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Joining a new business during the COVID-19 pandemic

17Nov Posted by James Hardy

Our new colleagues James and Sam offer their experience and insights into starting a new role all from the comfort of their kitchen tables.

Since March 23rd, the UK has been placed under varying degrees of restrictions in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Office for National Statistics, near to 50% of workers in the UK swapped their offices for kitchen tables and smart-casual to casual-loungewear!

There have been countless (dare we say too much?) column inches on how the move to WFH has impacted on our social and work lives. So, without adding to that, we at Sermelo wanted to ask our two new colleagues about their experience of starting a new role virtually what has worked well and what can organisations learn about onboarding new starters remotely.

Sam Burgess joined Sermelo as a Consultant in April, just after we went into national lockdown. We asked Sam about his experience of starting a new role during the lockdown.

  • How have you found working from home during the pandemic?

There have been some challenges, as you would expect, but generally the move to remote working has been a smooth one. Transitioning work discussions with colleagues and clients to the digital world thankfully doesn’t require us to significantly alter the ways we actually work. We’ve still managed to generate the type of positive collaboration at the heart of good communications practices and this has really helped to make working at home a less dull experience than it could potentially have been. Yes, perhaps it would be more exciting to all be face-to-face in a nice office and not sitting in our own kitchens, but if the work is still fun and engaging it’s a lot easier to not focus on the negatives!

  • What was your experience of starting a new role remotely?

It’s certainly been a unique experience and one which I won’t forget in a hurry. Generally, things have gone as well as they could be. Lot’s of people have asked me this question in private expecting me to rally against how terrible it has been, as few people have experienced or can really imagine joining a new job in the midst of a global pandemic. However, the overarching feeling I have about joining a new workplace from home is just how surprisingly normal it has been.

All the necessary introductions to clients and ways of working just happen over Teams instead of in person. New colleagues are also there to help you though everything, just as they would be in a traditional office environment. Obviously, it takes some adjusting to getting used to only using video conferencing to communicate; for the first couple of days you might feel some slight hesitation regarding calling your colleagues with every little question you have, but as you get to know people better this fades. This is in thanks in large part to how welcoming and supportive everyone has been at Sermelo.

  • What’s worked well for you since you started with Sermelo

Everyone at Sermelo has really helped integrate me into the team and allowed me to become an important member in a relatively short amount of time. People are always open to chatting and looking to collaborate together – this form of interaction has made me feel like I’ve been at the company for a lot longer than I have been, as they’ve helped me settle in nicely.

In a way the fact that we’re all in this COVID nightmare together has helped– there’s definitely a collective sense that we’re living through pretty difficult times and we’re not going to make them even more trying by not treating each other with kindness and respect. Perhaps this isn’t the case at other companies, but since I joined Sermelo the collective spirt has certainly been one of togetherness. This has helped us all produce really great results through even the most testing lockdown months, and I’m excited to build on this in the future.

  • What do you think companies can be doing to help new joiners integrate at this time?

Hopefully for companies in our industry the answer will be obvious: good communication is key! Constantly talk to new employees: get their thoughts on what they think of the client they were just introduced to; ask for their inputs and ideas and check with them to find what tasks they find exciting. Also talk to them about topics not related to work – most companies are probably not going back to the office until 2021 and people shouldn’t allow this to hinder getting to know new starters on a personal level. Like many offices and friendship groups, at Sermelo we organised a fun virtual pub quiz – it was a great way to spend social time with colleagues with some friendly competition.

In October, James Hardy joined us as an Associate Partner. Here he shares his experiences of joining Sermelo at a time when WFH is very much the ‘new normal’.

  • What was it like joining a company from home?

Having been with my last agency for eight years, the idea of starting a new role in itself was nerve wracking as well as exciting – I’d forgotten what it was like to be new! However, joining Sermelo has been completely seamless. Interviewing, meeting colleagues and being introduced to clients all through Teams might have been strange in 2019 but in 2020, it all seems normal. I think as we have all got used to working from home, good organisations have taken the change in their stride and their internal structures have had time to react. Our clients are in the same boat so there is a real sense of togetherness when it comes to meeting the challenges they are facing.

Starting a new role where you are introduced to your colleagues and then work with them virtually now feels normal. The team recently met in the office for the first time in a while and it was remarkable how special it felt to meet with colleague’s face-to-face – I never thought I would be saying that!

The way we work at Sermelo also helps, we’re a small but very close-knit team with a real sense of camaraderie. Several times a day we’ll be catching up as a team, whether for an update, a brainstorm or client call. This really helps in bringing people together so much so that you very quickly stop feeling like the newbie.

  • How have you found working from home during the pandemic?

Before we went into lockdown, I rarely used to work from home even though it has always been an option (I think PR has been ahead of the curve here). I’ve always enjoyed the buzz of an office, the ability to bounce ideas off colleagues and to learn from those around me.

Like everyone I’ve got used to working from home, it now feels normal – but that isn’t to say I haven’t found it difficult. Not having a commute can make it difficult to switch off from work and as the barriers between work and home become blurred, it takes discipline to make time in the evening.

  • What do you think are the barriers when working remotely?

Learning is number one. For me, I’ve always learned the most – and still do – from seeing colleagues around me and I think that is something which is really hard for any organisation to recreate. Learning through osmosis is one of the real benefits of an office.

Organisations need to work even harder to maintain the levels of training and learning when colleagues are predominantly working from home. This is one of the first things to suffer however, we have a very open environment so it’s easy to ask questions, offer feedback, chat through a document or share ideas. That is vital for creating the highest quality work as a team.

  • What’s worked well for you since you started with Sermelo

It’s crucial there is as much collaboration as possible – something I’ve really noticed since joining Sermelo. When we first started working from home, it felt quite formal to make a video call and I often found myself booking in a quick catch up or to ask a question – something alien when in an office setting.

Now, it’s refreshing to see colleagues grabbing a quick video call to ask a question, run through an idea, question a client or just check in to see how each other are doing. This is also vital in helping more junior colleagues from both a mental wellbeing and a learning and development point of view.

James Hardy
James Hardy

James Hardy is an Associate Partner at Sermelo and joined the company in October 2020. He has over a decade’s experience in corporate communications and has advised some of the world’s largest companies on reputation management, strategic media relations, issues, crises and public affairs in sectors including technology, finance, FMCG and media and entertainment.

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