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You Landed a Social Impact Job in a Pandemic . . . Now What? : How to Make the Most of Remote Onboarding in “These Uncertain Times”

PCDN Global

October 7, 2020

By Sarah McLewin (bio below)

Starting a new job remotely must be so hard!” I’ve heard this many times since I started a new job in global education two months ago. And I beg to differ.

It’s not hard. It’s just different. And—yes—perhaps, a bit surreal.

While unemployment is at a record high, others are transitioning to new jobs where they must learn to adapt to remote onboarding. Starting a new job is always stressful but navigating it remotely can be an added challenge.

Moreover, jobs in social impact and international development have been particularly impacted by the global pandemic. In many cases, programs are being revamped and organizations are in crisis mode—not the best environment for a new hire.

Or what if it is?

While a remote start in a global pandemic has definitely posed some challenges, I quickly learned that it also has several benefits.

Accelerate Learning with Google

I quickly learned that one of the benefits of telework when you are new on the job is the ability to harness the full power of Google. In my first couple of meetings, I was able to keep up with the conversation when company lingo was thrown around by doing a quick term search. Having instant and discrete access to resources such as organizational charts can help new hires accelerate their learning and stay engaged in fast-paced meetings.

Enjoy Staggered Introductions

Another benefit of teleworking is that your on boarding process will be staggered. In an office setting, the first week is often packed with meetings and impromptu hallway introductions. Especially for introverts, this can be exhausting. In the remote context, the learning process is naturally more staggered giving new hires more time to adjust.

Leverage Communication Tools

Today, there are so many platforms and mechanisms to stay in touch and collaborate. Use them! Find out early what the norms of communication are on the team and don’t be afraid of less traditional means of staying connected.

In an office setting, teams use a wide variety of communication tools: email, phone calls, formal meetings, drop ins, and hallway chats. In the same way, in the remote setting, you shouldn’t just limit yourself to scheduled video calls and email.

The remote work environment can also lend itself to more informal communication, whether it’s through instant messaging applications, text messaging, or quick phone calls. Leverage these tools to establish rapport with your team.

Reflect and Keep Balance

Perhaps one of the best benefits of starting via telework, is not having to commute. That extra time at the beginning and end of each day can give new hires more time to get a walk in, practice mindfulness, or eat a hearty breakfast.

My colleague David J. Smith, who is a career coach, recently noted in Forbes (“Making Working from Home Work”) “just because your office is 10 feet away rather than 10 miles doesn’t mean you should go to it more frequently.” Keeping balance might be harder now because of the temptation of the convenience of your office, but it might be all the more critical.  These simple practices are essential to cultivating resilience—a concept that has become more and more important in these challenging times.

Recognize Newness as an Assset

The global pandemic is the great equalizer for social impact teams. Many organizations have had to pivot from the typical playbook of social change programming. That means many organizations are more open to innovation than ever. Having someone new on the team who won’t be confined to old precedents can be an asset. Similarly, if your organization is in crisis-management mode, you probably know just as much as your colleagues who have significant tenure. In many ways, the pandemic is the great equalizer. “Uncertain times” has a way of leveling the playing field and forging a special rapport on teams.

If you’re starting a new job during this global pandemic, I encourage you to think positively about how the unique set up can be maximized for your success.



Sarah McLewin is a global education professional with experience in program management, training, and teaching at all levels, from primary through graduate.  In 2018 she was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Morocco, where she also led workshops on conflict resolution and the UN’s sustainable development goals, impacting 100 students and civic leaders. Prior to Fulbright, McLewin was Director of Global Education at the World Affairs Council, managing seven youth and teacher-training programs for over 350 students and educators. From 2013 to 2017 she worked at George Mason University in various roles, including Director of the Conflict Resolution Youth Summit and Homestay Coordinator of the Indonesia-US Youth Leadership Program. Hailing from Norfolk, Virginia, McLewin earned a B.A. in English and Peace and Social Justice at Berea College and a Master’s in Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.

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