Being the virtual new kid is hard.

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As many companies reopen their doors following the pandemic, professionals have mixed emotions about returning to the office. While some are hungry for in-person interaction and collaboration, others have found their rhythm at home and value the flexibility and freedom that remote work offers. Businesses across all industries are also reimagining their work-away approach, with some forgoing headquarters altogether. Many are finding hybrid solutions, and others are delaying any decisions until 2022. If you find yourself starting a new job right about now, you are likely facing a unique challenge: being a new employee remotely. 

Yes, there are certainly benefits of not having to report to the office (less chaotic mornings!), but when you're a new hire trying to learn the ropes, make a stellar impression, and prove yourself—the lack of water coolers and true face-time makes settling in particularly tricky. How are you going to strike up a casual conversation, build relationships with colleagues, or present an idea in a brainstorm? Who do you go to if you have an HR-related question? 

Luckily, there are ways to ensure your first few weeks (and months) are successful and enjoyable. Career experts and leaders offer their best solutions for navigating a new job when you're totally remote.

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Request an org structure cheat sheet—and a new hire buddy.

In the initial days of a new gig, you'll inevitably have countless questions. In the office, between setting up your email and filling out your payroll info, and figuring out who handles tech issues, you can usually lean over or walk up to someone quickly with questions. With remote work, however, it's not as seamless. Technology does make it technically easy to communicate, but it's nowhere near as natural and doesn't change the fact that you're physically isolated. As a remote new hire, sometimes the simplest of questions can make you feel disoriented and roadblocked, says Alana Christou, the talent acquisition and human resources leader for Fracture. If you aren't given the remote tools necessary to understand your company's roles and responsibilities, it will take you longer to feel settled and productive. 

The best way to handle this tricky spot is to ask for some basics up front, Christou recommends. This includes an organization chart, a list of internal and external resources, and a hiring buddy if they can offer it. "This should be a tenured, existing employee who can be a single point of contact to direct, 'Who can I ask about X?' questions," she says. "Preferably, this is someone who can also provide historical context on how and why the business operates the way it does." (This might be the person on your team, for example, who'd meet you at the elevators and show you around on your first day, if you were in the office.)

Be proactive to figure out communication styles.

If you think of your previous job, maybe your boss was prone to pick up the phone to receive an update on a project. Or you knew exactly which of your coworkers preferred email over Slack. We all have different ways of communicating, and learning those styles from the beginning will help you acclimate, says Erica Galos Alioto, the global head of people for Grammarly. Rather than being frustrated when your teammate leaves your email on "read" for a week, take time to understand what makes them instantly reply, or ask if they prefer to communicate another way.

Alioto recommends adding an agenda item about communication styles when you connect with managers and teammates for the first time. This sets the expectation that you want to work effectively. "Make sure you're also exploring different platforms to reach people," she continues. "You may find that even though some teammates are more formal over email, they might be very casual on the phone, so you can use this knowledge to form more personal relationships and communicate more effectively."

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Learn about and embrace the culture of the company.

According to Ivy Slater, certified business coach and author, establishing and embracing company culture is one of the biggest challenges of remote work. This makes sense since, when you aren't physically in a space, it's tough to feel connected to the company's mission and vision. If all employees are virtual, most team-building exercises and practices are likely conducted via video chat or at an annual in-person gathering. However, if some team members report into the office while others stay remote, it's normal to feel a bit of FOMO. "You don't get to see the mentorship program in action or the casual, fun Fridays, so it's your job to research and understand the core values of the company," Slater says.

She suggests directing questions to HR about how the organization follows through on its core values. "Ask the leaders of your team how they embrace these values. Take this as an opportunity to get involved in groups or non-profit initiatives in which the organization is involved. This will also support you in growing and developing a strong network within the organization," she adds.

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Collaborate with coworkers outside of your daily job description.

You want to be more than a coworker; you want to be a friend! Having strong relationships between your colleagues makes you feel part of the team, offers support, and of course, makes work more enjoyable. But to build connections, you have to put in effort outside of your job description. Alioto says while it can be intimidating to put yourself out there as the new kid on the block, the more you do it, the more immersed you will be in the culture. 

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To get started, she recommends taking advantage of business communication platforms, like Slack, that often allow employees to connect through dedicated channels, based on interests, goals or shared situations (New Parents, Yoga Fans, and so on.) 

"If you see an opportunity to create a new group or channel, talk to your leadership about creating one," she continues. "By participating in these communication channels to connect, relate, and share feedback with your peers, this will enhance your engagement and visibility within the organization."

Create a professional, functioning workspace.

People had pretty brilliant solutions for turning any nook or cranny into an at-home office during the pandemic, but if you're starting a new job that will be remote either forever or for the foreseeable future, your dining room table isn't going to cut it. In addition to being a physical representation of your professionalism, a dedicated, organized workspace will help you stay productive and establish boundaries, according to Amanda Augustine, the career expert for TopResume

Much like buying new clothes to celebrate your new gig that's in-office, consider this your opportunity to splurge on necessary essentials to create your at-home area. "You're going to be clocking a lot of hours in your home office space; make sure it's comfortable," she continues. "Find a chair or stand-up desk that works best for you. Find out if your company will send you a headset or some noise-canceling headphones to ensure you can hear and be heard during meetings."

Don't let it consume you.

And another must of successfully starting a new job from afar? Not letting it consume your every thought and every hour. With any new gig, it's hard enough to kick new-job anxiety and create boundaries—and not being able to separate home and work physically can make it even more of a challenge. As Augustine explains, when you're in a corporate office, you naturally have breaks from the screen when you transition to meetings or during lunchtime. Now, though, you may be glued to a screen 24/7 because you have to create all of the structure yourself. That's why breaks are vital. "Even if you have to set reminders for yourself or block off time on your calendar, do it. This helps you to stay energized and focused," she says.

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