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Adulting 101: Starting my first job remotely during the pandemic

SINGAPORE — On the day I started work at TODAY in June last year, I went to the office to collect my work laptop and have hardly returned since.

Adulting 101: Starting my first job remotely during the pandemic

When Daryl Choo started work as a reporter at TODAY in June 2020, his colleagues had already been working from home for some time owing to Covid-19 restrictions.

Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.

 

SINGAPORE — On the day I started work at TODAY in June last year, I went to the office to collect my work laptop and have hardly returned since.

The team had been working from home for some time due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Fresh out of university, I didn't have much time to adjust, either to working full-time or the added challenge of working from home.

Just a day later, the writ for the General Election (GE) was issued and the political news cycle was in full swing.

To get me up to date, my editors made sure to guide me on my assignments and gave detailed rundowns of story outlines.

They went through my work with a fine-toothed comb and gave line-by-line feedback on my writing.

Yet, I still faced some initial uncertainties in not knowing what was expected of me.

Thankfully, I didn’t go in cold. I had been an intern in the newsroom for six months while I was schooling and had already met half the team.

It felt different after I became a full-time worker though. The training wheels were off.

NO HARM IN ASKING QUESTIONS

During my internship in 2019, I benefited from being able to soak up important work-related knowledge by working near my colleagues.

Overhearing how my seniors interacted with newsmakers over the phone taught me how to phrase my interview questions or how to approach a certain news report.

When I had trouble with a particular assignment, I could also easily turn to them for advice or bounce ideas off them. Editors would also drop by my desk to discuss my work with me.

With communication now confined mostly to email or the Slack mobile app, I was hesitant to ask too many questions for fear of interrupting their work — a worry I later learnt was unfounded and that my colleagues were more than willing to help.

Throughout the GE period and for some weeks after it was over, I kept mostly to myself.

Having been thrown into a remote working environment from the start, it was disorienting trying to find my bearings without physically being in an office.

The lack of non-verbal cues from a face-to-face interaction also caused a few instances of miscommunication at work.

There were also occasions when I initially misconstrued the assignments I received because I didn’t pluck up the courage to ask questions that I thought were too basic.

When I related my experience to career coach Adrian Choo, he said that new hires should not be afraid of over-communicating, especially while working remotely.

“If you have a question, you double clarify, triple clarify. Along the way, submit drafts and ask, ‘Am I on the right track?’,” the chief executive of consulting firm Career Agility International said.

As a boss himself, he said that he has developed a habit of over-communicating with his employees almost to the point of nagging.

“In today’s context, because everything is virtual, you have to be doubly sure.”

Mr Choo said that he often advises new hires to adopt the mindset of an apprentice and be open to asking seniors if they may sit in to observe them at work.

Even though it may be harder to do so in a remote working environment, new employees may still find other ways to learn, by asking to sit in during Zoom meetings, for example.

For myself, it was observing how my colleagues replied to messages and how they handled responses from newsmakers after office hours.

As I slowly found my footing, I also learnt that I prefer having phone conversations rather than via text messaging.

I started asking my editors if I could get briefed on assignments over a call because I felt more natural asking any questions I had that way.

Mr Choo said that fresh graduates starting work during the pandemic should keep in mind that they are not alone in struggling with adjusting to unfamiliar working environments.

Supervisors, too, are adapting to the situation and it is important for both sides to communicate more, he added.

“Don’t feel too left alone — ask for help when you need help. You’ll be surprised at how helpful people are to newcomers.”

Late last year, I plucked the courage to book an informal check-in with my editor and share my struggles at work. At that time, I couldn’t get rid of the nagging stress that I wasn’t performing up to par.

To my surprise, he reassured me that I was doing all right and gave me tips on how to prioritise when juggling multiple assignments.

It comforted me, too, to know that my supervisors understood that I was new to the job and were not expecting me to perform at the same level as my seniors.

BE PROACTIVE IN BUILDING CONNECTIONS

In November last year, I was asked to shadow a colleague for two weeks at the State Courts to learn court reporting.

It was the first time in almost half a year that I finally got to meet with a fellow reporter in a work setting.

I got to understand the work culture better through the lunch chats we had and this made me realise how much unneeded stress I was putting on myself for not being aware of the social norms of the company.

When you’re in the office, conversations happen organically. You naturally talk about what you’re up to and your colleagues can pitch in with similar experiences they had.

Dr Wang Jiunwen, a senior lecturer from the Singapore University of Social Sciences’ human resource management programme, said that new hires must be proactive in making connections and interacting with colleagues.

New hires should also take the initiative to reach out to team members to arrange informal chats and build common ground by finding out about their personal and social life, she said.

For those who are shy or unsure of what to say, ask colleagues to share any information they think will be useful for a newbie to know.

“This open-ended question will allow new hires to gain more insights into domains or information they didn’t know they need to know about,” Dr Wang said.

With work-from-home becoming the new normal, new employees should also find out whether email is the main platform for communication, or if colleagues use WhatsApp or Telegram to chat with each other.

Since my two-week understudy stint at the courts, I have gradually started opening up to other colleagues, mostly through text messages and social media, including some whom I’ve never met beyond seeing their faces on a small square in Zoom video meetings.

Recently, an editor started a new channel on our newsroom’s Slack group for us to have non-work related chats that quickly attracted animated discussions over the popular Netflix series Squid Game and K-pop groups.

Sure, it’s not a perfect substitute for water-cooler chats, but it allowed me to see a more human side of my colleagues with whom I had only previously interacted about work.

One-and-a-half years on, I have settled into the work-from-home routine, so much so that I am starting to dread having to squeeze into crowded trains to get to the office when restrictions are eased.

As hard as it may be to give up the freedom of waking up half an hour before work starts, a part of me is still looking forward to a hybrid working arrangement where I can spend time in the company of my colleagues.

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Daryl Choo is a journalist at TODAY, where he covers transport, defence, manpower, and crime and courts.

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