Onboarding and Distance Learning as a Newly-Remote Employee

PHX Perspectives | September 29th, 2020

The transition from in-person work to remote work has been a paradigm shift. COVID-19 has propelled the once-mystifying concept of remote work into the daily routine of the general populace, and while the benefits of being able to spend the entire work day in your pajama bottoms can’t be understated, the level of disconnect between you and your work can feel insurmountable – particularly if you are just starting a new job.

In July, I was offered (and accepted, of course) a Digital Learning Designer position with Population Health Exchange. I was, and still am, tremendously excited to be a part of this team; I have been passionate about e-Learning and forward-thinking educational initiatives since my time teaching high school in Western Massachusetts, and PHX is a model on those fronts. Naturally, though, one of the first questions that came to mind when I was offered the position was whether I’d be working in an office or remotely.

“I’ve been remote,” I say aloud, as I pick my cat up off my keyboard and place her on the couch behind me.

Throughout my entire career, my work had been done in person. Even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had been working in-person at Boston Medical Center – essentially across the street from where the PHX office sits. But on the first day, instead of crossing Albany Street as I envisioned pre-COVID, I sat down at my computer in my apartment and joined a Zoom call for onboarding promptly at 9AM.

As I engaged in the customary run-through of benefits that comprise onboarding experiences across this world and the next, I reflected a bit on how I felt. After some time, I acknowledged two significant realizations that had stewed in my mind since accepting the Digital Learning Designer role.

First, starting a new role remotely is, unquestionably, socially challenging. While the all-too-familiar peculiarities of video chatting are the most tangible examples, the lack of interpersonal connection to be felt with new colleagues can make the initial experience a bit harrowing. This tone rings particularly true when it comes to learning the norms of your new collegial workflow.

Let me offer an immediate disclaimer, as my colleagues have been immensely welcoming as I’ve settled into my role. I’ve been able to hit the ground running on a number of different projects, thanks entirely to the well-structured planning and summation of responsibilities by those I work closely with. With that said, if my colleagues weren’t prepared for my arrival, it would have been really easy for me to fall through the cracks. What’s more, because we’re separated physically, it would have undoubtedly led to some social isolation.

The first couple of weeks with new peers are filled with interaction and learning, both conscious and subconscious. Structure and resources are vital to help a new remote worker feel properly supported and emboldened enough to learn the nuances of a new working environment, regardless of whether that environment is physical or virtual. Efforts like those taken by BU’s Human Resources and my own colleagues for my onboarding serve as a reminder that, with encouraging levels of interaction and instruction, the social potholes that would otherwise come from my physical separation can be filled.

Second, and perhaps more consequentially, access to effective distance learning is monumentally important. It’s important for workers. It’s important for students. It’s important now, and it’ll be important forever.

Distance learning encompasses a lot of different forms. My virtual onboarding with BU HR, where I was walked through my benefits and was given a glimpse at the demographics of BU’s workforce and student population, was an exercise in distance learning. The standalone modules that we build at PHX for use in various graduate programs and beyond each serve as a beacon of distance learning. The “how-to” videos that find their way into your YouTube recommendations are, just as importantly, proponents of distance learning.

The reason this is worth mentioning, and similarly, why I feel so impassioned to be working as a Digital Learning Designer, is because each and every distance learning resource or operation works to the tune of empowerment and connection.

If we look at the macrocosm of distance learning, the case for its value is clear. Distance learning enables us to present and learn specific material, but just as importantly, it also represents opportunity. For both students envisioning a place in the workforce and employees looking for chances to feel a bit more emboldened as they adjust to being remote, fleshed-out structures of distance learning are a haven. In my case, as a newly-hired employee, it serves as the bridge to autonomy and confidence in ways that alleviate the disconnect I mentioned many sentences ago.

To put it more succinctly, distance learning isn’t simply a modern means of conveying information. Distance learning, in all of its forms and now more than ever, is a means of connection with both the world and the people around you.

With the right structures for distance learning in place, the social and professional challenges experienced when newly-remote can seem a little less insurmountable and a little more conquerable, regardless of whether or not you’re still wearing pajama bottoms.

Have you been working or learning remotely? Let us know about your experience in the comments section.