How to navigate being the outsider when employees reunite

If you were hired just before, or over lockdown, you may have never actually met your new colleagues face to face – so, post 21 June, how do you slot into a workplace where you are neither new nor old?

Starting work during lockdown was a mixed bag. On the one hand you got to work from home, never had to worry about the daily commute and your lunch was never once mistaken for someone else’s. For many, it was the perfect way to ease into a new position without the problem of being overwhelmed by all the names to remember, or office politics to wade through.

Now, with restrictions lifting, many of us are currently finding ourselves in an odd position – we are returning to a work place we do not know, with a group of people we have worked with professionally for months but never have met face to face. 

Entering a new workplace can be daunting at times, but most offices are welcoming and understanding to ‘the new person’ – but if you are arriving to your new office, even though it is your first day, you might not be afforded the luxury of help from others as you are being as part of the woodwork already.

In this article HR Manager Claire Hobbs at Soaphub explains how being the new to a team should not leave you frozen in your tracks, as well as providing tips for a post-lockdown world full of uninviting cliques and office confusion. 

How to navigate being the outsider when employees reunite

It’s not a shock to hear that on re-entering the old, familiar world, we’re also entering a new unknown. As a society of workers, very few of us have been in a position of starting a job while everyone is working from home. No one wants to be the outsider in a workplace, and it’s vital that you feel comfortable in a place you spend so much time in, with people who you’ll be sharing responsibilities and tasks with.

Most people from the age of 25 to retirement work a total of 70,000 hours over the course of their work life, so making sure you enter a new work environment and settle in is vital to your wellbeing and mental health. And it’s not just your wellbeing that’s at stake, as fitting in is part of being able to efficiently show that you’re a reliable and well-rounded part of the team.

Pay attention

One thing that’s impossible to judge, no matter how good of a worker you’ve been over lockdown, is how the office culture works at your new company. Everyone knows how important it is to work out what isn’t and is acceptable at work, from how serious people take themselves, to dress code etiquette on a Friday. Every office, no matter how professional, has a set of unwritten rules that can only be gauged from being there day in, day out. 

On starting, pay attention to the dynamic of the office, and try to forget everything you thought you knew about the place while working from home. Slowly but surely, things will begin to return to their normal office culture, so try not to be caught out doing something that you assumed was tolerable because everyone was doing it a month ago from home. Sit back and watch how things work for the first few weeks.

Find an ally

If over the past year you’ve had to deal with constant video calls and daily email back and forth conversations you’ve probably established a bond with at one person from your work, or at the very least encountered a personality that you think you’ll gel with. 

Establishing an ally at work is vital to finding your feet over the first few weeks. You don’t have to go running to every new person you meet with arms wide-open, so it’s important to start a very basic bond with someone you can share a few minutes during a break with. Overtime, this person will help you settle into your company, while making you more visible to others which is perfect for places where they assume you’ve already settled in.

No matter how well you think you know people – avoid the politics

It sounds like an obvious point to make – stay in your lane and keep out of office politics – but after the stress and uncertainty of lockdown home working many people will return to the workplace all guns blazing in an attempt at radical change.

If you’ve started during lockdown and want to stamp your identity on the new office as soon as possible, you may try and get involved in every single issue that comes up but try and reframe yourself and stay out of drama that isn’t yours. It can start off as something small, such as a new co-worker making a playful joke at someone else’s work over lockdown and looking to you for confirmation, but soon you’ll be embroiled in a “well so-and-so agreed with me” argument.

For the first few weeks back in the office you shouldn’t be taking a stance on things that don’t involve your position – just state that you don’t have enough context to make a judgement yet.

Have you been trained?

It can feel embarrassing to ask for training if you’ve been working for a company for some time, but these are exceptional circumstances, and it’s completely understandable to feel lost. Many people who have been working from home have been given no hands-on training and have been set tasks that maybe now won’t translate to office life. 

Don’t hold back if you feel you’re out of your depth with new roles and ask how things work now you’re back in the office. No one is going to think you’re not capable of doing your job, and for the first few months there will be a settling in period for everyone returning – even the most experience staff members will need time to readjust.

… but there’s no rush

Even if you feel uncertain of your new position or role in the workplace, give yourself time to adjust before switching to panic mode. Try not to freak out after the first week if no one has suggested training at some point, because everyone is finding their feet again, not just you. 

Most offices have been empty for nearly a year now, so the training of staff (who management are currently more than happy with) may take a backseat to everyday tasks like rearranging the space for new staff members. If you really feel lost, you can schedule an hour to sit down and go over questions you have, as opposed to asking flat out for help.

Ask how you’re doing

Chances are, as you’ve been working from home mainly on your own, you’ve had very little opportunity to ‘touch base’ with your boss on a regular basis. In some regards that may be a blessing in disguise, but you also may feel like you’re coasting by without any real feedback to guide you. You should never feel weird for wanting to know how you’re doing, and you should definitely check in with your boss after the first month of settling in, if they haven’t already. 

From experience, bosses love an employee who wants to improve, not waste time devoting themselves to meaningless tasks, and seeks guidance in what to focus on. By doing this, you’ll get a better sense of what your role demands, as well as what your boss expects from you. 

It’s also useful to get feedback on your role so far, as moving into the office can be a new beginning, and a way of removing some unwanted traits that you may be picked up from working at home.

Photo by pawel szvmanski