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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

The 4 Keys to Surviving Your First Week on a Remote Team

Truth: Surviving your first week at a new job is no walk through the park. Harsher truth: When you join a remote team, where everyone is divided by space and time, picking up on the nuances of your new workplace is a tough journey.

A lack of face-to-face communication introduces a different set of questions and challenges as you try to find your stride on a remote team. Luckily for you, I created this handy guide to help you navigate the experience.

1. Review That Onboarding Material

Any company worth its salt will have its own version of a survival guide (a.k.a., “onboarding”). This is your initial employee orientation, and it includes the handbook, rules, and other things that your boss wants you to know before you get started.

Walk through any available resources and knowledge bases the week or weekend before you start. This will help relieve your anxiety on the first day, especially since you won’t have any direct social cues to play off. If there are any apps to download or sites to register for, do it before your first official day so that you can hit the ground running. (Also, reach out to your manager if you’re having any issues on that front.)

That said: Don’t accept everything in the material at face value. Not all onboarding experiences are the same, so if something seems outdated or not aligned with things you’ve been told previously, go ahead and ask for clarification (politely). Trust me: They will appreciate it. In fact, the company may not be aware that the materials are confusing because so few people thoroughly go through the training materials.

Some companies—often smaller or newer ones—don’t have a formal onboarding process. If there aren’t official “Here’s how we do things” documents, keep a list of questions you have as they arise. Since you can’t pop by a colleague’s desk, you will want to have all of your notes in one place to maximize those early check-in calls.

2. For the Best Answers, Ask the Right Person

You’re going to have a lot of no-brainer questions in your first few days on the job, naturally!

“Bring it” is the usual attitude response to these inquiries. Your curiosity shows that you’re looking to get things right. However, unlike an in-office job, you can’t as easily turn to the person next to you and whisper any question that pops into your head. So, you’re going to have to reach out to a team member. However, if you ask the wrong person, you may be led down a rabbit hole of incorrect or incomplete information.

If it’s unclear whom you should ask, go to your direct supervisor for a sense of who handles what. Remote teams typically operate at top speed, so bundle your questions. Use your notes to cover a lot of ground in one conversation. (Your new colleagues will love the fact that they’re not spending time responding to emails #4, #5, and #6 from you.)

3. Begin Networking From Day One

Most companies will use some combination of communication tools to connect their virtual teams, be it Skype, Google Hangouts, Slack, Campfire, smoke signals, or carrier pigeons. Whatever the trendy apps are, learn how to use them—fast—and use them often.

Start by saying “Hi.”

Engage in general conversations, share relevant articles, say “thank you,” and swap praise. These are your co-workers, just like any other office. Building effective relationships is key, if not even more vital to your success on a remote team.

4. Observe, Observe, Observe

Just because you’re not in an office, doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to see—even if you’re working from a corner of your bedroom. You’re going to have to set aside your ability to decode postures and handshakes. Now, instead of picking up on nonverbal skills, you’ll need to read a range of technical cues to succeed in the remote world. Prepare to be at the mercy of brief video calls, Asana, and a mess of emojis.

Without context, “Goat-beer-rainbow-alien face” might as well be scribble-scrabble.

Pay attention to how quickly your teammates respond to a message and the communication channels they prefer for certain issues (e.g., How often do they respond to an email versus instant messaging apps?). Also, note the vibes during different conference calls. Adopt the patterns you identify as generally accepted, while keeping a personal sense of what gets the job done.

Your new team chose hiring you over cloning one of their own for a reason: Don’t lose that edge.

Pay attention to the details, understand the language, embrace subtleties, and you’ll be just fine. With these four things in mind, your first days in the remote workplace will go smoothly and lead to a long and happy work-from-home career.

Photo of working from home courtesy of Shutterstock.