Work remotely: Starting a new role in the time of COVID-19

Remote work under COVID-19, starting a new job under global pandemic
Benjamin Prigent, Senior Product Designer at Highline Beta

COVID-19 is infiltrating every aspect of life. So what’s it like to start in a new role in the time of global pandemic? We sat down with Benjamin Prigent, our new Senior Product Designer at Highline Beta to talk about this unique experience and work remotely, we know others may share right now, as employers and employees.

You started working with Highline Beta just as we went full remote. What was your first day “on the team” like?

BP: This is true! Canada started resealing travel bans and companies started going fully remote during the two weeks between when my offer was signed and my first day. 

My first day was interesting. I had never been part of a large team working completely remote before. In general, first days are filled with meetings, the nature of which can include going over HR protocols, admin stuff, meeting your direct team, and getting to know current projects. The content of my first day was basically the same, but it all happened on Zoom. It was new, but fortunately I wasn’t the only one starting that day: two other hires were in the same boat.  

How do you invest your time now vs. how you’d invest it when you were in an office setting? 

BP: The biggest thing I noticed when joining my first all-remote team was that I needed more time to understand how the organization worked. In the previous teams I’d joined, I got to sit down with people, get to know them and learn their working styles through 100 micro-conversations, that is – asking one quick question and getting one quick answer again and again. . 

Remotely, these types of conversations don’t happen as easily. You either have to formulate it in writing or you set up a meeting. In both cases, it just takes a bit more time.

How was your first week? Any new remote office learnings? 

BP: My first week went well. There was one particular phenomenon I noticed in this new remote work setting: a lot more meetings in my Google Calendar. Two friends who also work remotely confirmed the uptick as well as a few staff at HLB. 

At first I was unsure about it, but the increased number of meetings didn’t mean we spent more time talking. They were really pointed and productive. Here’s two reasons why I think meetings work so well for teams in remote settings: 

  1. Remote meetings encourage faster and more efficient knowledge transfers. When you’re working remotely, there’s no impromptu hallway run-ins or meandering project conversations by a water cooler. Before that calendar invite goes out, you need to have a really clear vision of your meeting’s purpose and the desired output. As a result, everyone communicates objectives more clearly and gets on the same page faster. The less confusion, the faster everyone gets to work. 
  2. Remote meetings improve time-management and productivity. Because meetings don’t happen as spontaneously as they might in a work setting (let’s forget about Slack in this moment), needing to schedule more of them actually makes you assess your own time better. How much time will a meeting take? Could it be shorter? How much time will I have left to deep-dive into work? Everyone is more invested in maximizing their productivity and minimizing the amount of time spent on an aimless video call. 
Remote work under COVID-19, starting a new job under global pandemic

What are some of the “hacks” you’ve discovered so far to make your days work for you?

I do have a funny little hack! My partner and I are both working from my place right now. And we both have meetings regularly. We’re never sure if the other is in a meeting or not because we don’t always talk during meetings. So I have a little meeting sign on my desk that I flip around when I’m busy, almost like a do not disturb door hanger. It works! 😉 

Company cultures are built by people not rooms.

Remote work can also pose challenges, particularly if it’s a new experience for employees. Any specific challenges you identified/overcame in the first week? 

Beyond missing the micro-conversations, I was a little nervous about how I would establish a sense of connection to other employees in a remote environment. Personally, I’m more productive if I have personal connections with the people I work with. So before starting this job, I worried it might be harder to build that type of rapport. Throughout the week, however, I quickly discovered that I was able to get to know my direct team and the broader team quite well through meetings and channels like Slack. To me, successful onboarding is more about a company’s culture and how they think about integrating new recruits than whether everyone is in an office. Company cultures are built by people not rooms.

What does it mean/how does it feel to be part of a fully virtual team for the first time? 

Joining Highline Beta – virtually or not – has been an amazing experience for me. I’m very biased here, but even after just a week, I can tell that I’m working with experts who are extremely passionate about what they do and where the company is going.

In an environment like this, where everyone is held accountable and where people actually want to get shit done, the remote structure becomes a fairly insignificant detail. 

And to be frank I felt trusted by Highline Beta with my mission and skillset from day one and I’m eager to start creating value with my designs here.

At Highline Beta, we realize the situation we’re all facing now is serious and not going away any time soon. So we put together 7 recommendations for startup founders on what to do in this COVID-19 crisis, and 7 tools for remote work for businesses, community builders and event organizers.

We’re still hiring for a couple key roles. Please check out the postings here: https://jobs.alongside.com/employer-profile/highline-beta

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