Don't Let Being New Keep You from Being Known
Meira Shuman, Former User Experience Designer
Being new is tough. Especially when your entire company is fully remote due to a pandemic. Especially when you're an introvert. But with a little bit of strategic effort, anyone can form deeper connections at work.
It feels like just yesterday that I got an email from Viget saying “Happy first day!” Starting a new job can be intimidating on its own, let alone when the entire company is fully remote due to a pandemic. I was immensely excited to join the team, but I was also a bit anxious about how to establish myself and meet everyone in a completely virtual environment.
I’ve discovered that it’s a lot easier to thrive in a new environment and connect with coworkers when you deliberately pursue experiences that suit your personality and interests. For example, as an introvert it can be difficult for me to open up or feel comfortable in large groups, and that's okay. Instead, I’ve learned to seek out more intimate environments where I can engage in meaningful conversations and contribute behind-the-scenes on projects that align with my passions.
With a little bit of extra effort, I believe anyone can strengthen their sense of belonging at a new company. Even during a pandemic. Even when the entire company is remote. If you’re not sure where to start, here are five ideas for ways to form deeper connections at work:
1. Find channels to share your interests
Most remote-friendly businesses use a company-wide group chat platform. At Viget, we use Slack. While some channels are project-specific, there are dozens of social channels where you can gush over adorable photos of human babies (#vigebabies), furbabies (#vigepets), and even plant babies (#plantparenthood). There are channels for organizing #gamenights, sharing new #food recipes, discussing favorite #books, and even dishing on the latest #bachelor-nation gossip. You can leverage these types of channels to connect with people across the organization who share your interests. If there isn’t a channel for your passion, create it! You might be surprised to find other people who share your enthusiasm for a topic.
2. Talk to people 1:1
When you’re new at a company it can feel overwhelming to try to meet everyone, especially during larger social events. Scheduling 1:1 meetings with people from across the company can help create more personal connections. For my first few months, I would schedule multiple 1:1 meetings every week, using this time to get to know teammates outside of project work. Now that I’m busier, I really appreciate Slack’s donut app integration. At Viget, Donut pairs random coworkers every three weeks. This has been a great opportunity for serendipitous coffee chats and it really takes the stress out of trying to meet new people. I’d recommend having a couple questions on hand before any 1:1 to ask about things you might be curious about, whether that’s favorite work projects or favorite ice cream flavors. One of my go-to questions is, “What advice would you give to your younger self?” This line of questioning is a great way to learn more about a person while also getting some helpful advice for your own success.
3. Join Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
Employee Resource Groups are formed based on shared identities or life experiences. If your workplace doesn’t have Employee Resource Groups, talk to HR or leadership about starting one. At Viget, anyone can spearhead the creation of an ERG and create a space for people to connect in meaningful ways, whether that’s sharing resources with one another, celebrating parts of their identity, or making suggestions for ways to improve the company. We currently have three active ERGs: LGBTQIA+, Mental Health, and Employees of Color. Something I appreciate about ERGs at Viget is that they are open to anyone who wishes to join, including interns and apprentices, because everyone deserves to feel supported and have a sense of belonging.
4. Contribute to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts
As a new hire, look for ways to get involved in initiatives you are passionate about. As a social justice advocate, it’s been incredibly meaningful for me to participate in Viget’s DEI Advisory Committee (DEIAC). At Viget, employees from across the company can volunteer to serve as DEIAC representatives and are allotted time each week to work on specific DEI initiatives. Even though I’m not a DEI expert, I’ve felt that my opinions are valued and that I’m able to help drive positive changes while also connecting with colleagues across the company. DEIAC’s work has already led to some successful changes, including working with an external DEI consultant to develop a DEI Strategic Plan for Viget, producing recommendations for how Viget should respond internally when traumatic events occur in order to better support employees, and developing a process for creating a repository of name pronunciation guides (very much appreciated by someone with an oft-mispronounced name). While there is still so much work to be done, I think Viget’s unofficial mantra “Progress, Not Perfection” speaks to the desire to continuously work towards improvements.
5. Participate in company activities
Every company has their own touchpoints to engage employees, even if some of these now take place remotely. These touchpoints might be activities like all-hands meetings, happy hours, and team offsites. All of these activities serve a purpose — they offer people the chance to build relationships and stay connected. I’d advise new hires to take advantage of these opportunities by actively and authentically engaging in them. Rather than thinking of Viget's weekly all-hands meeting as just another meeting, I view it as an opportunity to learn new things about the company and all the cool projects we’re working on. It also gives me an excuse to spark up conversations with other members of the team, whether it’s about a project they are working on that caught my interest or asking for a recipe of whatever delicious food I saw them eating for lunch.
Viget, like most companies, has structures in place to help people connect. These include things like Slack, Donut app, ERGs, internal initiatives, and company touchpoints. While it can feel intimidating as a new hire trying to connect with all of your new co-workers, I’ve found that being a bit proactive and deliberate can help identify the best environments to get more involved and foster authentic connections with others.
All this being said, I want to emphasize the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Remember that building meaningful connections is more about quality than quantity. There are dozens of ways to get more involved at work, but don’t feel pressure to do all the things by joining every single group and attending every single happy hour. These five ideas that I’ve shared have had a profound impact on my first year at Viget and have helped me feel like a part of the team. If you have other thoughts or suggestions, I’d love to hear them!