One of the most difficult periods in any job is the first few weeks, while you are getting to know your team, the company and your new job. It can be a difficult time for any employee, but it can be even more difficult for employees who are working in remote offices or telecommuting. Getting to know the team and understanding the company culture are much more difficult when you aren’t sitting in the corporate office with the rest of your team. However, there are plenty of things that you can do as a remote employee, or as an employer of remote employees, to make that first week a little easier on everyone.
If at all possible, your first week really should be face-to-face in the corporate office. There is something about getting the team together in person to establish a good baseline relationship with key team members that can help make the upcoming weeks easier. Being at the office your first week also gives you access to on-site IT staff to make sure that you have all of the equipment and software required to be productive when you get back to your home office, and it gives you access to orientation and other training in addition to face time with your team. Spending the first week in the office isn’t always possible, especially in smaller companies where there is no corporate office or if budget constraints make travel impractical. However, if this is an option, take it!
I’m not normally a big fan of meetings, but taking the time to meet with as many key people as possible in your first week can really help you learn about your job, the company and the team. These meetings could be in-person, where possible, or remote, via web conferencing software, VoIP or phone. Talk to your manager and find out if they are already scheduling any meetings for your first week, since some companies are more proactive than others about making a good first impression during week one. If the meetings aren’t already scheduled, find out who you will be working with and schedule meetings with those people in your first week. Focus on learning about what they do, ask about the company and find out what they think you should be doing. Understanding what your peers expect out of your job can give you quite a bit of information about where you should or should not be focusing. Make sure that you figure out which of these people you will interact with on a regular basis and schedule recurring meetings with key people to help you stay in touch with the team while you work from afar. Also ask about what regular meetings you might need to attend and make sure that you have key team meetings, process/product meetings and corporate events on your calendar.
If possible, try to get the company to send you any required equipment pre-configured to work on the company network along with instructions for getting access to company resources a few days in advance of starting your new remote job. This helps to ensure that you can start being productive immediately rather than spending the first week trying to get online. I’ve had several companies do this, and it gave me a huge productivity boost, since I had time to test everything and resolve any minor issues before “officially” starting the new job. It also gives you plenty of time to get everything configured the way you need it and to get your job-specific software installed at a relaxed pace without being a drain on productivity. Make sure that you take the time to ask about policies or other technological restrictions that prevent you from using certain pieces of software over the corporate network. For example, you shouldn’t plan on using Skype for phone calls only to find out that it doesn’t work over your corporate VPN network.
If you are starting a job where you need to work out of a home office, you might already have a good office setup with some privacy, a comfortable chair and everything you need to work remotely. However, you should be prepared for making some adjustments. Ask your manager in advance about the working environment and your specific job needs. For example, some companies have large numbers of phone meetings, and you might need something other than a cell phone if you are going to have days with back-to-back meetings for large portions of the day over the phone. A landline and a good headset or speaker phone might be a good investment in those cases. If your work involves a lot of contracts or other documentation that you need to send to customers from your home office, you might need a better scanner or even (gasp!) a fax machine.
Tips for Employers
While the above tips are focused on remote employees, as an employer or manager of remote employees, you should think about how you can make the remote employee’s first week a productive and happy one.
- Can you schedule some face-to-face time?
- Have you scheduled meetings for their first week?
- Do they have the technology they need to do their job?
- Can you send them their equipment a few days in advance?
- Are they enrolled in the right training classes?
- Have you carved out time on your calendar to check in with them a few times during that first week?