Last month, I joined kick-ass start-up Fuze in San Francisco. Working remotely is a large part of my role (I live in NYC). Any company that invests in its employees will have you spend time at the mothership so you understand the lay of the land as quickly as possible. Ensuring you make the most of that time is just as important to the company as it is to you. It might be the most critical visit you ever make to HQ.
One of the biggest challenges remote workers experience is feeling connected to the company and the people in it. Increasingly companies are adopting social software like Yammer and Fuze to help with this. What’s trickier is the relationship building that takes place beyond meetings; that impromptu lunch, the company happy hour, the ride in the elevator…these are all opportunities to bond with colleagues that as a remote colleague you are not afforded.
Because of that, I found taking a structured approach in relationship building really helped. It doesn’t sound sexy or even natural to structure “bonding” time, but making sure you invest in this, even if it means putting “getting to know you” time in the calendar, is the foundation I’ve needed before taking teamwork online. From that point, I found it’s easier (and vital to you) to nurture your connection to the office through social technology like video conferencing and enterprise social networks.
Where to start?
Meet with as many people as you can for half an hour.
Even if that is all you do for the first week. Fill your calendar with half hour appointments to meet faces of the company — across, up and down the organization’s ladders. How do you find out who those people are? Firstly, ask your boss. This will give you a great idea of who he considers are the influencers in the company. Next ask someone who has been with the company awhile. As a historian of the company they will intuitively understand who makes decisions and has clout, the unspoken hierarchy which is not spelled out in job titles.
Then get on the calendar of a few randoms. The first person a customer speaks to. The finance guy.
The purpose of these meetings is to learn all about the person, and their role. You, second. Obviously explain what your role and responsibilities will be to ensure that person can call upon you, or loop you in to projects where needed. However, this is your time to learn about them.
Having a random selection of people to “interview” is really important as you will help quickly get a 360 view of the company. If possible, talk to customers or sit in on customer calls so you get a good outside-in perspective to round it all out.
Do not use your headphones.
Breaking old work habits can be really hard, and if you are like me, you enjoy tuning out and listening to music while getting your work done. This is not the time to shut out the rest of the world. Resist the urge to fire up some tunes and keep your ears open to the hum of the office. You will get an ear into corridor conversations. You also appear more approachable.
Get out of the office.
Are you an introvert? Or a “social introvert” who enjoys the company of others but need their own time to recharge? Personally, I need my time out solo, especially in the first week of a new role where I am processing a lot of new information and faces. I once read you should “never lunch alone.” All good in theory, but sometimes we just want peace and quiet while scoffing down a burrito and scrolling through Huffington Post.
However, one of the easiest ways to bring people together is over their appetites. Office happy hours are a good example.
If you can’t commit to lunch, just get out of the office with your workmates.
Something that one of my best buds and former manager, Ross Hill taught me was the importance of coffee! It’s perceived as a low-commitment from both parties, but in the end it’s often the same amount of time you’d spend on lunch or another meeting. For people with packed schedules or commitment-phobes, coffee is easy enough.
Go for coffee, walk around the block, do something that has you out of the office walls and the conversation will wander with you.
At Fuze we are lucky enough to have volunteer opportunities which work in the very same way. I headed out to SF Food Bank and packed up food parcels for 3 hours while talking with my new workmates about our lives beyond work.
The first few weeks in any new job are critical to understanding the pulse of the company, navigating its culture, politics and mission.
When joining a start-up and being a remote employee, there is often a whole extra suite of issues to consider.
Working across time zones and not in colleagues faces, at a company that moves rapidly, face time with your future workmates is something to maximize while it’s available.
Next month, there will be no walking across the hall to ask Stacey in HR a question or bumping into Bill to chat about kickball and the next product release.
Make the most of your time.