The American workplace is suddenly a very different place. New college graduates must adapt if they hope to start careers on the right foot.
By Veronica Dagher
If you’re a college graduate with a new job, you’re one of the lucky ones. But you also face a stiff challenge: You get to start your career at a time when norms governing the workplace are changing drastically.
On your first day you’ll likely be working alone, at home. No lunches with your new colleagues, free coffee in the break room or random brainstorming chats in the hallway. Instead get ready for virtual coffees, lessons in remote conference-call etiquette and occasional bouts of loneliness.
To navigate this new reality successfully, you will need to adapt. Here is a guide:
• Establish Your WFH Space
Find an area in your home or apartment that is inviting for virtual meetings while working from home (WFH), paying attention to what’s in the background behind you, said Drew Brantley, founder and president of The Orientation Company, which helps employees understand their benefits.
Avoid poorly lighted rooms and attempt to find a light source that can reflect on you from behind your computer screen. Position your camera slightly above face level. (It might require putting your laptop on a box or stack of books.)
• Test Your Tech
Check your IT requirements ahead of time, said Rita Kakati-Shah, founder and chief executive of Uma, a company that helps women and minorities rejoin the workforce.
Try out your work laptop, phone and, if your company has one, the VPN connection, which stands for virtual private network. See if you have enough broadband speed, a strong Wi-Fi connection and working login information.
Consider any other office equipment that might help you concentrate and present yourself in the best way online, such as noise reducing headphones or good external lighting. Learn your company’s etiquette around office communication mediums, such as Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp or Slack, she said.
• Over Communicate
When starting with a new company and working remotely, it is important to stay connected and visible more than you normally would in an in-person environment, said Karol Ward, a psychotherapist and confidence coach.
Find out from your supervisors if there are “virtual coffees” you should grab with co-workers you need to introduce yourself to and whether there are social activities happening that you could participate in, such as virtual happy hours.
• Clarify Expectations
Set short and long-term goals with your supervisor immediately, said Marianne Ruggiero, founder and president of Optima Careers. Find out their top priority and how your work supports that.
Inquire about protocols. For example, are emails best for formal communications and online chat functions better for informal discussions? Find out what decisions your manager needs to be involved in and those you can make on your own.
“Don’t risk learning this through trial and error,” Ms. Ruggiero said.
• Structure Your Day
Even before you have your official work schedule of virtual meetings, phone calls and deadlines, it is important to create your own daily framework, said Ms. Kakati-Shah. If you start your mornings with a walk, jog or yoga, then schedule that in.
Be sure to include scheduled breaks during your day, to maintain your well-being and keep yourself alert and productive. This can be as simple as taking a 15-minute breather, three times a day, she said.
• Connect With Co-Workers
As a virtual employee, it is more difficult to connect with your teammates so be proactive, Mr. Brantley said. Research your peers by reading their LinkedIn accounts and ask them about their work history, education and interests.
Another subtle way to connect with someone virtually is to pay attention to what’s in the background of their videos during virtual meetings, such as books, memorabilia or a diploma, he said.
Seek out interest-driven groups at your new employer, said Anna Binder, head of people at Asana, a developer of web-based collaboration tools. Ask if there are employee resource groups hosting regular talks or Slack channels focused on things you love such as baking, sports or cats.
• Manage Loneliness
Our co-workers give us input, energy and emotional connection, which can affect us in a positive manner and we may miss out on when working remotely, Ms. Ward said.
If you’re feeling lonely, reach out to good friends or family members to connect. Choose people who are good at emotionally supporting you and have the ability to give you a pep talk, she said.
“Checking in with someone you care about at the end of the workday is a good way to transition away from work back into your personal time,” Ms. Ward said, adding that once you have some work friends you can lean on them, too.
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