Starting a new job remotely
Some things I found helped make it a little less weird
A few months ago I was offered an exciting job opportunity to go and be a data scientist at Manchester based start up Residently, and after working at Peak for 3 years, I decided it was time to take on a new challenge. Unbeknownst to me that by the time I would finish my notice period at Peak a global pandemic would be infecting the world and everyone would be in lockdown. It’s still a very uncertain time for many companies but it’s looking like some level of social distancing is going to continue for quite some time therefore joining a company remotely might become more common (Twitter have announced that employees can work remotely forever).
During my last few weeks at Peak I helped to onboard some new starters so I had an idea of what it was going to be like having seen it from the other side. There are plenty of blog posts on how to work remotely so I thought I’d put together this blog post of a few things that I have found to really help when joining a company remotely given I’ve now been at Residently for a month. Some of these tips will also apply to starting a new job in general and also to getting into a good routine for working remotely.
These tips have worked for me in this current situation. Everyone is working from home and a lot of people are finding it all a bit weird. Since noone is in the office there is no fear of missing out, eveyone is in the same boat. These might not translate to a time where the offices are back open but you are still joining a company remotely. A few years ago I worked remotely and I just didn’t like it at all, partly that was down to lack of experience but mostly I lacked the social interaction, I think I have adjusted better this time because everyone is at home.
Keep in contact with your new employer/employee
Notice periods can be long. I had 2 months from accepting my new job to my start date and for about a month of that we were in lockdown. Lots can change in 2 months, even in pre covid life start up companies can move really quickly that it’s worth while keeping in contact to understand what the business will look like when you are starting. There has been even more uncertainty with lockdown - particularly at the beginning with companies having to make cuts or put staff on furlough. I had a call the week before I joined with Residently which helped settle any nerves about starting a new job not knowing how they were currently coping in this new weird “normal”.
Before lockdown they had also invited me to lunch in their office but this had to be changed to virtual lunch when the date came. Virtual lunches are awkward. Virtual lunches with people you’ve never met are awkward. But it was really good to get to know some of the team before I joined and in a more “social” setting.
For employers with new starters joining reach out to them, send an email and see how they are getting on adjusting to this different way of working.
Have a leaving party
Normally when you leave a job it’s custom to go out for lunch or drinks with your colleagues. Obviously this couldn’t happen at the moment but the data science team at Peak organised a leaving virtual pub quiz for me instead - thanks all! It was a really good opportunity to just relax out of work time and chat to the team before I left. It also helped me celebrate the great years I had at Peak. Leaving a job remotely is very very weird. Shutting my laptop on the Friday and then boxing it up and getting a courier to collect it signified the end of my Peak journey. The virtual leaving party helped in the weirdness of it all.
Switch up your working location
It was weird starting a new job in the same room as I had been in a couple of days before just on a different laptop. The other week my partner and I swapped our work rooms for the week “to mix things up” and I sort of wished I had done that a few weeks earlier. I think a change of location, even just for the first day, would have created a bit of a sense of newness.
Get a list of useful contacts
On my first day at Residently my manager set up one introduction call with another member of the team for me but then she gave me a list of people I had to set up calls with. I found this a really great way to do introductions to the team. It gave me something to do in my first morning and then throughout my first week I had plenty of calls with the team to keep me busy. By leaving me to set up the calls meant I had already had a bit of conversation with everyone I was calling before we had the introduction meetings.
Get a work buddy
It’s always useful when you start a new job to get buddied up with someone who you can help you get set up and answer any questions you have in the first couple of weeks. Since I’m the only data scientist I’ve been using one of the engineers as my “buddy” which has worked really well as they got me access to all the systems I needed and set me up an R server very quickly which meant I could get stuck into the data within the first couple of days. Previously when I’ve had new starters join my team I’ve buddied them up with a data scientist but then they’ve had to log support tickets to get any access permissions set up, I think one thing I’d recommend would be to also get an engineer who can help in the first week or so, I found this more welcoming and it would give a new data scientist a better introduction to the engineering team (if one exists).
Set up virtual coffee
If you are starting a new job get involved in any social activities that are happening. At Peak we had beer hour every Friday, a regular pub quiz and just before I left the quarterly event became on online bingo event. These are good ways to meet other people in the team that you might not get to talk to day to day.
If there aren’t many events happening then set one up yourself. It’s a lot easier to try and suggest something and then face rejection on Slack! My first week I was really busy with daily calls to different members of the team but in the second week I had more “free” time so I decided to organise a coffee session which I have now made a weekly thing. I’ve put 30 minutes in the calendar every Wednesday for anyone in the team to come and join and just have a chat to other people in the team. This doesn’t quite replicate the organic conversations I would normally have in the office but it’s half an hour in the week where people from all the different teams (even in different offices) can come together and we just have a natter about anything other than work related stuff.
Reach out to new starters/colleagues
We’re all getting a bit of Zoom fatigue recently. Suddenly everything happens on Zoom and you start to really yearn for the time you don’t need to be on Zoom. However if you spend all day either in meetings or working you might be missing the general social time you have in an office. Reach out - particularly to new starters or colleagues who you might not work with day to day and arrange a call (you can do it as an old fashioned phone call) or have virtual lunch (yes awkward but you’d have lunch with a colleague in an office). In my first week a couple of people messaged me to set up a casual chat and it was really nice to feel welcomed by the team.
Start as you mean to go on
So I’ve already covered the fact leaving a job remotely is weird. Starting a new job remotely is weird. But the one thing I found the most weird, and something I hadn’t anticipated, was finishing my first day remotely. I couldn’t see any of my colleagues finishing work so I didn’t know what the expectations were.
Data science at times can be a difficult job at times to “switch off”. There’s no clocking off at the end of the night. Our brains can be constantly trying to think about the best methods to solve the problem. In lockdown it’s specifically difficult to turn off as you don’t need to go anywhere, at least in an office you eventually need to leave and commute home.
Starting a new job is a great time to refresh your routine and set the expectations of your work time. I’ve got into a good routine of getting up and maybe doing some exercise in the morning (before exercise was limited to once per day I used to “commute” to work by walking around the block), I always get changed into “normal” clothes and I have times scheduled during the day for coffee and lunch. When I worked from home years ago I would roll out of bed just before I needed to start work, I’d keep my pajamas on, work from bed and take very regular trips to the fridge. Having a routine has made working remotely a lot easier and I feel like I’ve been really motivated the past couple of weeks.
Starting a job remotely was a bit weird to begin with but one benefit I’ve found is that starting a new job can be really tiring with trying to learn new business processes and meet new people. Having more time to myself has meant I’ve got a lot more focused work down without distractions and saving time on the commute has meant I’ve generally been finding everything a lot more relaxing than normal.
My experience of working from home at the moment is much more positive than the last time I tried it. I think this is largely down to me having more experience now so I’ve been able to find a lot of data science to keep me busy. Being the only data scientist means I don’t need to spend a lot of time talking to other team members so I can just get on with my projects. It’s also easier to work from home when everyone else is in the same position as there’s no chance of FOMO.
It’s going to be weird when we do get back into the office and I essentially have a second “first day” when I’ll get to find out what people actually look like and realise I don’t have Zoom to help me remember names!
Hopefully these tips have been useful. I’d love to hear from you if you have any other thoughts or advice.