Starting a New Job Remotely: An interview with EA Gina Haynes

Starting a new job can be a daunting experience for even the most experienced professionals, but starting a new job remotely presents even greater challenges still. We spoke with experienced Executive Assistant Gina Haynes who shared details about her recent experience of on-boarding remotely and her advice for starting a new job while working from home.

Could you tell us a bit about your career history and the new job you recently started?

I have been working as an EA/PA for 23 years, predominantly in the banking and finance industry on a permanent basis, based in the City of London. I got made redundant a while back and have been working as a career temp since then, covering anything from three to twelve-month contracts, which I have really enjoyed. I started a new temporary role as EA to the MD of a Housing organisation three weeks ago now - it is an ongoing temporary role that could go on to a permanent contract, which is what I hope to find once this pandemic is over. I am screening emails, carrying out diary management and taking minutes of regular meetings. One of the regular meetings I attend is a daily Coronavirus meeting for the MD and team have to keep on top of how to deal with the current situation throughout the organisation, which I am finding interesting.

The Coronavirus pandemic has meant that you were on-boarded remotely for your new role. Could you tell us about the process and how you are getting on so far?

It all happened quite quickly. Due to the pandemic, I was unfortunately let go from my previous temporary role and I was worried about how I would survive with no income as I hadn’t been with that company long enough to qualify for Furlough pay. However, my recruitment agency knew I was free and arranged for a phone interview with the HR contact at my new placement. The same day I had an interview and was taken on board immediately. I obviously needed a laptop and phone straight away so we discussed meeting halfway from the office to collect the equipment. However, I was moving home during this time, so HR and IT kindly drove it across town to me at my home and we introduced ourselves with the two-metre distance!

That afternoon I was emailed my log in details. Thankfully, the next day was Easter bank holiday weekend so I had four days to move house in time for me to start my new job from my new home.

I found my first few days a bit difficult, not in how to do my job but in the set up I had. As I had just moved in I did not have a designated office area, so I began working from my sofa with my laptop on my lap and after taking minutes daily, some of the meetings being three hours long, I found my neck, wrists and hands were hurting where my posture wasn’t correct so I felt I was suffering slightly with being uncomfortable. I have set up a desk in my living room so I feel settled now and everything is working nicely.

You have worked from home before, but not necessarily to the extent demanded by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. How is this different from your previous remote working experience?

As I have worked from home before, I am used to it, however, there is a bit of a difference in the fact that I had the option to go into the office to work when I wanted to or was needed previously. It was easier before the pandemic as, when I felt I needed to see my team or boss or even just get out and commute, it was nice to do that from time to time. Now though, I do not have a choice, we cannot even go out properly so the fact of being home all the time is a bit Groundhog Day-ish! My boyfriend is home at the moment though, so I have asked him to be in the room with me to keep me some sort of company, otherwise I think I would feel quite isolated.

What are the greatest challenges you have faced starting a new role remotely?

As I have worked from home before, I felt I knew what to expect. From my years of doing temporary contracts, I have learnt to get set up quickly and find out about the role, who the team are and how the person I support works. The only thing that was different really was that I couldn’t meet the people I’m working for, but the organisation has installed Microsoft Teams and we have been having all of our meetings via that, so I have got to meet and hear the team virtually.

How have you been making sure you stay motivated and productive while working from home?

I have learnt over the last few weeks that I need a routine, just as I would have when I am in the office. I get up with enough time before I start work, shower, get dressed, make a coffee and sit at my desk with my pad, water and phone and start my day as I normally would. My boss phones me every morning at 09:30 so I use this time for a catch up and to go through his diary and anything else that may need doing.

I have introduced myself to the team via email and Teams, and I speak to the other PAs regularly. I find the calls motivating; it is so nice to hear people and discuss things instead of communicating by email all the time. It is helpful too to have the PAs there to support me if I get stuck or just need a chat.

I find when working from home that it’s so easy to sit in front of my laptop and work without moving - in my first week I’d start work at 09:30 and would not move until 4:30pm, which I find is not healthy. You need to move and walk around and sometimes it is nice to do a spot of housework like putting the washing on, not to get out of working but to adjust your mind to think how can I tackle that scenario and how am I going to approach getting something done. It resets you and you come back to your desk with a clearer head. When you are in the office you do get up from your desk to make a cup of tea or speak to colleagues, so I have allowed myself to do this at home every now and then.

Good, healthy relationships with bosses and co-workers are important for the happiness and success of PAs, EAs and other support professionals. How have you been maintaining communication and forging relationships with your new colleagues? How have they been making you feel like a part of the team?

Everyone has made me feel welcome. My HR contact checks in on me weekly to check I am OK; the PAs send me a quick email to see if I am OK and my boss always asks how I am and how am I getting on. The communication is so important otherwise you will feel lost and forgotten about. I find Microsoft Teams a godsend, as you can see people while you are talking, hear them and have a good conversation. And if people do not want to have their camera on, their photo is there so you know what that person looks like. The team have asked how I am getting on and realise it is a weird time to start without meeting anyone. So, I feel people understand my situation and are being supportive.

You moved to a new house in the same week as starting your new job. How are you juggling your home commitments with work?

As any EA/PA will know, prioritisation is key! So, I do my work in my working hours and my personal stuff in the evenings and weekends. It has been handy my boyfriend being at home, he has been bringing breakfast, lunch and dinner to me daily, doing some chores and all the shopping, so that has given me headspace to settle into my new job and home at the same time.

What have you enjoyed most about working from home so far?

Having no commute! Having commuted to London for 27 years it is a breath of fresh air not having to get on the train and spend three hours per day travelling. And not having to put work attire on. I also find I get work done quicker as I am not interrupted by people or the phones.

Do you have any final advice, tips or comments that you would like to share with the rest of the PAs, EAs and support professionals in the SecsintheCity community?

Just make sure you have a routine. Do not sit in your dressing gown with messy hair! Get dressed, not in work clothes but dress quite nicely as it does make you feel so much better. Take a lunch break. I worked through mine at first, even though there is a pandemic going on, just walking outside for 30 minutes or standing outside your home for 10 minutes does help. Have the radio on lightly in the background just so you have something to listen to as the TV is far too distracting. And make sure you communicate. Speaking to other PAs and finding out how they are getting on really does make you feel not so isolated.

I think this pandemic may change the way we work forever. I think it is showing companies and people that we can be trusted to work from home, and we do not need to be in the office every day. I hope it has shown people we can work in a paperless office as meetings can be done via Teams or Zoom where meetings can be recorded, and screens can be shared. People do not need to commute to meetings across the country so much as we can use software like this to see each other. And if companies have a huge meeting, instead of booking a hotel or a conference room somewhere to accommodate everyone, they can do the meeting via Teams instead. Just a thought!

Article contributed by Secs and the City.