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

Meghan McCarty Carino May 18, 2020
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Starting a new job during these times involves a lot of video chat. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

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

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

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

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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