By now, millions of Americans have grown accustomed to working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. And that’s not such a bad thing.
Despite many employers’ fears that output would suffer, recent studies have found that working remotely actually makes many employees more productive and engaged.
Furthermore, in a survey by PwC, most office workers (83 percent) said they want to work from home at least one day a week, and over half of employers (55 percent) anticipate that most of their workers will do so, after COVID-19 is no longer a concern.
It’s one thing, however, to transition an existing onsite job to a remote one and quite another to start a new job virtually. Like workers in many fields, HR practitioners are experiencing these challenges firsthand.
“Some companies have been extremely proactive at creating onboarding programs for remote workers, but I’ve also seen companies where it falls on the new employees to bring themselves up to speed,” says Robin Throckmorton, SHRM-SCP, president and founder of strategic HR inc., an outsourced human resources management firm based in Cincinnati.
Here are seven tips for getting yourself up to speed when starting an HR job remotely.
1. Get in Sync with Your Boss
Pandemic or no pandemic, it’s good practice to make sure you and your boss are on the same page when starting a new job, says Peggy Hogan, SHRM-SCP, manager of career transitions at Purple Ink, a recruiting and career coaching firm based in Carmel, Ind. So “make sure you have dedicated, one-on-one time with your manager early on,” she advises.
David Ciullo, CEO of HR services firm Career Management Associates in Scarborough, Maine, suggests this opener: “I want to make sure that we get off to a great start, so I’d love to hear what you’re looking for from me in this position.”
Ciullo recommends learning what your supervisor’s preferred method of communication is, how he or she defines success, and what bugs him or her the most. “Maybe your boss hates receiving work e-mails on weekends,” he says. “Finding out that kind of information upfront is crucial.”
Then set up weekly check-ins. Always arrive fully prepared and bring “a clear-cut agenda so that you’re not wasting your boss’s time,” Throckmorton says.
“If your boss doesn’t have time for a chat every week, send him or her a weekly e-mail recapping your big accomplishments,” Hogan says.
After your first 30 days, meet with your boss to make sure your goals are still aligned with his or her expectations, Throckmorton adds.
2. Reach Out to Stakeholders
Your boss isn’t the only person you’ll want to meet with when starting out, says Patricia A. Sullivan, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, an executive coach and HR educator in St. Petersburg, Fla. She recommends creating a list of your internal customers—that is, “the people who will influence what work comes your way and what doesn’t, and the people who will affect the quality of your work.”
Ask your boss to make introductions via e-mail, and then set up video meetings to chat with people one-on-one. Be sure to ask questions during these meetings, Sullivan says. For example, what issues would the CEO like HR to address? What do the employees you represent need?
In addition, ask others what meetings you should attend temporarily so you can learn about the business environment, group dynamics and leadership styles.
3. Get a Read on the Company Culture
“When you walk into an office, you automatically get a sense of the culture,” Ciullo says. “Do co-workers get up and greet you? What are they wearing? How do they decorate their workspaces?” Those kinds of visual cues, he notes, “are lost when you’re working remotely full time.”
Sullivan agrees. “As a new employee who’s starting remotely, you’re not part of the kind of hallway conversations that would help to build your institutional knowledge,” she says.
A few strategies Throckmorton suggests for getting acquainted with your new company’s culture: reflect on your own hiring experience, such as how you were treated and who was involved in the process; look at the company’s promotional materials and website; and ask your new co-workers what they like about working at the organization.
4. Connect with Co-Workers
Without a doubt, “it’s harder to bond with your new team members when you’re working from home,” Sullivan says. “You used to be able to walk into a person’s office and see photos of their family. You can’t do that anymore.”
Still, nothing is stopping you from forging relationships with peers from afar.
“Ask people to join you for a virtual coffee or lunch date,” Sullivan says. Although it’s not the same as rubbing shoulders at the watercooler, a virtual date is still a good way to connect with a colleague on a personal level. Pro tip: “Make sure your Zoom background is the view you want others to think about when they think about you,” she adds. Sitting with a wall of certificates behind you, for instance, would paint you in a professional light.
During these virtual meet-and-greets with your new co-workers, find out if you have shared hobbies or interests to build rapport (pets and favorite sports teams can be great bonding topics), and ask what you can do to support your colleagues professionally.
Follow up with thank-you notes, such as “Hi Jane, just wanted to send a quick note thanking you for spending time with me on Wednesday to help me understand our new recruiting campaign.”
By establishing meaningful relationships with peers early on, you’ll have people you can turn to when you inevitably have questions.
5. Understand How Your Team Communicates
Between e-mails, phone calls, Slack messages and Zoom meetings, there’s no shortage of ways remote workers stay in touch these days. Find out what the norms are at your organization. This will make it easier to foster positive interactions with your peers.
6. Managing a Team? Set Clear Expectations
If you’re stepping into a management position, make sure you clearly convey your expectations, communication preferences and management style to your direct reports. For example, if you don’t mind employees logging in a little late in the morning—perhaps because they need to help their kids start the school day—let your team know that. In fact, offering your employees that sort of flexibility, especially in today’s era of online schooling, can help you build goodwill with your subordinates.
7. Pursue Online Learning Opportunities
In addition to taking advantage of any job training that your employer may offer, you’ll want to seek out other ways to expand your skills. Consider online education platforms such as Udemy, Coursera and edX, which offer thousands of free and low-cost classes for professionals. Your employer may even cover any associated costs.
Daniel Bortz is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.
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