Like many of you will probably soon be doing, I recently started a new position in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. While I was so excited to start working in a new office and to continue my work in higher education, I was faced with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty of what this new experience would be like knowing that many colleges and universities across the country are functioning “off the grid” and almost completely remotely. In my first two weeks, I have learned so much and wanted to share some personal suggestions and advice as you prepare for a unique start to your professional careers in Student Affairs!
1. Be patient with your supervisor, office/department, and institution.
All institutions right now are working through situations they have never experiencedbefore, so they may not have all the answers right away. Be flexible and understand that your supervisor is likely training a new employee remotely for the first time, just as you are learning a new job remotely for the first time.
2. Take things in day by day.
Institutions are making new decisions regarding their response to COVID-19 nearly every day, and many times your supervisor is learning of updates just before you are informed. The future is very uncertain right now, so try to focus on what needs to be accomplished during the current day, and understand that tomorrow will likely look completely different….and that is okay!
3. If it’s not already included in your training schedule, ask your supervisor if
you can do daily check ins during your first week.
These don’t have to be long, but it is important to have that point of contact with your supervisor (even if it is virtually) to start establishing that relationship, as well as give you the opportunity and space to ask questions.
4. Check your email regularly in the weeks prior to starting.
This is likely going to be your primary form of communication with your supervisor and other campus departments as they get you set up in their systems, schedule new employee orientations, etc.
5. Before your first day, ask these kinds of questions:
a. Will you have any access to campus?
i. My institution is primarily shut down right now, so I have to wait to get access my office, receive my university ID, etc.
b. Will you be receiving a laptop or will you be expected to use your own equipment at first?
i. This is important to ask, especially if you will be getting access to university systems. I was using my personal computer for the first week until I learned that in order for me to access our BANNER system, I had to be on a university computer and logged into our VPN.
c. If getting university equipment, how will that be delivered to you or how will you need to pick it up?
d. What virtual communication tools does your department/institution use? (i.e. zoom, WebEx, skype business, Microsoft teams, etc.)
e. How and when are you expected to turn in I-9 documents or fill out the onboarding information (W2, direct deposit, etc.)?
i. This is another important one, because many of these offices are closed right now and your institution likely has amended policies regarding this for the time being.
6. Don’t be afraid to engage in your office’s chat (if they use one) to get to know
Take the first few days to gauge how the chat is used (is it more business, or do people make jokes?). Once you have a good grasp on what the personality of the chat is, start engaging! This is how you are going to build rapport and develop connections with your coworkers. It’s going to feel awkward at first, but they are also excited that you are starting and want to get to know you!
7. Similarly, use video chat to meet and introduce yourself to your coworkers/other campus offices.
Hopefully this will be incorporated into your training, but if it’s not, ask your supervisor! It is helpful to put a face to a name and increases connections when you can have a spoken conversation.
8. If you have a question, ask it.
There is likely going to be a lot happening in your first few weeks, and not being able to pop into someone’s office when you have a question, is challenging. Use chat messaging to ask quick questions as they come up, send emails, and if you have an “onboarding partner” or someone you trust in the
office, ask them questions via chat or video chat. More than likely, your coworkers are going to be EVEN MORE supportive right now because they understand that this is a wild time to be starting a new job...embrace that and let them help you.
9. Take your lunch break, give yourself a few breaks during the day, and turn off your computer at the end of the work day.
This is SO IMPORTANT to prevent burnout so early on in your roles. Working from home is challenging because it is so easy to sit down at your computer at 8am and stay there until well into the evening. Take your breaks and create separation between the work day and your personal time.
10. Set-up an office space in your home (i.e. don’t work in bed).
Find a space in your home that you will “enjoy” sitting in for 8 hours every day and stick to it. I live with a roommate, so while she works in the front room of our house, I work in our kitchen at the table. It has great natural light, a few outlets, and a great view (of our backyard)…and I’m close to the quarantine snacks. I’ve spruced it up by adding a few of my plants and it’s a genuinely space I look forward to commuting to from my room each morning.
**Bonus Tip: if you are living with another human that is also working from home…try to separate yourselves as best you can and invest in a good pair of headphones.
This minimizes distractions and helps when you both may be on calls at the same time. Check in with each other periodically throughout the day though…almost as if you were in a real office setting! (If you have children and will be working from home…you are a superhero and I respect you so much).**
11. Create a to-do list or schedule for each day.
Hopefully your supervisor will have some kind of schedule outlined for your first few weeks, but get into the habit of creating a daily schedule for yourself and the tasks you need to complete each day (include those breaks too so you remember to take them!). I like to put everything in my Outlook calendar so I can see meetings and personal task items all in one place…but develop a system that works for you.
12. Remember, you are NOT alone and you will make it through this time.
Something I have frequently been reminding myself of is that even though I am new to this specific position, all of higher education (and honestly many professions around the world) are learning and navigating this new normal together. You are also among a whole cohort of new graduates across the nation that are starting your first jobs in this pandemic. Lean on each other, remember to take deep breaths, and know that it won’t be like this forever. You will be taking your respective campuses by storm soon, and this experience is only making you a stronger, more well-rounded professional!