New Employees Work From Home

New job, from home

The first day at a new job lays the groundwork for many new employees’ careers. They meet their team, set up their desk, and learn more deeply about the company and their role. 

For three new Grinnell Mutual employees who started during the COVID-19 pandemic, their first days differed significantly from the traditional experience. We met with these employees — online of course — to learn more about what it’s like starting a new job remotely during a pandemic. 

First day jitters 

A week after Grinnell Mutual employees had transitioned to working from home, Reinsurance Product Manager Tonya Boos and Legal Counsel Christopher Wertzberger began their first day at Grinnell Mutual.

On a regular orientation day, new employees have photos taken, set up their workstations, and meet their co-workers. Starting work remotely meant Boos and Wertzberger were unable to do any of that.

Instead, they spent the day phoning into meetings (they didn’t yet have their company laptops) to review benefits and company policies.

Talent Development overnighted their laptops so they could dive in as quickly as possible. “Normally, there’s a system you can’t get into or doesn’t work, but they set it up perfectly,” Boos said. “I’ve never had a job where I could actually get in right away.”

“I have been pleasantly surprised with how well Grinnell is able to give everyone access and support work operations from a work-from-home status,” Wertzberger said.

Michael Pickett, a user experience (UX) researcher, began at Grinnell Mutual two weeks later. Though he had experience working remotely from a previous job, he said it still felt strange. “The people doing the orientation told me they weren’t used to doing remote orientations like this. Still, everyone was so nice, and it really put me at ease.”

Into the swing of things 

Despite the challenges of their first day, Boos, Wertzberger, and Pickett jumped into their work, figuring out creative ways to learn and train on the job.

New employees often have many questions, ranging from where things are stored to who to include on an email. But what happens when you can’t get answers by simply stopping by someone’s desk or asking them in a quickly aside in a meeting?

Boos says that to overcome this challenge, she texts her supervisor with questions. “He’s really good about replying right away. That has really helped me not having to email him and then waiting.”

Wertzberger says that his team’s flexibility in scheduling training has helped him adjust to working remotely, though he is excited to meet and talk with more people in person.

Pickett said that “I think just having that support system off the bat has been really helpful to me going into this job.”

The new normal 

On top of being new employees, the three of them are also adjusting to the same new “normal” that many people are — working from home. As of March 30, Forbes reported that 58 percent of American employees were working from home, a 31 percent increase from the previous six months.

Wertzberger, who lives in Marshalltown, Iowa, became a new father in January, and said that he has enjoyed being close to his family during this time. However, routine is important and has set boundaries.

“I treat it as if I’m still working a regular job. I have my morning routine — I get up, make coffee, take the dog out, then ‘commute’ downstairs to my office to try to keep things separated.”

In Runnells, Iowa, Boos lives with her husband and two children, ages 15 and 9. She said that the first two weeks were the hardest for her family to adjust. “My kids forget that if I’m on a video call and people can see everything. They didn’t understand how many meetings I’m in at first,” Boos said.

Like Wertzberger, Boos has enjoyed not having to embark on a 50-minute commute each day. She said that it makes it easier to rearrange appointments and work without having to sacrifice paid time off.

Pickett moved to Grinnell, Iowa, from Houston, Texas. And while moving during the pandemic was very stressful, he said that everything else has been great.

Originally from Rose Hill, Kansas, Pickett and his partner had wanted to move back to the Midwest to be closer to family and to enjoy a small-town experience. “Even though everything’s shut down, I still love how everyone is. I’ve met my neighbors, but I haven’t had the chance to talk to them much during the quarantine.”

What’s next 

Quarantine won’t last forever.

While there are many perks to working from home, Boos, Pickett, and Wertzberger are all eager to begin working on campus.

Pickett is especially excited, as all his interviews were conducted virtually — he has never been inside the home office or met his team in person. “I don’t even know what the building looks like inside,” he said. “It will be a process to learn where everything is, but I think I’ll acclimate quickly.”

Boos has seen the main areas of the building but has never seen her office. Her role as reinsurance product manager is new to Grinnell Mutual, and she’s eager to flesh it out and meet more people. Still, she is thankful for the opportunity to have worked from home. “What surprised me is how amazing our leadership is when it comes to caring for our employees. That, to me, was a huge shocker. You don’t see that at very many companies.”

According to MarketWatch, over 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment during the shutdown, pushing the unemployment rate to between 15 and 20 percent. The Pew Research Center reported that in March, only 29 percent of unemployed Americans received their benefits.

As for Grinnell Mutual, all employees have been retained and paid, regardless of work status.

Wertzberger has been in the home office before, having worked with Grinnell Mutual as an outside counsel. He is looking forward to developing more relationships at the company and becoming more involved in the internal legal questions that come up at Grinnell.

“I think I’ll have a story to tell people for a while about starting a new job during a global pandemic. But it has not been bad or difficult,” he said. “I’ll be a COVID employee, so to speak.”

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