Ariel Simmons was excited when Unum offered her an internship at the company’s Baton Rouge, Louisiana, office this spring. But she didn’t welcome what she heard next:
Like thousands of businesses across the country, Unum shifted to nearly 100% remote working and closed its offices in mid-March. And like millions of employees across the country, Simmons became a home-based worker — before she’d even stepped foot into her new employer’s office.
“This is my first official internship, so I was glad at least it wasn’t cancelled,” said Simmons, a rising junior majoring in marketing at Louisiana State University. “But I kind of wanted to be in an office with other people, for the networking and also the atmosphere, to see how things run. This almost feels like I’m still in school.”
Simmons’ onboarding — corporate lingo for new employee orientation, learning managers’ expectations, meeting colleagues, tasting company culture and the myriad other details of starting a new job — had to be handled remotely. She couldn’t pop by her manager’s desk to ask a question or flag down another colleague to find files.
Remote employees require a carefully planned onboarding process to be successful, according to Heather Seavey, an executive recruiter for Unum.
“New employees don’t know what the expectations are, especially if they’re coming from an industry that traditionally hasn’t functioned with a remote workforce,” Seavey said. “It’s important for hiring managers to set up specific, regular times to connect with new employees and keep them engaged.”
Quickly getting the right technology in employees’ hands also is critical.
“Our team was in the midst of hiring dozens of people when the lockdown hit,” Seavey said. “Working closely with our IT team, we quickly created a streamlined process to get new employees their laptops and other equipment, either through curbside pickup or shipping it to them.”
Employees can take active steps to make the arrangement successful, too. Here are some tips from Simmons and Seavey:
- Get organized. Determine a set workspace. “Set up a beautiful office,” Simmons said. “You need to feel like you’re going someplace. You won’t be productive if you move around from the couch to the kitchen table to the bed.” And definitely get — and use — a planner to keep track of your work, she added.
- Be proactive. Make sure you understand your role, assignments and deadlines. It’s rare for a manager to complain a new employee asks too many questions.
- Learn communication preferences. Find out if your team prefers email, phone calls, video calls or chat messages. This will vary by person and project, depending whether you need extensive background info or just need to check a due date.
- Be flexible. You, your boss and your co-workers are all navigating new territory here. Understand many processes have changed — and will continue to do so.
- Find a mentor. Ask your manager if there’s a teammate who could help you learn who, how and where to go for what.
- Get involved. Are there committees, clubs or community events you can participate in? Even if meetings and activities are virtual right now, it’s still a great way to connect with colleagues and learn your company’s culture.
- Get personal. You’ll have to make a little more effort to get to know your co-workers remotely, but it’ll pay off in stronger relationships and better networking. Find out if your company uses an intranet or a social media platform such as Yammer for employees to share personal interests and achievements. That brusque-sounding new colleague may be a lot more approachable when you learn you both share a passion for goldendoodles … or cheese doodles.
Still, Seavey pointed out starting a new job remotely isn’t for everyone.
“I’ve talked to a fair number of candidates who thought they were ready to make a career move but changed their mind during this uncertain time,” she said. “Most passive candidates already in a stable work environment decided it was easier to stay with what they know.”