How to settle into a workplace after starting a new job during lockdown

Businesswoman discussing work through glass partition with colleague at office desk. Business people back to work sitting at desk with protection guard between them post covid-19 pandemic.
If you started a new job during lockdown, you may have never stepped foot in your actual workplace or met co-workers in the flesh. Photo: Getty

Meeting your new colleagues and being shown around the office is a big part of starting a new job. Not only do you get to see where you’ll be spending most of your days, you also get to make first impressions with your team. But with many people working from home at the moment, starting a new job has been very different this year.

Although some people will continue working remotely, others are heading back to their offices and workplaces. For some, this will be the first time they’ve stepped foot in their actual workplace and met their co-workers in the flesh — and not just over Zoom.

“Returning to the workplace after such a long period of time working from home will be tough for the majority of us. But for the people who started a new job during lockdown, and the working from home period that followed, it’s bound to be an even more daunting experience,” says Kelly Feehan, services director at the wellbeing charity CABA.

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If you’re one of the many people who started a new job during lockdown, the chances are you’re a bit nervous. So what can you do to make the transition a little easier?

Ask for an induction

Before you officially start, it might be helpful to ask if you can have a brief induction to the office or workplace. “Knowing where the toilets are and which printer is the right one to use can help you to feel more settled and allows you to concentrate on your work and getting to know your colleagues better,” Feehan says.

“This way you can get your bearings ahead of time and bypass the awkwardness that comes with feeling too reliant on your colleagues. That said, asking a colleague a question can be a great way to break the ice.”

Be prepared for people to be different

You may have met your colleagues online — as well as their children, cats and dogs — but people’s online personas can be different to what they’re actually like. Not everyone enjoys working from home, so some people may have seemed a little “off” or distracted on video.

“Months of video calls may have given you an indication of a person’s vibe and whether they’re someone you automatically click with, but some people struggle to convey themselves authentically online so they seem like a different person when you meet them for the first time,” she explains.

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“For example, someone you thought was being a bit curt with their emails may turn out to be the loveliest person in the office.”

Be prepared for office dynamics to change

It’s hard to get a true sense of an organisation’s workplace culture when you’re working remotely, so you’ll want to spend some time reading the room and observing the different dynamics between your team members,” Feehan says.

“Most workplace conversations take place outside of group calls, so there may be some office politics there that you hadn’t noticed before.”

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It may seem weird at first, but you’ll soon get used to the dynamic in the office. Remember that this is completely natural and it’s just something you’ll have to adapt to. “Try to get a feel for people’s different working rhythms and speak to everyone you can when you get the chance,” she adds.

Building relationships with your team

With social distancing measures in place, things are likely to be different to normal. But it doesn’t mean you can’t build relationships with the people you’re working with.

“It can be comforting to remember that it’s generally easier to build working relationships in person,” Feehan says. “With remote working, face-to-face chats and phone calls are mostly pre-arranged, so any conversations can often seem a little forced, especially a friendly get-to-know call.”

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In the workplace, there are more opportunities for people to stop and chat — and it’s far less awkward than on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

“Video calls are often dominated by the loudest or most extroverted colleagues, so now you’ll have the opportunity to have a conversation one-on-one or in smaller groups,” she says. “Many larger workplaces will also be doing staggered shifts, meaning that the whole team is unlikely to be there at the same time. This will be helpful for people who find large groups overwhelming.”