Staying Connected Through Massive Change

My first day at Extensis was two days after our whole team began working from home in quarantine. Onboarding at a new company is always an exciting time, but this isn’t what I expected.

It’s better.

Here’s what has made my onboarding so effective, along with a few tips of how we’re staying connected.

Overcommunication is Part of Our DNA

Even before my first day, our HR manager forwarded an email from our CEO asking everyone to work from home. This was the week of March 9th, and it was a lifeline in a sea of rapidly changing information. It was also the first of many clues that over-communication is a big part of the culture at Extensis. Joining our morning status updates on Slack, our weekly marketing team meetings on Zoom, and 1:1s with my manager were simple and straightforward. It was easy for me to get on board quickly because these types of interactions are a normal part of company life.

Social distancing forced everyone to work from home, but we made a smooth transition because everyone had access to the same information. We receive constant updates from our executive team about the state of the company and when we might return to the office. This kind of clear communication has given everyone more bandwidth to focus on what matters most: our customers.

Any company can model these lessons in leadership for new hires. Great onboarding doesn’t just happen on its own. Anticipate common questions and share as much as possible so your new team members can get up to speed quickly. If it can work in the first half of 2020, you can apply these lessons anywhere.

Get to Know Your Team as Quickly as Possible

Overcommunication is as much about quality as quantity. When everyone works from home, you lose opportunities for spontaneous conversations and personal interaction. And that means you have to be proactive with alternatives.

  • Within my first week, I scheduled video conference calls with our CEO, CFO, and VP of Customer Success. These calls were partly to learn more about the company and what value we deliver to customers, and also to learn more about who’s steering the ship.
  • We have an open calendar policy and we maintain transparent schedules in Outlook and Slack. From the start, my manager encouraged me to reach out and everyone opened their (virtual) doors.
  • Now more than ever, work is becoming more and more personal as we get glimpses of our coworkers’ homes and families. Sometimes we get our best ideas when we step away from our work and get to know our co-workers beyond their professional responsibilities. And if you can connect with your team quickly once you come on board, it will be a lot easier to complete difficult projects together down the road.
  • We created a special “Cabin Fever” Slack channel just for feel-good news. This has been a great way to get to know everyone and share some of the lighter moments of our home offices.

If you want to incorporate these tactics, start by being open and transparent about how you measure success. This is your North Star. If it’s essential when everyone’s together in the office, just think of how important it is when everyone’s practicing social distancing. Focus on outcomes and not activities. You’d be amazed at what people can do if you inspire them with an ambitious goal.

Timing is Everything

Working from home has forced everyone on our team to become better at time management. Here’s what helped sharpen my focus:

  • One of the first things my manager asked me was what time I would start and finish every day. This kind of transparency is vital, and it’s an important aspect of overcommunication.
  • Set your work hours in your corporate email client, the instant messaging app you use for work, and any other app that allows it. Once you set your schedule stick to it. If I was commuting to the office every day, I’d have different routines than I do now. So, I need to adapt these routines to achieve the same goal: get in the right headspace to bring my full self to work.
  • When you’re on, act like it. If your calendar says you’re available and not in a meeting, try to respond to requests quickly. When we work from home, we can’t see what our coworkers are doing and they can’t see us. That means we have to be even more clear about our current workload, our priorities, and any issues that might prevent us from achieving our goals.
  • Project management software can be a great way to keep everyone on track if we remember one thing: these tools are valuable not just for organizing tasks, but for organizing the right tasks that contribute to the right goals. That’s a huge difference. We can only achieve the latter by clarifying team priorities in an environment that encourages open communication.
  • When we work from home, there is zero separation between our work life and our home life. So, we need to create our own buffers to ease the transition. At the end of each day take some time to write down your priorities and plan for tomorrow. This is also a great time to write out any questions that came up and send video conference meeting requests to people who can help.

Remember the most important reason to set a schedule and share it with your team is to improve your mental health. Setting clear boundaries on your availability is vital for productivity. Not only that, but setting clear boundaries is an essential aspect of good mental health. Higher productivity begins with good planning but it’s based on openness and transparency.

New Ideas for the Future

One aspect of my remote onboarding that made it so easy was that everyone else on the team led by example. And even though we’ve kept up a high level of productivity, I think we can do even better.

In addition to weekly 1:1s and video conference calls with members of your team, consider sending your manager an end-of-the-week update every Friday morning. This is a great time to report on your progress, and this email will complement your 1:1s and team meetings. Plus, the better you’re able to track what you’ve accomplished, the more likely you’ll spot new opportunities to improve. 

Professional development shouldn’t stop when you’re away from the office. From the moment we began working from home, our HR team encouraged us to continue our progress on LinkedIn Learning courses. One way to extend this would be to hold monthly or biweekly lunch-and-learns. These can be a source of inspiration and a great way to build camaraderie.   

And when you’re not supporting local restaurants by ordering delivery or takeout, have some fun with home-cooked meals. One way you can do this is to ask everyone on the team to make the same dish and then share pictures and notes on your company’s instant message app. Send out the recipe Friday morning and then everyone can share their notes the following Friday. Simple and delicious.

Social distancing might keep us apart, but we have plenty of ways to stay connected. I’m grateful for all the steps our team has taken to stay focused and overcommunicate. It’s been an incredible introduction to our culture and I hope we come out of this even stronger.