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New starter during the COVID-19 outbreak?

New starter during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Tips to support a positive onboarding experience during a global lockdown

When you accepted your job offer, 3, 6 or perhaps even 12 months ago, the world no doubt felt like a different place, and COVID-19 unheard of.

But now you’re living in a new reality, your first day has arrived and you find yourself sitting in your home office, or perhaps a space that others may refer to as the kitchen, the playroom, or the lounge.

You may well already have a degree of anxiety triggered by the global crisis, not to mention any ‘first day nerves’. But it’s an additional layer of complexity in our already unusual ‘new normal’ that ought not to be overlooked.

To understand how they are adapting, we spoke to candidates who started their new role during the global pandemic and gained their insight on what they learnt, and the advice they pass on, to ensure a positive onboarding experience.

Establish your support network, have a buddy. Many onboarding programmes will provide you with a ‘buddy’ system, a point of contact, but now more than ever it’s important to have one. If you don’t have one, speak up or take it upon yourself to find one. Aided by tech, colleagues are connecting and forging stronger relationships than ever. For a new starter this can be hard to feel part of. A buddy can give support, advice, a sense of the mood, be a friendly ear and help you build relationships more broadly. Indeed it’s well-known that the real insight on “how things work around here” is often not written down, so ensure you speak to your buddy as much as you can, daily by phone, ZOOM or your technology of choice.

Network, network, network. Take control of your onboarding and network with all corners of the business. It might not be your usual approach to your first week or even 30 days, but at times of social distancing and isolation, people are generally more open and welcoming of connecting further with their colleagues, make the most of it. Set your schedule (being accepting of the complexities of your new work/life situation), and fill your diary with ‘meet and greet’ video calls, to enable the same level of in-person relationship building opportunities. Ask each colleague you meet ‘virtually’ who you should connect with next; how they might be helpful and what their expertise is so you know what to ask. Being authentic and focusing on building these relationships will stand you in good stead to deliver through these tougher times.

Be a helping hand. Perhaps your original deliverables have ‘gone out of the window’ and you have a little more time on your hands? Some colleagues may struggle to have capacity to help you with your onboarding, so in each of your meet and greet calls, ask your colleagues how you could help them. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your diary fills up with interesting projects, how many colleagues seek advice in navigating their new normal, how much you learn with them rather than from them, and importantly just how many solid relationships are forged.

Be curious, use technology. Starting a new role at any time can be overwhelming, you are inundated with information, and you never quite get a chance to master and navigate all the resources you’ve been pointed to on the company intranet. But now you may have the luxury of time, so be curious; absorb all the knowledge and hidden gems you can get your hands on; master the technology platforms you now utilise regularly…before the opportunity granted by a little more time disappears.

Tune into the values and culture. As a newcomer in the midst of a crisis you are given the raw materials that can help you get a good and quick understanding of what your colleagues and leaders really value. How an organisation responds in times of crisis can speak volumes – do they operate true to their values? In ‘business as usual’ situations, it can take months, years, to develop this level of insight. Benefit from this, we hope there are inspiring signals, but if there are not, be the catalyst for positive change.

Be a talent spotter. A crisis calls for people to be dynamic and agile. It can give employees the opportunity to step up, demonstrate their talent and learn new skills. Remember the behaviours shown and the skills exhibited from your teams, for economic downturns don’t last forever and your next level of talent can be identified through the process.

Recalibrate your expectations. Most newcomers want to make a quick impact, generate early wins to impress and convince their hiring colleagues that they have made the right decision. But appreciate that the business might have different needs at the moment, it may need to slow down, speed up, pivot, or simply have dramatically different priorities. Recalibrate your transition expectations considering the current business context.

Embrace the long view. Accept the uncertainty, and importantly, be comfortable with the fact that you don’t have all the answers. (Remember: Many of your colleagues are all figuring out their roles in a ‘new world’ too). You may need to make quick decisions without all the facts, so seek input and ask someone who knows the business for advice. Recognise that you simply might not be able to operate at your anticipated pace; take a step back, be thankful, compassionate, resilient and thorough in the role you need to play today to be ready for tomorrow.

Be the leader we need tomorrow, today. You will no doubt never forget that you started your new role during such unprecedented times and the degree of associated change. But the next chapter of your career is likely to be developed in a different world than we have become accustomed to. So think of this time as a new starter as the perfect field on which to hone your leadership, practice some new skills, find new ways of working and unlock the once hidden benefits. Use this time to foster out-of-the-box thinking and drive innovation to support the business in achieving its mission and in living its purpose.

Posted by Nikki Kenyon on


Nikki Kenyon

Nikki Kenyon

Consultant Partner & Head of Marketing

Nicola works across the growth curve from VC-backed, PE-owned to listed corporates, spanning high growth pure plays, scale ups, to businesses undergoing a digital evolution. Nicola advises and builds boards and senior leadership teams across all functions. She challenges and partners with our clients in a transparent and collaborative way, to ensure the very best talent is appointed. Indeed Nicola has an impressive track record of appointing experienced C-suite executives as well as first time CEO and board members, bringing the right experiences and fresh perspective to the most disruptive, purpose-led and transformational businesses.