I started my first full-time job out of college in February this year. Little did I know, this was right around the time COVID-19 would spread around the world breaking down businesses and forcing people to isolate themselves at home.
Not even a month into the start of my career, I received an email from my employer telling everyone to start working from home. As I finished reading the email, my mind went to panic. I wasn’t even fully trained. I barely even knew the people on my team. How was I supposed to continue doing work? What am I even supposed to be working on at home?
After my initial spur of panic, I started thinking more rationally. It was the only sensible course of action. Due to the pandemic, companies around the country were transitioning all business activities to function remotely. In the worst cases, businesses had no other choice than to let go of their work force. I told myself I was lucky my job could be done at home.
Since then, I have spent more time in my career working remotely than I had ever anticipated and learned a few important lessons. I graduated from college without ever taking a class on what you need to know if you start working during a pandemic. In lieu of that class and for all the recent graduates out there in similar situations, here are three lessons I wish I knew before starting to work remotely.
1. It is OK to feel lost.
Combine the nervousness from starting your first job and the difficulties of working remotely and you will find one helplessly lost new hire. Your boss understands this.
Everyone started out by learning from their first job. No one expects perfection from the get go. Don’t try to hide mistakes or let pride prevent you from seeking help:
- Find a mentor or coworker that you feel comfortable asking all kinds of questions to. Being a new hire is the best excuse to ask any question no matter how silly.
- Stay positive and don’t give up. As cliche as it sounds, you lose the second you give up. It is OK to feel lost at first but that will never change if you give up.
- Offer help whenever you can. It doesn’t matter if it is a small task or a bigger project. The more experience you can gain working with your coworkers will make learning faster.
It is too easy to be paralyzed in the mindset of being lost. Don’t let that stop you from improving at your job. Create a support network for yourself and get to know the people you will be working with. Take the time to learn and slowly adjust to this new work environment.
2. Separate work and personal life.
Working remotely is much easier now than ever with Zoom for meetings or Slack to chat with coworkers. We can feel connected to everyone from the comfort of our own home. Unfortunately, this comes as a double-edged sword.
The boundary between work and personal life seems easy to see normally. We work when we are at the office and relax when we are at home. This boundary may slowly be changing as remote work is accepted as the new norm. When I started working, I always left my work laptop in the office. My home is my office now. As we get used to always being available from home, it is easy to get swept back into work after receiving a work email or message in the evening. Take some time to relax outside of work:
- Set rules for when you will respond to emails/work messages outside of your normal working hours. As a new hire, it may feel as though you need to respond to a work email right away but many times it makes no difference if you wait until normal work hours. You will burn out or produce poor quality if you always have an eye on your inbox andnever take time to unwind after work.
- Create a specific workspace in your home for work. Working at home makes it especially easy to slack off. No one is working in the seat next to you and your boss isn’t around. Finding a space explicitly designated for work will not only promote productivity but also set expectations for yourself.
It is smart to put time into growing a career but that shouldn’t prevent us from enjoying the rest of our lives.
3. Remember to prepare for your future.
We won’t be working remotely forever and we will overcome this pandemic. Don’t focus so much on the present difficulties that you forget to prepare for the future. Working from home has lengthened my days by cutting out my commute times and creating more free time. Looking back, I realize I spent too much time complaining instead of preparing myself for the eventual transition back into the office. Successful people never stop learning. Take the time now to improve your skills and plan for success:
- Learn a new skill. Working from home lengthens our days by cutting out commutes and creating more free time. It may be easy to get used to this new lifestyle but don’t waste this time by taking it for granted. Instead, take this time to learn something that could help propel your career
- Don’t be afraid to set up coffee chats through zoom or other mediums. It’s especially important to build the foundation of your work relationships in the beginning of your career. Working remotely shouldn’t prevent you from making new friends!
Make the most of the time now. We can’t change the situation we are in but we can put the effort in now to put ourselves in a position to succeed once everything returns to normal. No matter what happens in this world, don’t ever stop believing in yourself.