your learning over their primary work responsibilities.
This notion makes sense, as the primary goal of any employee should be to focus on the core functionality of her job before taking on other responsibilities or projects. Even if a company internally promotes new-hire training as a shared responsibility that could more quickly pay team-wide dividends down the line, different things will always come up (especially in a fast-growing startup) that will divert people's attention away from the shiny new object.
Additionally, without the chance encounters and visual cues that predominantly happen in more traditional, in-person settings, it is much easier to be forgotten in a digital waiting room, otherwise known as Slack.
For example, how many times in the past have you gotten up from your desk to walk to some part of the office, only to walk past a new, slightly confused face just sitting there staring at his computer screen? In this scenario, you probably asked this person what was wrong and took some kind of action to quickly help them on their way. It is harder for your colleagues to remember your existence without face-to-face interactions.
So, how is one expected to learn a new industry, master a new product, and cultivate new relationships internally, all while being 100 percent remote? The answer, in part, is self-reliance.
The ability to be a self-starter and proactively advocate for oneself has always been an important attribute, especially in high growth, often ambiguous professional settings. However, with the onset of COVID-19, self-reliance has never been more important, especially when joining a new company.
Personally, this mode of thinking has manifested itself in different forms, although they all have something in common: pushing my comfort zone. For example, I have taken it upon myself to proactively reach out to people across the company that I've never been formally introduced to. Why? Because I believe it's important to establish meaningful relationships with colleagues, especially ones that are cross-functional in nature. In the past, these relationships would have been formed organically at lunches, company-sponsored happy hours, or impromptu social gatherings. (It's important to note that my company has done a great job facilitating introductions via public digital hangouts and the like.)
Another outlet I've used to introduce myself is the beloved Slack social channel. If you're not in the know, social channels are public group chats that generally have nothing to do with the business-side of the company. Channels dedicated to "cooking", "sports", or "Star Wars" are not uncommon.
Personally, I decided to join our golf channel at the recommendation of my new-hire "buddy" (a colleague assigned to me and fully dedicated to making sure all my questions are being answered, etc.). However, I also thought it was important to say something and not just linger. So I did, and I made some new connections along the way.
Whether reaching out to people cold or engaging with like-minded colleagues in Slack, I have tried to more proactively engage with those around me to make up for those encounters lost to the realm of the physical office space. Ultimately, I feel like I've already grown personally as a result and hope to continue to learn and challenge myself throughout these uncertain times.