A few months ago, I made a decision to leave my job in pursuit of a more positive and fulfilling working life. I hear you, starting a new job in itself is not all that groundbreaking. However, finding a new job bang in the middle of a global pandemic is a little more unusual. Who would possibly be hiring right now? To my surprise, I managed to bag a role that ticked my boxes. What I didn’t anticipate was how strange it would be to start a new job remotely. The beginning of this new chapter has left me feeling especially introspective, so I want to share my experience of being the virtual office newbie.
I chose to leave my job for a number of reasons. Without going into it, the biggest one being I was just utterly miserable. Sure, leaving your job during a recession and dire economic state isn’t ideal, but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.
I am no stranger to working remotely. In fact, before returning to London I spent a year living and working from home abroad in Perth, Western Australia. Swapping beaches for Balham wasn’t in the original plan, but I was excited for new challenges and adventures ahead.
Benefits of starting a new job remotely
It’s not all bad when starting a job remotely. There are a few factors that I’ve actually preferred about being a new starter from home!
My first day was different from a normal first day at the office. There was no awkward office tour, no stares from curious faces. I didn’t have to pretend I’ve remembered everyone’s names and what they do. Although I’m sure it’s coming when we eventually return… At least I’ll recognise everyone by then.
Better still, spacing out the introductions to various teams and coworkers meant I could note down everything I could remember right after each video call. Three months later, I haven’t looked at those notes once, but they’re available if I needed them as a reminder.
There’s been no agonising over what to wear to impress my new teammates that has the right balance of cool but put-together, professional yet fun.
I do admit I miss wearing something other than leggings and slippers, though!
A small but significant benefit of this situation is the creature comforts from being at home. There are no butterflies of walking in the wrong door, no tentative questions about when to take lunch and with whom, no forgetful moments in the kitchen when I re-introduce myself to the same person for the fifth time… No, I can eat lunch with Kazimir and curl up on the sofa immediately after logging off. One less thing to worry about in the day.
Surprisingly, I’ve been more comfortable introducing myself over video than in person. I can be shy so will often panic and overcompensate by talking too much which just gets me feeling more awkward. So, with the slower pace of one-to-one video calls, I’ve not had to worry about body language and saying the wrong thing quite so much. I’ve actually enjoyed getting to know people from my own home where I feel safe and comfortable already.
I’m also a chronic fiddler, so having a water bottle by my side is a reassuring distraction for my hands which would otherwise be twitching away if I were in the office. It also gives me an excuse to gulp a few sips and calm down when the aforementioned babbling starts!
Colleagues have also made my introduction to the company really easy. Everyone has been extra kind and accommodating. I can’t count how many times a sympathetic “nice to e-meeting you” email has acknowledged the difficulties in starting a job remotely.
In the same boat
Interestingly for my situation, my partner Kaz also started a new job remotely just a couple of weeks before me. Having someone go through the exact same processes, doubts, frustrations, questions, and excitement has been so reassuring. We can compare our situations and better understand what is or isn’t “normal”, and be a real support to one another at such a weird time.
Although he works in a completely different industry and job function to me, it’s been fascinating to see what overlap (or not) there has been for our experiences.
Together, we’ve been able to form a new routine rather than having to fit our new working lives into an existing schedule. The work/home life balance we’ve coordinated has benefitted us more than I anticipated thanks to this turn of fate.
Challenges of starting a new job remotely
Any new job is scary. There are always fears and nerves about fitting in and meeting everyone, it can be overwhelming. These are the main challenges I’ve faced whilst starting a new job remotely.
The usual challenges
Of course, there are the usual challenges of starting a new job. Missing the familiarity of a team you’ve worked with for years, not being up to scratch with all the protocols and insights of the company, not having access to everything you need right away… but that feels 100x more amplified when you’re sitting alone in your flat, no idea who to ask for a solution to any of these issues.
IT support must thing I am a real-life idiot based on some of the annoying things I’ve needed help with.
One is expected to feel overwhelmed with so many names, faces, titles, processes to get to grips with. As I mentioned, taking time to gradually be introduced to various aspects of the company helped massively.
Being the odd one out
I don’t actually KNOW anyone I work with. Or know when I’ll have the chance to get to meet them, let alone get to know them. Sure, we can talk about work and I might pick up on their interests and background here and there, but there’s something quite lonely about being the odd one out who doesn’t know the history and context of a team. I want to know their stories, what they enjoy and pursue in their free time. This one is the hardest for me to tackle remotely, and I know is the product of having had a very close, very lovely team of colleagues for years.
Wanting to be liked and to fit it is only heightened by also wanting to do a good job and be a good colleague. Although these drive me to try my best, they can still be a catalyst for anxiety at times. Just reminding myself that I am new and it’ll be a while before I’ve truly settled in is enough to push past those fears. I often remind myself that I would probably feel this way if I were working in-person too. It’s impossible to jump into a role and be in-the-know right away. Accepting that it’s ok has been hard, but worthwhile for this transition.
Getting to know the little quirks and habits of people you speak to more than your own family is a lot harder when you’re not physically together. For example, I can’t spot Jeff going for an 11am tea, green, of course. And, oh look, Jane is tapping her pen again – must be one of Brian’s stern emails. The personal aspect of working together has gone, replaced by body-less floating heads on a screen.
What’s the workplace culture like? Who knows! Do people take lunch together, or go to the pub after work? Only time will tell when we finally return to an office.
I’m not the only one who’s felt a rise in anxiety since working remotely full time. The NY Times recently highlighted how the nuances and impromptu moments we share in an office have been replaced by overanalysing inconsequential moments over video calls and passing comments in emails.
“Communicating completely virtually with their co-workers does not mean our emotional office dynamics have caught up yet to our new videoconference world.”
There are also the in-jokes and dynamics that only come with being part of a team for, well, years. In my old role, this was a huge part of the job that I loved. Who’d have thought FOMO would still be possible during a national lockdown?
Starting a new job remotely has made it extra tricky to navigate and familiarise oneself with a new team. Honestly, I’m terrified they’ll think I’m weird! I really do miss the off-topic chit-chat and the out-the-blue commentary of the day. Those moments help you bond with new coworkers. I can’t help but wonder if being the new person is the reason I crave more “real” connections with teammates.
As someone who can be rather private about myself, I’ve not always been the most forthcoming with sharing more about my personality and interests. I’d like to do better at that. If I so badly want to get to know them, I might as well lead by example and let others get to know me by opening up.
Imposter Syndrome. Oh, this bad boy hits SO much worse when you’re staring at your own gormless face on video calls day in day out. It’s very common to feel a sense of Imposter Syndrome when starting any new job. Your organisational inexperience makes you question why on earth they gave you the role. But it fades. And sooner than you think, you’ll find your groove and routine.
Self-doubt also loves to make an appearance on a daily basis.
Do my colleagues like me yet? Am I doing a good job to prove they made the right choice?
A clash of my own fears plus the missing micro-moments that can offer reassurance is a cocktail of overthinking. All I can do is recognise that I’m doing the best I can. Starting a new job will always involve risk. I’ve tried very hard to not let the remoteness of the situation exacerbate those worries. And remember, if there really is a problem with performance or personality clashes, your superiors will almost always let you know.
Getting ahead of oneself
Despite the relief of avoiding the awkward introductions, it does mean I missed a crucial rite of passage for a new starter. I skipped the transition and immediately stuttered into figuring out the day-to-day. I felt that I should know everything already. Found myself frustrated that I wasn’t completely clued up yet.
This brings me to the uncertainty of asking for help. Writing an email or a message or arranging a call just feels so much more formal than a casual “Can I ask a question real quick?” to your desk neighbour. Digitally, I have to know who to ask before I can even raise my query.
But, I’ve decided to embrace my annoying inquisitive side. I would rather ask the question than not. Better to be safe than sorry! So, for the time being, my poor teammates will have to put up with my endless questions until I’ve figured it out.
How does the pandemic effect starting a new job remotely?
Besides the obvious separation from new colleagues and office life, it also infiltrates everyone’s personal lives too.
It’s all anyone talks about, which makes getting to know each other that little bit harder. Ultimately, it’s been a massive distraction from our usual lifestyles and working patterns so of course, it also impacts your job.
In my case, the company I work for is healthcare-related so restrictions dominate my days more than I had anticipated. It’ll almost be strange once it’s all over!
There are also the personnel changes that have accompanied the pandemic. Colleagues who have been furloughed are missing out on getting to know the new people, workloads have piled up on the remaining staff, not to mention the general anxiety the c-word can cause.
The nature of working from home means that I’m not just learning about my new colleagues’ working life. I’m also peering into their home environments, meeting their pets and sometimes even their kids. It’s actually really nice to see this side of your coworkers. It’s a gentle reminder of their world beyond the 9-5.
As you can see, it’s not been easy to start a new job remotely. But it could also be a lot worse. Most of the factors I’ve struggled with are simply an intensified version of the usual challenges of being new to a company.
What does the future hold?
I’m just a few months into this new job. I’m optimistic that with patience and time the future will be a good one.
I can’t deny that this job is entirely better for me than my last role. For my mental health, my progression into an industry I actually care about, and for new challenges.
Working from home stress is not a particularly new issue for many. And really, it’s not all that different from the stresses of working in an office. I still worry about what others think of me, and I still have to accept that time and patience are the biggest factors when settling into a new job, remotely or in person.
Have you started a new job recently? If so, congrats! Let me know how you’ve found the experience.
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