Onboarding: Lockdown style

Hi, I’m Roxy – Fifty Five and Five’s newest employee. Except, there’s a bit of a twist – I haven’t met any of my co-workers yet. Let me share my experience of onboarding during lockdown.

Pranita Tamang
6 MIN|June 22, 2020
Illustration woman at computer sound

At the time of writing, I’m in my fifth week as a full-time employee at Fifty Five and Five. That means my first day occurred after the rest of the company had already packed up their monitors and laptops and set up at home.

If, like me, you were looking for a job around February, you probably experienced a fairly familiar recruitment journey, perhaps including a telephone interview, followed by a face to face meeting and so on. But as the recruitment procedure progressed, it became quickly clear that this wouldn’t be any normal recruitment process. From then on, the whole experience happened virtually.

Luckily, the experience was a success, and I managed to find myself a new role during the lockdown period. So, I thought I’d share my experience.

Virtual job interviews: A learning curve

Virtual interviews have been around for a number of years and shouldn’t really be that different from a face to face interview. In fact, I discovered that the more I treated it like a face to face interview, the better I’d be able to manage the situation. That meant preparing and doing my research in exactly the same way as normal, and thinking about the environment around me:

Where should I do the interview?

Am I comfortable in that environment?

What should I wear?

These are fairly simple questions that any one of would ask in this situation. But my main goal was really to make the experience as close to the real thing as possible – nerves included. So, I went about this process as I normally would, choosing the appropriate clothes and planning my questions and answers in advance. On top of that, I thought it wise to make sure I had a stable internet connection and a plan B in case anything went wrong on the spot.

It’s all about saying yes

On a normal day, the onboarding process starts as soon as you say yes to a job offer. Of course, I was delighted to get mine – but lockdown had certainly made the situation a touch more difficult than I expected when I first applied. I was a bit worried about starting a new job remotely, about having to get to know people remotely, making a good first impression and learning the ropes entirely from behind a screen in my own home.

So, how do you make such an important decision, involving people you haven’t met and will continue to not meet for some time? It was a tricky question, but in the end I realised that my new employers had probably had the same thought when they considered whether to take a chance and offer me a job. In the end, all it takes in these situations is for somebody to say “yes, we can make this work” and approach it with a positive attitude. So, after a little thought, I decided that I’d do just that – and, so far at least, have had no regrets.

Onboarding in lockdown 101

Once I’d accepted the job offer, it was time to prepare for my first day in the virtual office. I went through this process as if it were a regular first day. This included makeup, shirt and smart trousers – and even the right shoes. A lot of it wasn’t so much about impressing people via Microsoft Teams as it was about feeling like I was in the right headspace for starting a new job. I urge any of you starting a new job to do something symbolic to mark the start of a new role, whether that’s sipping coffee in your new mug, putting on a tie or even just re-arranging your desk. Sometimes the feeling of ‘new’ can really help.

From then I started my first Teams call and was officially an employee. Here’s a few things I learned in my first week as a Fifty Five and Five employee.

1. Introduce your e-self

As with all first days, we started with my colleagues introducing themselves and talking about their roles. I found it tempting to try and get every detail down – but it’s also important to take the opportunity to introduce yourself. In my case, I’d had three introductory calls before everyone knew who I was and where I come from. I then took a couple of minutes to also speak about my previous experience and what I wanted to bring to the team.

2. I hope you like Microsoft Teams

Meeting everyone in lockdown felt different, but I remained optimistic and positive. I wanted to learn as much as possible about my colleagues, so when we’re back in the office we can shake off the awkwardness of seeing each other for the first time in the flesh. Perhaps I’ll do a follow up post on how that goes down…

To my surprise, Microsoft Teams became a trustworthy friend in this experience. From the great quality of the calls, and being able to leave reactions to messages, Teams is really the glue that’s keeping the team connected right now.

But as well as that, from the comfort of my own home, I got a glimpse into who my colleagues were as people; sneak peaks into their hobbies, personalities and families. That made getting to know everyone a strangely unique experience – not being allowed to meet them in person, but also seeing more of their personal lives than you normally would during months of sharing an office. It bought us closer, which was an experience I wouldn’t have had outside lockdown.

3. Onboarding: Step by step

As a person who’s had a few onboarding processes, I must admit that my recent experience has so far been the best yet.

Allow me to explain.

Before the lockdown began, you’d start a new job with someone from HR walking you through the office, introducing you to colleagues, only to forget their names as soon as you reach your designated desk. Then you’d be added to countless meetings and by the end of the day, you’d be riding the tube with a double shot espresso at 7 pm hoping you’d get enough energy to make it to your bed. It’s a draining process.

My experience in lockdown was far better. My team lead organised an agenda stretched out over my first week and I got facetime with absolutely everyone in the company. I even got my own buddy (Hi Paulina!) – a colleague outside of my team that could talk to me about the company, culture and answer any silly question I had, of which there were plenty.

One thing I was really grateful for was that all the information I needed to start my job was stored in the cloud and was easily accessible from my kitchen. Apps like Notion, Dropbox and Asana were invaluable in helping me find processes, documents and keeping me organised.

Onboarding: Physical vs. virtual

Nothing beats meeting your colleagues in person and working your way into the team. But I’ve certainly learned that virtual onboarding has its benefits.

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, you get to turn your webcam off if you’re having a bad hair day. But as well as that, the lack of a commute is helpful, allowing me two more hours each day than I’m used to (I live in London after all). That meant I had a little bit more time to let information sink in and work out the ropes at my own pace. This gave me the breathing room I needed to develop a better sense of the internal processes and understand the bigger picture of how my work impacted everyone else’s. That meant that a process which would normally take a few months took a just a few weeks.

So, if you’re reading this and wondering whether it’s the right time to hire a new employee, or start a new job – take a little bit of advice from me. Almost anything is possible as long as you say yes. If you think the role and the company are the right fit, then go for it. It’s a new feeling for everybody involved but with a little positivity (and a lot of patience) absolutely anybody can do it.