Onboarding Class for Your New Job
I have worked a lot of places. A lot. And since I have clients instead of employers now, I get to see how many other types work as well. Corporate onboarding is always a waste of time, as it doesn’t tell you how to be a useful, productive and most of all not an annoyingly bad member of the organization.
Here’s your manual on being a good information worker in a modern, western office:
- When you are on a conference call, mute the phone when not talking. Ideally you plan conference calls like you plan to attend a real, in-person meeting and you are awake, prepared, settled down with your coffee or water, on time and in a quiet place. But at least, mute so we don’t hear you typing, or your dog barking, or your baby crying.
- When someone asks “How are you?” no one really cares. Unless it will affect job performance in the immediate future, if you are sick or you may have to leave to pick up a kid from school, when people ask how you are doing always say “fine,” or “great.” Also, try to follow up with “how are you?”
- Schedule meetings. Use the meeting organizer tool in the calendar. Fill out all the fields correctly. There’s a place for each thing. Don’t put the phone dial-in info in the title; you aren’t being helpful; as everyone is used to finding it in the correct field.
- If your meeting happens periodically, use the recurring meeting function in the calendar. Don’t send out a meeting for each event.
- When you host a call, and open the line, do not yell “hellooo?” or any such variation. “This is Steven, who’s on the call?” Better, to prevent people stepping one each other, is to look at who you actually invited, and conduct a real role call.
- When you announce yourself on a call, at least until everyone knows who you are, explain yourself. “This is Steven from Corporate UX.”
Be able to introduce yourself without saying “oh, what is it I do, hahaha?!” The first meetings with a project team will need that. “Steven Hoober, I am a contract designer for all mobile apps here at [client]. I work for [pointing] Carol, who runs the overall User Experience effort here.
- When you run a meeting, take notes. Distribute the notes to everyone else at the end.
- When you attend a meeting, take notes. Do what people told you to do. Cross off stuff when you finish the task.
- When your boss comes by your desk and tells you to do something, take notes. Do what you are told you to do. Cross off stuff when you finish the task.
- Schedule your work. I don’t care if you put it on your calendar, make a to-do list or write it on the wall, but put all you work somewhere. Don’t forget to do it. And not eventually, but when it is due.
- Tell everyone who cares when you finish your work. It’s not really finished till it’s delivered, and it’s not really delivered until everyone knows it’s on the share drive, or whatever. Email is not always noticed, so may not count as delivered either. Make sure people know.
- Don’t steal other people’s chairs. Don’t be a thief in general, but we adjust our chairs to ourselves, and even if wobbly, get used to them. No, not all chairs are the same. Don’t steal chairs and if you need it for a sudden executive meeting, note where they go and put them back. For the record, I am not chair-picky, but some are and this will get you Lifetime Ire from them.
- Include subjects in the email subject line. Remember not everyone is on your project, and inboxes are sometimes narrow, so lead with something very short, like a project name abbreviation. Follow it with the briefest possible summary, and date it if you do this all the time so it’s a unique email thread. “CTX — Updated designs, 9 May”
- Learn project names. Use the same name and abbreviation as everyone else. If it varies, ask if everyone can pick one name and abbreviation.
- Address emails in priority order. Put people who will care less as CC instead of TO. Some people filter emails like this.
- Write emails for the least-informed member of the team. Don’t assume everyone knows what you know about the project, or that they went to the last meeting.
- Use the return key. Break emails into easily digestible pieces.
- Pull out tasks for individuals if you have them in the email. “John, I need you to…” but since it’s rare that everyone must take action, don’t usually put ACTION REQUIRED in the subject line.
- Have a sigline. Really. For every email. In threads, it’s hard to tell who wrote what without it, and often we don’t know who you are anyway, or how to get ahold of you. Put your name, title, department, email, phone.
Reply properly. Use reply-all almost always. Unless you know the team hates conversations going on and on, copy everyone on the original email on the full conversation.
- Reply with context. Copy the part you are replying to into your email, make it “quote” style or (if unavailable) make it gray and italics or something to make that clear, then put your reply under it. Do this point by point. Use color if needed to make it clear. Copy! Do not reply to the earlier email as some email systems or clients hide previous responses so you are sending a blank message to them.
- Put your vacations, doctor’s appointments, etc on the calendar. Then, everyone knows you are not there and don’t book meetings over times you are not there. You can just say “Busy” or “OOO” as the subject so no one knows what you are doing, but it is blocked off time.
- Look at other people’s calendars. You never need to send an email or call someone or take time on a call to say “what’s a good time for everyone?” If they didn’t update their calendar, that’s their fault. Corporate meeting creation allows seeing availability of others. Use it.
- How much do you need to complain about food, really? If the last three times you asked them to order vegetarian you didn’t like it, can you instead just bring something, or suffer like we all do? We non-picky meat eaters also mostly all hate the pizza or sandwiches anyway, so you aren’t unique. It’s meeting food. It sucks.
- Bring a pen. Pad of paper. Your computer. Your phone. A cup of water. The charger. Cables to project. Be prepared for meetings. Don’t spend time during the meeting going out to get stuff.
- Know how company equipment works. If presenting, show up early, or the day before, or ask someone else how the projector works, for example.
- Get help. In a meeting, if you are showing off some work, have someone else take notes so you can focus on presenting, running the meeting, etc. and they don’t all sit around staring at you slowly writing.
- Sharing your screen on a Skype (or WebEx, or live in a room, or whatever), don’t check your email. Turn off your IM, etc. I like to actually quit programs I don’t need, so reminders don’t pop up.
- Understand people are human. Don’t schedule meetings over lunch without feeding, or a reasonable break so they can feed themselves. Don’t have 3+ hour meetings, on the phone or in person, without bathroom breaks.
- Tell people about meeting logistics. Don’t make them assume or ask about location, food, breaks, travel, or anything else they might need to know.
- Never take the last [thing] from the fridge, snack basket, etc. I mean, unless you are hypoglycemic or pregnant, etc. Likewise, if present in your office, change the water bottle if you run it out, make more coffee if you have a group carafe and use it all, re-stock the pop from the cabinet if it’s low in the fridge, etc.
- Same for everything else you use up. Paper in the printer, for example.
Find out who orders office supplies. Be nice to them. Tell them when things are out. Actually, they often know or feel they should so don’t tell, ask. “You know we don’t seem to have any 11x17 paper, right?”
- In big enough offices, you have a mail slot. Probably near the break room. Yes, you do everything on email or Slack, but some day, something critically important will arrive there. Get used to glancing at it daily just in case.
- Travel well, if you travel as a group. Never be exceptionally slow or annoying. Any trip under 3 days, for anyone at all, should not involve personal checked luggage.
- If you drive, pretend you are hosting a meeting. Schedule, arrange, tell. The car is your conference room. Make it neat and organized, drive for the passengers. Take breaks, schedule food stops, tell everyone the plan.
- Your corporate processes are stupid. Filling out the timesheet before the end of the month is nonsensical and maybe unethical or illegal. Who cares? Do it anyway so the whole team or department doesn’t get an email that you’ve failed to fill out your time sheet.
- First, do your work. Lunch with the team, leaving early for happy hour, going to the car show on the corporate campus, etc. is never a good excuse to miss a meeting or not get your work done that day.
- If you can’t do your work and have a life, for an extended period, complain. When they ignore you — and they will — start looking for a new job.
- Don’t quit in a huff the first time you are sad. I don’t hire people who change jobs every three months. Look for a new job while you work. No one really knows what you are up to anyway, so you can slack off a bit and they won’t notice. It keeps your options open, as the current job may get cool in the months it takes to find something better.
- When hosting a meeting where you’ll be presenting, be at the front of the room, by the projector screen or TV, off to one side of course. You look at the team and they can shift their gaze from you talking, gesturing, demoing, to the screen as you show off items. You can get up and point at the screen, or go to the whiteboard, and being in their eyeline they will follow you.
What did I miss?