Like many companies, Leff has been working mostly remotely since the start of the pandemic two years ago. We’ve been fortunate enough to sneak in a few outings around the variants, and we even had a kickass holiday party. For some of us, those events were the only times we were in the same room together. When a company doubles in size in a year amid a pandemic, it means most of the new folks have had to spend their first day not walking into a new office but clicking on links to virtual meetings.
To find out more about what it was like to start a job remotely, I polled five of our newest employees: Laura Brown, a senior designer; KC Esper, a developmental editor; George Seibold, one of our editorial associates; Juan Sosa, a web producer and developer; and Marie Westbrook, another of our editorial associates. They illuminate some of the challenges—both for leaders and others—of a remote environment, offer some tips for making it work, and explain the perks they enjoy.
What’s it been like to start a job remotely during a pandemic?
KC: My previous job had been remote for almost two years, so work-groove-wise this was an easy transition. But in my previous role, I had met everyone and understood my work before we all transitioned home. So getting acquainted with everyone here and understanding my role in the grand scheme of things took a lot longer.
Marie: In a lot of ways, starting a job remotely felt much like a continuation of my last year and a half of college, when most of my classes had at least some virtual aspects. I’d gotten very used to keeping track of my own progress and deadlines, so in those ways, I felt prepared coming into this job. I do wonder what it would be like to start a job in normal circumstances.
George: When I first started the job, it felt very monastic. I was on my own, reading over process documents and org charts, my only contact with my new colleagues being in the form of video calls and brief emails. Keeping track of all the new people was an interesting challenge since I couldn’t rely on the countless tiny cues you get when you interact with someone in person. I made frequent use of the Leff website’s “About” page to see the names and bios of the staff to stay on top of all the new faces. It was sort of like starting a TV show midway through the season, with the characters already established and the story well underway.
What’s the hardest part of joining a company that’s working mostly remotely?
KC: At first, the hardest part was meeting people and figuring out who I could go to for different questions or to just talk with about books and life and stuff. Fortunately, being able to go into the office now and then and attend parties has made everything a lot easier and made everything feel a lot more unified.
Juan: At times, it is hard to disconnect from work. Especially since my “office” is at most times my home, there’s less of a separation of the two, and I need to keep myself in check in terms of time commitments.
Laura: Honestly, I love working remotely. I’m a bad sleeper, which is worse when I stress about having to wake up early. So knowing that my “office” is steps away and set up exactly how I like it makes me a lot calmer in my evening and morning routines. That said, I think remote onboarding can be challenging for leaders. Since you’re not right in front of everyone’s face, it’s somewhat easier to forget how much guidance new people need at the beginning.
Marie: The hardest part is still not really being able to get to know people in an organic way and keeping up human interaction remotely. Video calls were good just to get to know some people and their roles at the company, but after a couple of weeks, it became difficult to try to remix the same few things I have to say about myself to keep things interesting.
What efforts by your colleagues have helped make you feel like part of a team?
Juan: The day-to-day shared camaraderie everyone brings to the table has been what makes me feel most welcome. There is no barrier to reaching out to my manager, Delilah, or our founder, Scott—or anyone else on the team, for that matter. We all get pretty busy, but we are also always there to help anyone who needs it.
Laura: I was flown out to Chicago to meet the team in person. It’s easier to communicate with people when you have an idea of how they take up space in the world. And seeing everyone in real life helps with that, obviously. Leaders have also been very open to hearing ideas from anyone in the company on how we can keep everyone on the same page.
George: Everyone was really welcoming. Like really, remarkably welcoming—not just nice or courteous, but genuine in their intent to welcome me aboard and get me up to speed. This came through in every interaction I had, even in the most rote onboarding meetings. In addition to that, I was given a lot of agency early on. Even though I was new on the staff and I’m early in my career, I felt like my colleagues trusted me immediately. I didn’t feel stifled or ignored. Instead, I was motivated to ensure that trust was duly earned and upheld.
What advice would you give to an employee starting a job remotely?
Juan: Give yourself the space you need for your everyday activities. Make sure to rest and recover when you need to. Set boundaries for yourself to prevent burnout and mentally survive working remotely.
Laura: When you first start, keep a list of the things you don’t know and make sure you’re trained on them. Just be very proactive. It will make your work life so much easier. How does the file structure work? What are everyone else’s roles and how do you interact with them? Don’t be afraid to ask your team. They are not actively trying not to give you the information you need—it’s just that it’s easy to forget what’s not common knowledge when you’ve been in a role for a while.
George: Ask about the company etiquette for communicating over instant messages and workflow platforms. It never hurts to ask your coworkers if there are any communication-related behaviors or habits they particularly appreciate or find annoying. Most people naturally figure these things out over time, but asking these sorts of questions early on might save you from a potential faux pas. Plus, it’s a good way to show off the bat that you care about being a good coworker.
Also, my entire workday changed for the better when I started taking a little walk in the morning. Maybe an early morning stroll clears my head, or maybe I just need to emulate a morning commute. Consider trying it out if you’re having trouble with working from home or you just need to change up the old routine.
KC: Take on any new project, and be willing to work with anyone. Also be willing to ask questions and allow people to guide you so you know how to improve going forward. But, most important, try to find a way to connect with coworkers in a nonwork way. When I first started, I kept conversations super casual to understand people’s interests and lives outside of work, and that has given me common ground to develop friendships and better working relationships.