Since the start of the pandemic, new Strategic Americans have done the majority of their onboarding at home—a much different experience than our usual welcome wagon. We know it’s been a change, but we’re so thankful for our new team members and their flexibility. Below, hear from Courtney O’Connell on her own experience this year, as well as some insights from other SAers who are new on the job in a more virtual world.

Starting a New Position from Home, During a Pandemic

As a recent college graduate, I felt a lot of pressure to quickly find not just a job—but a good job. As time went by, I lost count of how many places I sent in applications. I had only gotten a handful of responses. When I got an interview at one of my top choices, Strategic America (SA), I was ecstatic and even more relieved. A few days later, I was offered the position and could not have been happier or more excited to start. Fast forward a few weeks and things were drastically different. We were in the middle of a global pandemic and everything was uncertain. In late March, the week before my start date, many companies were forced to close their offices and transition employees to working from home—Strategic America included. The process was quick, with little to no lead time as hundreds of businesses figured things out as they went along. With that change came another unforeseen problem—what to do with new hires. A Fortune and Deloitte survey found that six in ten CEO’s implemented a hiring freeze or deferred new hires when the pandemic hit. Fortunately for me, Strategic America was not one of those companies, but the hiring and onboarding process still had to quickly change.

How Onboarding Changed

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Strategic America’s onboarding process was pretty typical. New hires would come in to meet with their leader and a few others, fill out paperwork, tour the office, get settled at their desk, attend some meetings, go out to lunch with team members, meet with different department heads and start role-specific training for their day-to-day tasks. Following the work from home order, this all shifted to a virtual process. To many, starting a new job virtually sounds like it would be less than ideal, but with Strategic America’s process, it’s actually had many advantages. “In some ways I think the virtual onboarding was less overwhelming because you can schedule meetings at your own pace and work through onboarding items as you have time from your home office,” our HR team explained. Kaitlin Wren, Assistant Marketing Strategist, agreed. “It’s been nice learning in the comfort of my home and the overall feeling of safety was the best part of starting remote.” From my experience, scheduling meetings with other department heads to get to learn more about the company as a whole, usually done within the first day or two, which can be a little overwhelming was  done over a few weeks. This way I already had a grasp on the company, knew some things about the other departments and had even done some work with them already. It made the overall process, the first days especially, much less nerve-wracking. Other unexpected positives, “I really enjoyed not having to worry about what to wear on my first day, or having to drive to work!” said Parker Murphy, Client Manager. SA meetings, most of which are conducted via Microsoft Teams, have proven to be extremely efficient and effective over the months since the start of the pandemic.

The Challenges

“One obvious downside is less face-to-face interaction, which can be hard as you are trying to get to know new colleagues,” our HR team explained about the onboarding process. With Teams, we still get a sense of “face-to-face” interaction, as SAers are encouraged to leave their webcam on during meetings, especially internal meetings, as they get to know their new co-workers. But meeting everyone can still be a challenge, especially if you don’t work with people from other departments very often. You no longer have the chance to pass people in the hallway, see them in the breakroom or interact at events. Referring to the most challenging aspect of starting remote, Kailtin explained that it was more difficult to have intentional conversations with people on her team. “In an office setting it feels natural to strike up a conversation when you walk by someone’s desk, but for whatever reason it’s not as natural to open up an instant message or online platform to chat. You have to push through those barriers to form connections.” To try to combat this new difficulty, a new task was added to SA’s onboarding checklist, to schedule Teams meetings with various people in other departments that you haven’t met yet. “It was one thing I found particularly great,” said Parker, “It was different as they were all to be done via Teams, but it was a nice way to meet a lot of people.” Kaitlin felt similarly, saying “Going through training, it has been very helpful to have working sessions on a Teams call and just leave the line open. We wouldn’t be talking the whole time but I knew my collegue was there and if I hd a quick question I could just unmute and ask. It facilitated a co-working habitat similar to if I was in the office and could just pop up and ask a quick question.”

Transitioning Back to the Office

Beginning this past June, SA started a phased approach to slowly bringing employees back into the office on a volunteer basis. Today we’re transitioning to a socially distanced, rotational schedule which will be completely in place by the end of November. “I thought I liked working from home more, but when given the opportunity to come into work, I jumped at it. I enjoyed not having to commute or leave the house, but when it comes to work, I feel much better in an actual office setting,” Parker said. As someone who had never worked in an office before, it was nice to slowly get acquainted with the office and colleagues I hadn’t met yet. The onboarding process, as well as our return to office, will continue to be flexible. Our HR team went on to explain that safety will remain a top priority for us as we offer an opportunity for new and existing employees to be in the office if they wish.