Tips for Starting a New Job Remotely

Engineering

By: Sonnie Hiles, iOS Developer at TransferWise

I’m Sonnie, a graduate iOS Developer at TransferWise. I work in the HOLD team, which looks after our multi-currency account and the funds that our customers hold on their TransferWise accounts.

I’ve never onboarded remotely before, so it was a learning experience for me. Although a different overall experience; I loved my first month at TransferWise. Here are some tips to successfully navigate the first few weeks of a new job remotely!

Onboarding – Get access, get it quickly.

Like any first day, make sure you know where to be, when to be there and what to wear. It’s also important to test your tech before you’re starting; especially ensuring you have a fast and stable internet connection as you’ll be doing countless video calls in the days to come! I’d also consider a backup; you could always tether to your phone if something goes wrong. The last thing you want is to have issues before you’ve even started!

You can expect to do all the traditional onboarding sessions, with content that generally covers the company’s business model and culture. Don’t be surprised by team-building sessions with the other new joiners; you can do a lot over Zoom! The content will be largely the same, but expect Zoom fatigue to hit. I’d recommend having plenty of coffee and quick grab-able snacks to get you through the first few days.

Once you’re past these initial sessions, your job will likely require access to various systems and external services; most of which you usually need to request from the IT team through support tickets. These might not be listed anywhere, so I’ve found it’s best to ask a senior member of your team for a list (that way you can sort out access autonomously). Getting this done as early in the onboarding process as possible prevents future blockers during the more hands-on onboarding with your team. It also shows your team that you’re being proactive from the get-go!

Understanding & setting expectations

When you’re in an office, expectations are much easier to pick up by observing other team members. The increased autonomy of working remotely means these are even more vital as it’s easy to get it wrong. 

Here’s some examples of the questions I asked my manager to better understand what was expected of me:

  • What are my hours, and are they flexible? – It’s easy to overwork remotely; you no longer have a commute, and the boundaries between work and home are blurred. Clearly defined boundaries will help make sure you’re working the right amount. I also knew I performed better in the mornings, so I asked to shift my hours to starting/ending an hour earlier. That was fine, so I set the expectation that that’d be when I was working.
  • Do I need to always be online and available, or can I go offline for focused working sessions? – In an office environment, it was easy to make yourself unavailable through visual cues. This is easier to do when remote, but an offline icon might appear as if you’re not working. I knew I was prone to distractions, so I wanted to learn if this was okay, and how I should do it!
  • Where can I work from? – Working remotely means (in theory) you can work from anywhere with an internet connection. But, just because you technically could doesn’t mean that you can! I quickly found that I didn’t enjoy being in the house all day, and I knew from university that I enjoyed working from coffee shops to break up my day. It was important to find out if this was okay and how to approach transit times there and back.
  • How often and long can I take breaks? – I find breaks come naturally in an office, but when working at home, it’s easy to miss out on these and power through the day. I know for me they’re vital in eliminating burnout and the isolation remote can sometimes cause, your mental health is critical in any job – but especially when working remotely.

It’s not just important to set expectations at work, but also with anyone you live with. Usually, physically leaving home means you’re ‌”at work” which automatically forms a boundary that you’re inaccessible. 

When working from home, this is harder to establish and maintain these boundaries. Therefore, you should find a way to distinguish when you’re working and when you’re at home to those around you. You could even get creative and use a system of visual availability indicators!

Build your workspace

Usually, you’ll join an office which has a predefined working environment. You’ll be given a desk, ergonomic chair, monitor and anything else you might need to work healthily and productively. At home, you’ve got to optimise your workspace yourself.

You’ve likely been sent a company issued laptop, but that’s it. You are also going to be spending a lot of your time working, so it’s a good idea to start to think about making it an area where you’re comfortable and happy for the foreseeable future. Consider what will make work more comfortable, enjoyable and productive for you; this could be a monitor, a better keyboard or lighting for video calls – everyone’s different. Here’s my current desk, although it’s still evolving!

A lot of the time employees will be given an expense budget to help set up the at-home office, if you’ve got one USE IT!

Get to know your colleagues

One of the most significant differences with a remote start is the increased difficulty of cultivating social relationships with your colleagues. A lot of the time your first interaction with your full team will be a team meeting where you (and everyone else) does a quick one-minute introduction of yourself before everyone moves on with the meeting. Not an easy way to make friends 😅!

One of the most valuable experiences for me was a series of one on one meetings that my manager set up for me with various people within and outside my team that I’d be working with. These 30-minute sessions kickstarted a personal relationship with each person by facilitating two-way discussions about our respective roles and experiences. It also highlighted the different people that I could ask questions to when I inevitably got stuck while starting work.

Informal communication can help you bond with your co-workers, and many traditionally remote-first companies have focused on including it in their company cultures. This can be done by joining some of the community-focused communication channels that’ll inevitably exist or joining various events. We, for example, had an optional lunch meeting (that’d usually be done in person) where everyone ate and chatted, and bonded over non-work topics.

Our team’s daily standup tradition — a synchronised clap which never quite works (but always produces a laugh) remotely

Learning & asking questions

Similarly to starting any job, there’s going to be a whole lot you don’t know to start off with! The key difference is learning how to get all this information remotely as you can’t tap on the shoulder of the person next to you!

It’s important to start with a self-service attitude by default; can the answer to your question be found in documentation? I will always have a look at our internal wiki and see if I can find the answer. With the move to remote there’s been a big push within many companies to improve documentation, allowing asynchronous work across time zones – utilise it!

If I’ve not been able to find the answer, I then prioritise the urgency based on the information and how the response will affect my work moving forward. I categorise and act as follows:

  • Blocking me right now – If so I will slack the appropriate person right away, although this will interrupt them, it means that I will be able to get quickly back to my own work.
  • Could do with knowing sooner rather than later – I have daily short catch ups with my mentor, I’ll ask her then so that I am not interrupting anyone else’s work.
  • I wonder why this is – I have weekly one on ones with my manager, I’ll write it down (so I remember) and ask then so that we have something to discuss and so that I can get a different perspective on the question.

Although remote onboarding is new for companies and employees alike, it can be just as fun and effective as doing it in person. There may be some additional upfront effort required, and increased collaboration between you and your immediate team but you’ll be up to speed in no time! Good luck 😀

Are you interested in working at TransferWise? We’re hiring! Check out our open Engineering roles here.

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