Whether you have been qualified for 10 weeks or 10 years, I think we all have the same thoughts when starting a new job. What to wear on my first day? Will I find my way round the office? Will I manage not to set off the fire alarm, ensuring my co-workers aren’t left out in the freezing cold waiting for the fire brigade (ahem, that may or may not have happened on my first day as a trainee). What I didn’t expect on my first day was a global pandemic bringing the whole country to a shuddering halt.
I joined the in-house team at Springfield Properties plc, Scotland’s only listed housebuilder, on 24 March 2020. That same day Nicola Sturgeon announced all building sites must close. By 5pm, Springfield was locking gates to all sites and the doors to all its offices. Within a week, 97% of my colleagues were furloughed. I’m pleased to say most of them are now back to work, but it was strange hearing about all the people I would work with and not having a chance to actually meet them until months later.
Starting a new job during lockdown has been, in a word, weird. I quickly found my tour of the office being replaced with virtual meetings, and my office and admin introduction consisted of a colleague reading a checklist of health and safety questions while I confirmed that yes, I knew where the toilet was in my own house and, if there was a fire, I knew how to escape my livingroom.
Six months later, while sites have reopened, our offices have not, and I still have met most of my colleagues only from the shoulders up. It has been a challenge; however there have been many positives and it has been surprisingly easy to adapt. With that in mind, I wanted to share my top takeaways for trainees or NQs who might be nervous about working remotely as they start a new job.
1. Your boss and colleagues are human too. Inevitably during a video call, someone will have to excuse themselves to deal with a barking dog or the postie delivering your latest Amazon parcel. That’s actually quite nice. It’s a good icebreaker and the chit chat that goes with these interruptions helps you get to know people.
2. No one cares what you wear. Well, within reason! I don’t think I’ve been on one call where someone has worn a suit. I think going forward we will see a change in attitude to dress code. If you can do the job it shouldn’t matter what you wear. Plus it saves on a lot of ironing.
3. Everyone will be even more supportive. I think because this is a shared experience, people are very conscious that it’s difficult, particularly for those fairly new to the profession, so don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether that be how to switch on your shiny new computer or how to deal with a complex title examination. No question is a daft question.
4. One of the best questions you can ask anyone – clients in particular, but colleagues too, is “Is this a good time to talk?” With homeschooling, partners or flatmates on furlough, or just any of the daily interruptions we get at home, it may not be a good time to speak to someone. Most people call when it is a good time for them; very few ask whether it is a good time for the person being called.
5. Don’t forget you can phone people, email them or send them a text or WhatsApp message. While video calls are great way to keep in touch, they are not always the best way. Sometimes you just want a quick answer and an email or other message can be just as effective.
6. In your first weeks, call people to introduce yourself. We can’t meet people at coffee points or photocopiers, so we need to call and say “Hi, I just wanted to introduce myself.” A supervisor or colleague may be able to help set up meetings. They can then introduce you to the team.
7. Don’t be afraid to show a personality. Remember they hired you and not a robot. So, don’t be afraid to tell people who you are, what you do outside work, or to reply to an email with something other than a Latin maxim and a case reference supporting your opening sentence.
8. Remember, your colleagues want to meet you and help you. But they can be busy, so if they don’t get in touch, it’s not anything you’ve done, it’s just the lockdown. We all need to make more of an effort.
Finally, while it may not be how you envisaged your first months in the office, it won’t be forever and those after-work drinks will return. In the meantime, embrace this challenge and remember, it will be a heck of a tale to tell the grandkids one day!
Erin Grant is a solicitor with Springfield Properties plc
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