Joining a Team Remotely During Coronavirus – a candidate’s perspective

The below interview was conducted with a candidate who interviewed in person and joined a small independent digital-first agency remotely after NYC’s stay-at-home order was implemented.

Date: April 8th, 2020 – approx. 3 weeks after start date.

Interviewer: Thanks for taking time to chat!

Interviewer: Every state, and country, across the world has been impacted by the coronavirus, and with our greatest tool to fight this disease is to stay at home and stay apart, we are now living in a time where everyone is seeking connections in the digital space.

Interviewer: Given that you joined a team during quarantine in NYC, a team that you had little or no in-person contact with, can you walk me through your first day and week?

Candidate: It was mostly centered around getting acquainted with the systems that run the ship. For example, I’d never used a messaging platform for work before, which I actually really like. It makes getting in contact with people much faster. The first few days were mostly about getting acquainted with everything, but I was very busy immediately after that, which I appreciated because it helped me learn and adapt that much quicker to how everyone works.

Interviewer: There must have been at least 1 awkward hilarious moment! Say more?

Candidate: Well, there were a few surprise video calls, when of course I looked just gorgeous [laughs]. I totally wasn’t wearing a dress shirt and my hair was in that crazy bun.

Interviewer: What was helpful ahead of your first day?

Candidate: My CCO started communicating with me several days before I started. She was already in contact with me from the day of my offer, which I really appreciated. It was clear she was conscious of that fact that the situation with the virus was unfolding day by day, and in the days leading up to my start, she gave me daily updates to make sure I could start without a hitch.

Interviewer: Currently, we live in a time where brands, and agencies, need to commercialize new ideas as fast as possible, in just a matter of days. Speed is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’. Can you tell me about your experience with the team to concept ideas, and iterate on creative, completely remote? What’s the brainstorm process like?

Candidate: Overall the process has been similar, get a brief, talk it through, split up to ideate and pull back together to collaborate and build off of each other. I haven’t really felt a crazy amount of hindrance. Obviously, it would be great to be in a room together, because you never know when you’ll hear someone say something that sparks an idea that you can build off of. Although now I will send that random 3 word all caps text to my partner and as the idea gets bigger, we’ll just hop on a call or video chat.

Interviewer: Many people I’ve spoken to actually feel closer to their co-workers and leadership, bonding over what are completely unprecedented times – that they actually communicate more with the people in their lives, professionally and personally. We are all quickly learning that that meeting that went on far too long, really could have just been an email. Do you find that communication is better, more focused, with each internal engagement serving a specific purpose or the opposite?

Candidate: It varies case by case. Our internal creative reviews are on point! I’d say 85% of video calls have information I need to hear and be a part of. I’m learning how the different teams and people work at the agency so the remaining 15% are valuable. I get the opportunity to learn how they work, how they flow. Even if it’s a call I don’t need to be on, I try to make time to be on it so that I can get to know everyone as much as possible. I’m gaining clarity because of course I have no idea how this team worked in person.

Interviewer: Brands are now learning, very quickly, how fine the line is between authenticity and exploitation. What’s it like creating content for brands that’s both culturally relevant to our new normal while also meeting the business goal to engage the stay-at-home consumer (which is now literally everyone!)?

Candidate: It’s been really interesting, given the times, how an idea can live completely virtually. To put a different lens on it. The overarching message I have seen across the brands and pitches I work on, is all about staying connected while staying in.

Interviewer: What is the biggest friction point internally right now?

Candidate: To me, personally, I wouldn’t say we have a friction point. I come from a completely different background [traditional advertising agency]. There is some ambiguity that I’ve never had before, like I’ve never had an engagement officer, my partner has been extremely helpful. It’s a balance – learning how to fight for an idea while being open to everyone’s area of expertise. But I don’t think that’s specific to being remote, just new to the team.

Interviewer: How are you building relationships with individual team members?

Candidate: A LOT of video calls [laughs]. The relationships are forming naturally, on a daily basis, project by project, idea by idea. I’m bringing out the extrovert in me as much as possible. I don’t try to force it. I try to ask a lot of questions. I check in as much as possible, more than you think you need to.

Interviewer: What are the surprising benefits on being on-boarded and joining a team remotely?

Candidate: I’m looking forward to the “first day” in person because we will already know each other! It’ll be like meeting pen pals for the first time. The concept of body language has been removed. In person I tend to be a bit more awkward, and with that removed, it has helped a lot in an odd surprising way, it’s helpful in getting closer to people. We have no time for shenanigans [laughs] we got to just get sh*t done.

Interviewer: What has been less than ideal?

Candidate: Other than the obvious factor of not being able to walk over to someone’s desk, I wouldn’t say anything has been less than ideal. I’m learning how to collaborate beyond the traditional agency structure of Account, Strategy, Creative. One day I meet with head of engagement, the next moment I’m working with my Creative Director, which is more natural to me. Sometimes feedback feels odd, but once I understand where they’re coming from, I can help to shape the work. For example, I’m learning what earned media really is by being an integral part of even the strategic process. It helps that I can ask my CCO any question, she’s approachable, I never feel like I can’t talk to her.

Interviewer: What advice would you offer a Creative Director who is on-boarding someone remotely?

Candidate: Depending on the candidate’s background, give them a head’s up on how the agency works. Just broad strokes on key people in different departments and their backgrounds, and how their previous experience might differ from this one.

Interviewer: What can you tell a candidate who is about to make a job change in this environment? Words of wisdom?

Candidate: Try to be the most overt version of yourself. If you’re outgoing, make sure it translates on screen. Show your personality as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.

Interviewer: Are you happy you made this leap of faith?

Candidate: I am! I’m not going to say it’s been easy. But I knew it wouldn’t be, which was one of the biggest driving factors in why I made this choice – a choice I made before the pandemic. This isn’t specific to the virus, this is the way things were already shaping up in the industry, with the focus on earned media and ideas having a fundamental digital component. I’ll have such a more robust understanding of all the different processes of how an idea comes to life beyond traditional advertising!

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