When Nicole Cooper, CPA, started her job as assistant controller at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in March 2020, her new colleagues took her out for lunch. Little did she know it would be her last time eating at a restaurant for months.
As the coronavirus pandemic mounted, Cooper settled into her new position remotely.
"There are a lot of good things about it. It's more flexible, and the culture and environment here have been really family-friendly," she said.
The pandemic has reshaped the experience of starting a new job for many CPAs. While remote work has its benefits, it comes with some additional challenges. For instance, working remotely can make it more difficult to get to know your new colleagues and to earn their trust.
While some accountants have returned to the socially distanced office, others are still working from home. If you're preparing to take on a new role during the pandemic, follow these tips to help ensure a smooth transition wherever you may be working:
Have empathy. In October, Jordyn Sherman, CPA, joined Moda Health in Portland, Ore., as a general ledger accountant. During orientation, the human resources staff discussed the importance of empathy amid the pandemic. The conversation remained with her, Sherman said.
"Everybody is stuck at home. If you have kids, you're dealing with remote learning," she said. Her employers "reminded us to keep that in the back of our minds when we're dealing with people: Try to be cognizant of what's on everybody's plate from a professional and personal standpoint."
Practice patience. It always takes time to learn new systems and processes, and to get to know new co-workers. But patience is especially important this year.
For Sherman, onboarding went well, except for a technology problem that left her feeling unproductive. After setting up all her new hardware at home, Sherman found the computer she was given didn't work right. She had to take it back in and exchange it.
The experience reinforced why patience is critical these days.
"The IT department has probably been stretched thin trying to troubleshoot everything from home," Sherman said.
It also taught her another important lesson when it comes to starting a new job remotely: "Make sure you ask for the IT help desk's phone number and save it somewhere," she said.
Communicate often. Communication is especially important when learning a new job from home. As a new employee, it's likely you'll have lots of questions. Don't be afraid to ask them, Cooper said.
"When you're in the office, it's so easy to walk down the hall and say, 'Hey, can you show me this?' But it's different at home," she said.
Sherman and her supervisor have a scheduled daily meeting, and the discussion isn't limited to work. It gives them a chance to have the conversations that might occur more spontaneously in an office, she said.
It can be more difficult to earn your supervisor's trust while working from home, because they can't see the effort you're putting in, said Kerry Hannon, a Washington, D.C.-based speaker and author of more than a dozen books on careers.
Hannon recommends asking to schedule a regular meeting, like Sherman's daily check-in. Not only will it give you a chance to get to know one another better, but it also offers the opportunity to keep your supervisor updated on what you've accomplished.
During these meetings, Hannon suggests also soliciting feedback. Don't be afraid to ask how you're fitting in and whether you're meeting expectations.
Understanding expectations, especially while working remotely, is critical, she said. While working from home, it can feel as if you're always expected to be available, but that shouldn't be the case, she added. Make sure you understand when you're supposed to be on the clock, especially if you're home-schooling or you've taken on other responsibilities as a result of the pandemic.
Work on building relationships. Relationships develop organically in normal offices, but remote work and social distancing have made it more difficult for new employees to get to know their colleagues.
While attending the AICPA Leadership Academy, Cooper did exercises to identify her strengths and values. She learned she's people-focused, and she's built relationships with intention in her new role.
Using Zoom, she met with people from different departments to get a broader perspective on operations. Meeting new people over video helped forge connections, she said. She also volunteered to take over the job of sending birthday reminders, and she joined a sustainability task force to meet new people.
"It's important as a new employee, pandemic or not, to volunteer for things, to be proactive to get new assignments, and to embrace new tasks," she said.
Even simple gestures, such as sending an interesting article to a co-worker, can go a long way, Hannon said.
Take care of yourself. The way you treat yourself outside of work can have a big impact on your productivity, Hannon said. Be sure to take breaks, eat well, and work out if you can, Hannon suggested.
"If you're refreshed, you're going to come off sharper and more energetic on whatever professional interactions you have," she said.
While it can be stressful to make a transition during a time of uncertainty, both Cooper and Sherman said they're happy in their new roles.
"It doesn't have to be scary," Cooper said.
In fact, working remotely could be good practice for the future.
Even before the pandemic changed America's work habits, many employees were seeking out remote work opportunities, Hannon said. In fact, her newest book, Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home, was commissioned before the pandemic.
"The thing I love about remote is you're not judged as a book by its cover," she said. "When you work remotely, you're judged by your performance and productivity."
— Megan Hart is a freelance writer based in Wisconsin. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.