My First Experience in the ‘Real’ World is ‘Virtual’

29 October 2020

Like every Monday morning, I was sitting on my balcony sipping on my tea while exploring the hundreds of job offers around the world. Every vacancy represented an opportunity that would determine my lifestyle for the upcoming years.  Each application I sent was the first step of a dream coming true… Living in a different country, working closely with influential people, having an office in a skyscraper with a panoramic view. I would ponder for hours about the smallest details like if my boss will be kind. Will I get along with my colleagues? What outfits will I wear, especially, to make a good first impression? 

Little did I know, my first experience would be in my room, behind a screen.

                                                       

In this article, I will be sharing some of the lessons I learned to assert myself in a new company, remotely.

Like several people, one of the main reasons I found myself working from home was due to the pandemic. However, I was lucky enough to join, Excelway, a company that was implementing a remote-first strategy, the possibility for employees to work from their home instead of the office, prior to the nationwide lockdown. Knowing this, I felt a little more confident. All I had to do was to, bravely, introduce myself during the meeting, and get my new colleagues to warm up to me. 

Keeping my slippers on, I wore a presentable shirt and joined the videoconference with my camera on. To my surprise, I was the only one to have it on, and not for very long. Not only did I not have the opportunity to initiate small talk with each individual separately as I had always thought I would in an office, but now I could not even see them. There I was introducing myself to a screen, with a shy monotonic voice; clueless.  

“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship” –James Comer 

From group projects to team sports, for years, I was taught the importance of relationship building. I had even attended a seminar that opened my mind to a different perspective when it came to the benefits of building connections. The speaker was a living proof of the highest levels one can achieve by meeting the right people in the work field and brilliantly conveyed the motivation to do so to the attendees. But, how could I do that, when I cannot even meet with my coworkers, to begin with? 

I figured just as throughout history, each era introduced a new ideology or invention, from typewriters, telephones, to airplanes, that would transform the way people live. Today’s advanced technology is leading this change; and what better time than a world pandemic to take advantage of it. By all means, this doesn’t degrade the previous teachings concerning the importance of networking and how it is proven to be a determinant factor of success. The relationship-building itself remains important, but the method differs. 

                                     

 

Adapting the accumulation of years of advice on the importance of connecting with people, along with the abundant resources made available today, here is how I applied it in my virtual workspace.

 

I started networking from day one.

I may not have had anyone’s personal contact. But like most companies, the one I work in uses a variety of platforms that provide a messaging feature. 

I was a chatbox shy from initiating a conversation with any of my colleagues. Hesitant, I waited for a while before I pressed the send button. No ideas came to mind about how to initiate and engage in a conversation. I randomly chose one of the employees, and I sent a simple ‘hello’. 

Do not overthink it, start by greeting them and let the conversation flow. You will be surprised how much you can learn from someone, especially if they have experience in the same field as the one you work in. Precisely, in the company, you just joined.

 

I asked a lot of questions. 

I am a marketing major working in a software company. To put it in other words, I did not understand any of the technical parts which made up 90% of the general meetings. I would join the video conferences and brainstorming sessions and listen to engineers talk about programming, a completely foreign language to me. Feeling completely lost, I was hoping no one would ask me to contribute because I simply did not understand what they were talking about. Nonetheless, I sat back, listened attentively, and interrupted every time I got a chance to ask a question. I would sometimes pause and think if I really should ask that question, won’t it make me seem more of a burden?

No. Just go ahead and ask. That question might make you look smart. Or, once you have an answer you may be able to contribute with brighter ideas in the following meetings. In any case, the more you understand, the more integrated you will feel.

 

I reached out for help.

Especially when first starting out in a company, all information is new. I was not familiar with their way of doing certain things and approaching problems, so I asked for help. On one hand, it saved me a lot of time and I was able to do things, more or less, the correct way according to the company standards. On the other hand, it allowed me to connect more with my peers. A conversation that starts with “hey can you please explain to me how this works?” and lead to more information that could help you on a professional level or, even more, a personal one. 

 

I connected with my manager as often as I could.

Perhaps, the way the company is structured made it more simple for me to reach out. The fact that my manager, and founder of the company, herself, is a professional online facilitator, also played an impactful role in my integration. She was accessible at all times that I reached out to her. This allowed me to constantly check-in with her and seek her advice to guide me through my tasks as I am working on them. 

It is important to get constant feedback on your work, and who better than your boss to get it from. Make the move, reach out to them when they are available, and connect as much as you can. That is one of the best ways to learn more about your work and how you can perfect your performance. 

 

I am still trying to figure it all out. Perhaps, I am spending less time than I thought I would, deciding what to wear every morning, and I have the same view all day long. However, I still got to connect with my colleagues, meet inspiring people, and create resourceful bonds that help me daily to perform better at my job… All behind the same screen I, first, introduced myself to. 

 

Written by Aya Benhaddou

A marketing enthusiast, driven by her passion to connect with people. Aya aspires to voice the constraints of the online world and the lessons learned.
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