What it’s Like to Start a New Job During Covid-19
Starting a job at Open Arms of Minnesota during a pandemic means Mike Marcotte has yet to meet all of his co-workers face to face.

What it’s Like to Start a New Job During Covid-19

Employees and employers reflect on adjustments to the onboarding process at a time when staff can't gather.

Minneapolis resident Bailey Murphy recently started a new job as a SEO copywriter for a large company. For Murphy, the revised onboarding process went smoothly, despite meeting only her immediate supervisor in person. “I feel like I was very lucky,” Murphy says. “I had plenty of online trainings to do, and was meeting my co-workers virtually and through phone calls. The support for me has been incredible.”

Due to Covid-19, onboarding employees has received an unexpected makeover. Employers are challenged to figure out how to make new employees feel comfortable when they cannot interact with colleagues in person.

Sara Kraft is a commercial credit manager for Wings Financial Credit Union. Since mid-March, she has hired three employees.

“With videos and screen sharing, we can train new employees on just about everything we do,” Kraft says. “And I think we are all very quick to reach out when we need help – perhaps more so than when we were all still in the same office.”

I made the decision to switch employers during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving a job at Hubbard Broadcasting as a senior producer on Twin Cities Live and moving to Open Arms of Minnesota, a nonprofit making and serving meals for people living with life-threatening illnesses.

Hubbard Broadcasting offered no exit interview and coworkers couldn’t host a goodbye happy hour. Our team’s regularly scheduled Friday afternoon GoToMeeting conference call served as the place for me to say farewell. Not to anyone’s fault, but in retrospect, it created a chord of dissonance. The process in which employers depart ways with their employees needs to be adjusted to ensure there is a chord of harmony.

Open Arms serves a critical audience, so the lights are still on at their building in south Minneapolis. My first day involved an in-person onboarding and I currently go into the building four days a week. But nearly all staff still spend some time working from home to limit how many people are in the building.

Since I started in mid-April, we haven’t had a full staff assembly, and I’m fairly certain I haven’t met everyone on the staff of nearly 50 people. Outside of my immediate team, Covid-19 has challenged me to get to know the rest of the Open Arms staff in unconventional ways.

Creating community

Onboarding staff is more than handing off employee handbooks and having IT provide remote access. It’s introducing new staff to a team’s culture.

“It was important to me to ensure that new team members felt like they knew their teammates,” says Kraft, from Wings Financial Credit Union. “We developed a habit of having a quick morning check-in videoconference, which has turned out to be a great way to start our mornings by still seeing each other. Each meeting also features an icebreaker question that we all answer. We have covered everything from our preferred toothpaste, to our favorite restaurant patio that we plan to visit just as soon as we’re able to do so, to showing off our favorite pair of crazy socks. We’ve all learned a surprising amount of information about each other personally, just in these brief morning interactions. While that was done primarily face to face in the past, we’ve found that we can still build culture and train our employees remotely.”

And it’s not just daily meetings that help colleagues get to know one another. Kraft asked a new employee how her first week went. “Her answer surprised me,” Kraft recalls. “She said that she knew the conditions weren’t ideal, and that the current situation wasn’t one that any of us would have planned or chosen. But, she said, her first week gave her the chance to see how the rest of the team handled challenges and adversity, and how we supported each other and also prioritized each other’s well-being on a personal level.”

Who’s the boss?

Glen Lloyd started as Executive Director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota amid the Covid-19 pandemic. He was in the office for only one week before their offices closed.

Although staff are not currently working in the same building, Lloyd is making sure they stay connected. “My direct reports have a daily check in as a whole leadership team, and then having weekly meetings one to one,” he says.

Like so many others, the biggest challenge Lloyd faces with his staff working remotely is keeping cultural camaraderie.

When work ‘returns to normal’

When it’s time to go back into the office, employees will need more than masks and disinfectant. Ensuring newer employees feel welcome in a new environment is crucial.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my situation, but I have to say I’m anxious to move into the office,” Murphy says. “It’s going to feel like starting all over, even though I’ve already been working for my employer since the beginning of April.”

Covid-19 has offered employers new onboarding options that could continue, post-pandemic. “I could see more training moving to a virtual setting,” Kraft adds. ”There is still a great deal of importance to face-to-face meetings, but I also think it is possible to have those interactions at another time. Your first day at a new job is always overwhelming, so perhaps prioritizing the face-to-face time at a future date would ultimately be more meaningful to the new employee.”

Mike Marcotte, a native Minnesotan and downtown Minneapolis resident, graduated from Gustavus Adolphus with a degree in elementary education. But he didn’t go into teaching after college. He spent nine years as a television producer, becoming an on-air regular on KSTP’s Twin Cities Live. He is now a nonprofit events planner with Open Arms of Minnesota. You can read more of Mike’s work on his website, www.givemethemike.com.