Show of hands: Anybody else look for a new job and land a promising offer during the pandemic? A few of you. Well, let me take you through the experience for the rest. It was … different. But not in a bad way.
When it was time to look for my new role, getting through the interview process in an entirely remote environment was actually much easier than the job-hunting efforts of my past. Consider the amount of preparation and travel time required for in-person interviews. The search simplifies when there’s no pavement to pound.
Being able to pause my workday to attend a virtual interview with limited downtime, I was able to meet with several companies without the paranoia of losing productivity at my then-current role. When I was extended the offer for my current position, I was able to quietly celebrate my success and collect my composure before setting plans in place to start my new journey.
First Comes Virtual Onboarding
Being hired remotely was one thing; starting that job from my kitchen table was quite another. Regarding virtual onboarding, the first days were very slow and quiet. However, my diary filled up rather quickly as I networked through the organization. The biggest challenge was not being able to see and greet my new team in person. I had to rely solely on cues from video chats as I got up to speed in my new role.
There are a few challenges in getting to know your teammates and colleagues in such a situation. Building trust probably tops that list. My organization had been through a bit of a redesign in the marketing organization upon my arrival, and everyone was exhausted and unsure of the future due to the pandemic.
Benchmarks also changed overnight. While the team had been operating in a fast-paced environment, disruption became the new normal. Keeping the team motivated in the face of constant upheaval had challenged their cohesion, productivity, and difficulty with change. It was (and remains) a lot to deal with, as we all know.
The absence of physical proximity to co-workers and colleagues is another major hurdle. Even with the technology available today, teams work better and get more done when members are in close contact. In fact, scientist Matthew Lieberman makes a case that our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water, saying: “Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.”
How to Build Trust From Afar
I learned a handful of strategies through this virtual onboarding process that leaders in similar positions and situations can utilize to meet the aforementioned challenges and hit the ground running in their new ventures. Those include:
1. Check, check. To help establish and build trust, I use the two-word check-in from Brené Brown to measure our team’s mood, the impact of work-life balance, and as a measure to share openly in a safe place. We are the only people we’re likely interacting with day-to-day. To trust each other, we must be able to open up to each other as well. “I’m fine” isn’t an acceptable answer in this exercise. I’m looking for true feelings like “exhausted” or “overwhelmed.” Those help me make better connections with my team.
2. Change the subject. To combat our lack of proximity, I’ve helped create an outlet for “no-work chats” in order for all of us to show our human sides. Because meetings are often procedural and the team is likely neck-deep in work issues all day, it’s important to make time for teammates to go off-script and just enjoy “watercooler” conversations. We have no-work chats weekly and talk about everything but work to ease the stress of the week.
3. Be hyper-accountable. This boils down to a simple mantra: Do what you say and say what you do. There’s no room for politics in the workplace anymore. Being online more often than we used to can challenge our accountability to one another. I personally have no issue saying, “I don’t know” or “that’s a good question — I’ll get back to you.” This approach shows humility and honesty.
At the end of the day, I’d rather watch and listen than give the wrong inputs and be held accountable for what was said and not done.