What it’s like starting a new job from home during the COVID-19 pandemic

Meghan McCarty Carino May 18, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
Starting a new job during these times involves a lot of video chat. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

What it’s like starting a new job from home during the COVID-19 pandemic

Meghan McCarty Carino May 18, 2020
Starting a new job during these times involves a lot of video chat. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Hard as it may be to believe, given the staggering unemployment numbers, there are businesses that are bringing on new employees.

It’s not just at grocery stores and warehouses, but for positions that are fully work from home. So what’s it like to be hired, remotely, in the middle of a pandemic?

Yep, you guessed it: Starting a new job right now involves a lot of video chat. Video interviews, video white board tests, video orientations.

“I haven’t been to the office. I’ve never seen the office,” said Tristan Hall, who started his new job as a software engineer in Raleigh, North Carolina, a few weeks ago. “I don’t know where my desk is. I don’t know if I have a window I can look out, if I’m right next to the bathroom.”

Hall, who’s at home for now, interviewed while on lockdown. He was dressed up in a suit, bow tie and even shoes, he claims. He’s had virtual meetings, virtual lunches — although, at least the kebab HR bought him was real.

“She’s like, ‘Where do you want to eat? You know, like, we’ll do a DoorDash,'” Hall explained. “And, yeah, I ate in front of a computer screen while the other person on the other side of the screen ate as well.”

It’s weird, but it’s a weird time for such a big transition, for new hires and employers alike.

“We’ve now had four people onboarded. And each one’s been a little better,” said Alicia Harmon O’Meara, who heads HR at Edmodo, a distance learning company near San Francisco.

For its first remote hire, Edmodo FedExed a company laptop, but it was late so the employee had to use his own, which didn’t go smoothly.

“So literally that first Monday, I just got on the phone with him to say, ‘Hi, I’m here, you do have a job. I just don’t know how to get you part of that job,'” O’Meara said.

She’s been refining the process, putting together new manuals and training strategies like “virtual shadowing,” using screen-sharing.

But there’s more to onboarding than training — there’s the whole social thing.

“Am I gonna fit in with my team? Am I gonna click with everybody and get along with my boss?” said Robert Down, who just started a new job in data analytics for a hospital in Orlando, Florida.

He transitioned from being a bedside nurse, so he’s not used to working alone, and he’s feeling guilty while his former colleagues are on the frontline.

“I’ve already talked to my boss and said, ‘Man, I’m just not as productive as I think I would be,'” Down said. “And he was reassuring and basically said, ‘Yeah, nobody is right now.'”

The social part of onboarding is just simply more difficult right now, says Jill Chapman with the HR services firm Insperity. She says all those goofy team-building exercises — like when a coworker takes somebody around their apartment or home over video, or introducing pets and kids — that stuff is important right now. Even if everyone else is kind of over it.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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