How To Start A New Job Amid COVID When You WFH And Can’t See Anyone
If I had $1 for each time someone has asked me “wah, you start new job during COVID, must be tough right?”, I would be rich. Okay, not rich-rich, but flush enough to pay for my new extra-strength massage gun without feeling the pinch.
The truth is - it really hasn’t been that hard. In fact, as I’ve learned in the 7 months since I began my new role at a tech company, doing so in these WFH times is in many ways easier than starting in an office, because everyone is separated and in a similar situation.
Working from home puts a damper on clique behaviour, gossip and office politics, plus you don’t have to worry about stuff like whether you have anyone to buy bubble tea with or what to wear to work as you learn the ropes of your new responsibilities.
That said, many of those aspects that are missing from a WFH situation are also the very things that can help you settle in, do well in your job and - if you’re ambitious like that - start climbing the company ladder. Call it relationship building.
So how can you get people to warm up to you and prove your worth when you can’t even tell how tall they are, much less have the opportunity to vibe with them?
Here are 3 tactics that helped me (if it’s any indication of their efficacy, someone commented a couple of months into my job that it felt like I’d been on the team for a year) - and I hope they work for you, too.
1. Create your own opportunities
As a newbie in a virtual environment where there are no visual cues to remind others you’re there, it’s easy to get left out of things. So even though I’m an introvert who generally doesn't like talking to people, I made it a point to ask my manager for a list of individuals who might be able to help me out in my new role or that I would potentially be working with, with the goal of talking to someone new at least twice a week. Then I set up virtual coffee sessions with them.
In those Zoom calls, I introduced myself, asked about what they do, and how we might work together. Ahead of the calls, I usually researched their roles and teams and prepared talking points so that the session would be useful (or at least interesting) for both parties.
It was a bit of work, but it really gave me insight into how I could collaborate with my new colleagues and helped me make inroads into different projects.
2. Work with empathy
If there’s one thing that can help you earn the trust of new colleagues right now amidst the lack of face-to-face time, it’s empathy. A survey last month by AIA revealed that about 91% of Singaporeans - in particular young adults - feel their mental health has declined since the start of the pandemic. Which means almost everyone you work with could be struggling in some way.
To reduce friction and make it easier for my teammates to accept having someone new on their team (because us Singaporeans are very judgy one right), I’ve learned to adapt my working style, be more understanding of the different situations everyone has to cope with, and let go of the little things.
We’re all just trying to get by until travel reappears on the horizon, so why make things more difficult than they already are? In return, making an effort to be easy to work with has helped me slide into the team better and feel like a part of things.
3. Be adaptable and independent
As companies ride this rollercoaster of a pandemic, it’s normal to have WFH guidelines, hiring policies and even role responsibilities changing faster than an indecisive colleague’s mind.
To really add value to a company in the current environment, you have to roll with the punches, be it trying to work out sign-on IT issues on your own because there’s no physical IT department to take your laptop to, or accepting that your onboarding buddy has precious little time to help you with stuff in between her own workload and having to deal with her kids’ HBL.
A recruiter recently told me: “No one wants to hire anyone who isn’t a Swiss army knife any more.”
If you’ve been clinging on to practices from your old #BeforeCovid job, it’s time to reassess your approach - sticking to old ways and expecting to do only what you were hired for won’t help you withstand the wave of change that the pandemic has brought with it, especially when it comes to starting new employment.