What It Was Like Being a New Hire in a Pandemic
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
I accepted a job offer during the pandemic. This is what my first few months were like.
Despite not actively looking for a change of role, I ended up starting a new job during the pandemic after someone reached out to me about an opening at their company.
After about a month of introductions and interviews, and one interview I thought I completely bombed, I found myself answering a call from headquarters and being told, "the team would like to extend an offer".
I’m not going to lie; I hung up the phone and started jumping up and down. I wasn't particularly happy in my current role but it was paying the bills and I had told myself I'd stick around until I finished up my Master's degree (May 2022). I wasn't prepared to receive a job offer while I was so comfortable in my current role, still in school, and living through a pandemic.
I had a decision to make.
At the time I felt overworked and under-appreciated and disliked the company culture. Some days I was able to stay in my own work-from-home bubble, but most days when I had to join meetings, I found myself waking up dreading the day.
So regardless of my plan to stick around for another year, I accepted the offer and gave my two-week notice — for the first time. Yes, this was the first time I had given my notice to a company and it was so nerve-wracking. And it wasn't even in person! That's one thing nothing can prepare you for. I had done some research on how to resign and read a few tips, but that all when out the window when I joined the meeting I had scheduled. I was shaking so bad I could barely get the words out. The only thing on my side was that I had a great relationship with my manager at the time and he completely understood that it was my time to move on.
Moving from my home office to...my home office
My last day of work was May 14th and my first day at my new job was May 17th.
Over the weekend, I spent some time cleaning up my desk, dusting a bit, and getting things ready for my new job. That was the first weird thing about starting a job during a pandemic: I wasn't going anywhere except my home office on my first day. Sure, I was going to be on camera during orientation, but that's definitely not the same as the typical first-day jitters you get as you're driving to a new office.
While I'm a permanent remote employee, pandemic or no pandemic, home-based new hires usually get flown out to headquarters for New Hire Orientation. I'm not sure what it would've been like in person, but I'm sure it would've involved coffee and bagels, a tour of the office, lunch, and networking activities. Instead, I spent the morning getting my laptop set up and then joined Day One of orientation at noon. I remember sitting at my desk after I had connected to VPN and set up some of my accounts and thinking, what am I supposed to do now?
I remember thinking back to my first few days as an intern and feeling even more helpless. Here I was, hired as a senior engineer and I was sitting there with no work to do because, hello, it was my first day. Normally, I would be getting walked around the office, introduced to people, maybe shadowing some of my new team members. Instead, I was sitting in my spare bedroom (my home office), staring at my screen wondering if it would be acceptable to work on my blog. I'm getting paid so might as well be productive, right?
The broader extent of company culture
My orientation experience consisted of two four-hour Webex meetings with a group of 70 other people, 68 of those being other new hires. All in all, orientation was fantastic and I was really impressed with the onboarding process and how friendly and excited the orientation team was. Right away I could feel the shift in work culture as compared to my previous company, which left me excited to get started.
Now, four months in, I’ve made the lack of productiveness up with the work I’ve done since and I still love the culture. People really do love to work at my organization, and I can see why. Being in the IT department, there are plenty of times I have to interact with other employees in various departments across the globe and they all have one thing in common: how nice they are.
Of course, there are times when we get yelled at because what IT department doesn't get yelled at? But even when issues are being escalated to the highest priority, the management that escalated them is always apologetic and very appreciative after the fact. And we understand, they want the business to succeed and we want to help ensure that happens.
Starting a new job during a pandemic has made me realize the broader extent of company culture. In the past, I've always focused on the physical environment more than the values an organization tries to instill in its employees. While office culture is an important aspect of having satisfied and motivated employees, it doesn't have much of an impact when you take offices out of the picture, as COVID-19 did.
An organization's culture is much more than the physical environment you might find yourself in. When we're all at home, the most important aspect of culture is the people you're working with. How do teams collaborate? How does leadership interact with their staff? Are the lines of communication open and are the goals of the company being communicated effectively?
These are all less tangible but vital pieces of having a good company culture. While it was very strange starting a new job and working with new people from my home, the amazing culture of my organization made and continues to make a positive impact on my experience.
I've never met my colleagues in person
Outside of having my first day in my home office, orientation on Webex, and no office culture to take in, the strangest part of getting a new job during the pandemic has been working with people every day and still having never met them in person.
While we've had plenty of video conferences and a few team meetings, it's much different interacting with people via Zoom and Microsoft Teams than it is shaking their hand and having an in-person conversation. Even weirder? There are some people I work with often but have no idea what they look like because they've never been on camera and don't have a picture set in their Outlook profile. Imagine how weird it is speaking with people multiple times a week, collaborating with them on projects, and having no idea what they look like. It's so strange!
I often think about it the other way around too. Do people wonder what I look like? How tall am I? How I would act or dress in an office setting as opposed to being in my own home?
I’ve realized through working from home and starting a new job during the pandemic that we’re all naturally more comfortable and more ourselves when we’re home than when we’re in an office.
Instead of having to dress for an eight-hour workday in an office, I dress my top half for a one-hour meeting with my team or half-hour sync up with my manager. Yes, you read that right, business up top, sweatpants on the bottom! What will I put jeans or dress pants on for when my co-workers are only seeing my portrait?
Starting a new job during a pandemic was definitely uncharted territory for me, as it has been for so many others, but being at such a great company has made it tolerable.
While I still haven't met any of my co-workers in person (although I hope to soon), they truly have made my first few months better than I could have imagined. I'll never forget how welcomed I felt in my first few weeks and how important my satisfaction with my responsibilities and workload has been to my manager.
It would have been so easy for me to pass up on the job offer and continue on being comfortable (but unhappy) at my previous company. Add to that the uncertainty the pandemic has put around anything, and some might decide they can't afford to risk a job change.
For me, though, I knew I was ready to move on and start a new chapter in my career. None of us expected the pandemic and it definitely changed the course of many of our lives, but we can't let it stop us from growing. Ultimately, I decided I was ready for this new opportunity, and even with the challenges of starting a new job during the pandemic, I'm so happy I did it. Even if I could go back in time, I wouldn't change a thing because the experience helped me grow and spread my wings.