“Yes, it’s a weird time to start a new job.”

Everybody feels a little awkward when starting a new job. I am especially awkward because I lack small-talk. I don’t know what to say to the person whose name I don’t know, title I couldn’t fathom, or ego I haven’t sized up. I worry that these people sitting around me in an open-plan office are too busy to help me find my way around the company.
The first month of any job is a combination of not disturbing the “cool kids,” but also not looking like a wall-flower. While not the exact feeling for everyone, new person nerves are an everyday office experience.

April 14th was my first day at The Crocodile. Post-COVID lockdown – how on Earth was I going to break the awkwardness of “new,” in my bedroom, with hippy, tiger bedding as a backdrop to my zoom calls?

Day 1, 9:04am
My boss via WhatsApp “Hey- realise you don’t have your laptop, which means you probably don’t have your email, which means you probably don’t have the invite to your welcome zoom… which is now.”

The first day; I’m already late, unprepared, and stalling a group of senior staff members. Awkwardness and anxiety have reached their FULL potential.

However, my agency’s agility is not full of potential; it’s an active force. Within 10 minutes my software log-ins are with me and day one zoom invites are flying to my personal email. I learned my company is full of quick problem-solvers– something that would have taken weeks to learn. By 9:30am the senior staff from my meeting at 9:00am are all welcoming me to The Crocodile.

*Ping- Slack message from Alex, saying he would love to grab a coffee
*Ping- LinkedIn connection
*Ping- Welcome Email
*Ping- Zoom from HR
*Vibrate- Missed Call from MD explaining why he wasn’t on the intro call but we should chat today

When you start as a person with only an internet connection, the welcome from the company is purely down to the people culture. The professionalism of booked “introduction meetings,” fades and the personality of each employee is open to behaving like themselves.

New starter introductions: your zoom or my slack?
The extroverts pounced- Alex from media wanting to introduce himself immediately and client services people firing off welcome messages. I had met half of the team on day one and the leadership team had arranged meetings with me. The extroverts and leadership are always the most difficult to crack as they are usually huddled in some office clique. There is nothing you can say as a new person in an office clique, that does not come off as foreign. That’s not to say office cliques don’t form but you are unaware of the private slack channel named after an inside joke, and you don’t have to squeeze yourself into the conversation.

As I was finding myself quickly integrated the introverted people came out to say hi virtually. With our introductions being project led, it allowed for a more natural meeting. Instead of that person who is quiet and sits near the dead plant — I met them as they wanted to be seen. The person I can rely on for these areas of the business.

Losing the building, gaining the people
While getting to grips with the work, I didn’t have to fear my social standing before doing what I do well; my job. The first two weeks have been less about presentism and more about being a valuable person to my organisation. I was able to avoid falling into the dreaded Abilene Paradox, where people agree to a decision because they fear their disagreement will be perceived as negativity. The “work,” whatever it may be, is viewed through the lens of “good,” instead of group dynamics.

The biggest concern about working remotely is the loss of personal interaction. Businesses believe they lose control, lose creativity, lose productivity, lose something that made their business tick. If you have hired the right people, people will do what comes naturally to them. Your people have always been your culture, with or without the four walls of an office, they will perform the way they feel empowered to do so. Digital employment allows for the growth of culture instead of the cult of the office.

Natasha Keith
Client Strategist at The Crocodile