New remote job? Here’s how to set yourself up for success from day one

New remote job? Here’s how to set yourself up for success from day one

No matter how much you might love working from home, starting a new remote job isn’t always a walk in the park. 

It can be difficult to get to know your coworkers when you haven’t met face to face. For seasoned professionals accustomed to real face time (not to be confused with FaceTime), adjusting to a new set of expectations in a whole new way can be unsettling. 

And for younger hires, missing out on opportunities to socialize while learning and becoming acclimated to professional life can be frustrating. 

“When you’re new, your job is to be a sponge,” says Andrea Tipton, EVP, Marketing and Talent Solutions at Freeman+Leonard. “It’s hard to do that through a computer screen; it’s possible, but it takes planning.”

Our advice? Approach your remote onboarding as an experience that you play an equal role in shaping. Don’t be a passive participant. Be part of the process and the solution, and help onboard yourself. You’ll learn faster that way, and be included in more conversations earlier on.

To kickstart success in your new remote job, take charge of your own onboarding experience.

We get it: It can definitely be daunting to start a new remote job, even if your manager provides lots of structure and guidance in the onboarding process. However, companies embracing work-from-home usually expect everyone to be high-performing, accountable and self-directed. There’s no better way to show that you’re all of those things than to create the structure you seek.

“Think of your onboarding period as an opportunity to demonstrate to your new boss that you’re truly a self-starter who doesn’t wait around for assignments, and that you have strong ideas to contribute,” says Rachel Runnels, VP, Talent Solutions at Freeman+Leonard. “This is also a chance to show your new coworkers that you’re a proactive, friendly and capable colleague.”

Here are a few tips to make the most of precious ramp-up time in your new remote job:

1. Get into learning mode early. 

There’s no need to wait until your first day to satisfy your curiosity about your new job, or to start setting yourself up for success. Much of what you need to know may already be available to you; use what you find to get ahead of the curve and navigate your early days with confidence. 

Ashley Edmonds, who joined the fully remote Freeman+Leonard team as Client Services Support Specialist last year, says her research skills contributed to her early success in the role. “If you want to get a head start, do your research,” Edmonds says. “Start learning about your new company, your role, who you’re going to be working with, the terminology you’ve heard so far.”

And if you’re already aware you may have an underdeveloped skill that will be important in your new role, don’t wait to strengthen it. “Expand your knowledge, whether that be through technical skills or industry knowledge,” Edmonds says. “Don’t expect to be trained on every aspect of your role, and if there isn’t a specific way to do something, Google it. Use the resources available to you, and study them well.”

2. Create your own onboarding plan.

While we advise employers to map out their new hire’s entire first week, they may not have had the bandwidth or time to do this. In a perfect world, everything would go according to plan, but you may need to take matters into your own hands to avoid lingering awkwardly on the backburner. 

Your new boss will likely set up at least a meeting or two on your first day to help you settle in. During your first few conversations with your manager and other team members, compile a list of every key player on your team and in your organization. If there’s no org chart, create your own in your notes to refer to later. Ask who you should be meeting with, and be proactive in scheduling those meetings rather than waiting for others to make the first move.

If this is intimidating, challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. The sooner you get to know people and settle into the mix, the sooner you can put the new-hire jitters behind you and begin contributing to the team with a can-do attitude.

3. Stay camera-ready.

In the beginning, you’ll want to take as many virtual meetings as you can with your camera on — even if that’s not typical of the culture at your new company. It’s the next-best thing to sitting down across the desk from someone, so make the most of every opportunity to lessen the distance between you and your new coworkers to make a stronger connection.  

Camera-on Zooms can kill creativity, so they’re not so great for brainstorms. But when the goal is to get to know people, you’ll do that much faster if you can see them (and they can see you)!

Be sure to take a few tips from our article on how to nail your virtual interview, like art-directing your background and practicing good on-camera body language.

4. Meet up IRL if possible.

There’s no substitute for meeting your hiring manager and team members in person, especially early on. If your position is remote but your company has physical offices nearby, ask whether your onboarding can take place in person.

Last year, Brittani Harrison-Kroog kicked off her new remote job as Recruiting & Talent Sourcer at Freeman+Leonard with an in-person day at the company’s coworking space. “It was great meeting HR, IT and my manager in person, followed by a team lunch. That was a very personable first day,” she says. “Starting in December also meant I got to have social time with everyone for the holidays, which was so nice.”

If you live in the same area as your boss or at least a handful of your team members, ask around to see when the next team outing is, and suggest one if one’s not already booked. Even an unofficial team lunch or happy hour with a few colleagues at a time will help you get to know your coworkers on a personal level.

5. Show some gumption.

Now isn’t the time to be timid. Taking the initiative to build rapport and solidify relationships early on will set you apart from the start.

If your new boss doesn’t suggest a regular weekly chat with just the two of you, proactively set up a recurring meeting. Then, take charge of these meetings, planning what you’ll discuss before each, and leading the conversation. 

Having a set, consistent time with your manager to ask questions and discuss your progress is key to your success — both now and in the future.

Recent research by Harvard Business School professors shows that regular Zoom calls between managers and new hires can boost job performance by 7-10%, and boost job satisfaction by 3-5%. It also gives workers more opportunities to advance.

In addition to 1:1s with your boss, consistent informal chats or “virtual watercooler sessions” with no particular agenda can also be a win-win for the entire team. Sometimes these are scheduled, and sometimes they take place before or after regular team meetings. Look for opportunities like these to chat informally with your colleagues, and contribute regularly to the conversations.

6. Take lots of notes and stay organized.

The first few weeks at any new job can be overwhelming. You’re absorbing a boatload of information tossed at you from a million places while navigating an entirely new organization, with its own culture, protocols and processes. But the last thing you want is to come across as scattered or make your team feel as if you’re not paying attention. Making sense of it all will be much easier if you get organized, and start early.

Develop a note-taking and organizing system that makes it easy to file away and recall information quickly when needed.

Author, podcaster and consultant Jenny Blake calls this concept an “externalized mind.” Though Blake’s advice is geared toward business owners, it applies just as equally to employees in remote work environments, who must also think and act like entrepreneurs. The more you document everything you’re learning, the faster you’ll ramp up and become an active contributor on the team. Down the line, it may even help you delegate some of your more routine tasks to junior team members!

Ask the people training you whether you can record the conversation. Then, see if you can get those recordings transcribed (by the way, automated transcriptions are cheaper and faster than ever). By working from transcripts, you can create detailed notes and not have to rely on the speed of your typing or handwriting.

Then, make a habit of routinely updating, categorizing and filing away your notes in an easily searchable system, like Evernote, Notion, Google Docs or a tool your employer provides.

7. Break the ice — someone’s gotta do it!

Oh, the joys of being new! If your inbox is a bit quiet at first, don’t take it personally. No matter how awkward you may feel, your team members are most likely just going about their days. They may also just be waiting for you to reach out once you’re ready, and to reveal more about yourself at your own pace. Waiting for the “perfect” moment may make them think you’re quiet or withdrawn. So don’t wait for someone else to break the ice — do it yourself.

Look for moments to share relevant details that help your team members get to know you — both professionally and personally. 

Virtual watercooler sessions are great for this. You can also hit “reply” on any written welcome notes over email, Slack or Teams to share a bit about your background, why you’re excited to join the team and a few “fun facts” from your life.

Not sure how to go about this the right way? Ask your hiring manager or a peer for advice on how to best introduce yourself to the team or get to know people. This may even prompt them to get the ball rolling for you; either way, you’re being proactive, rather than passive, and that’s already a win.

8. Don’t be shy; speak up!

It’s totally normal to feel awkward about speaking up in meetings when you’re the new person. After all, you’re still learning and observing.

But your fresh perspective is an asset to your company, and your team wants to hear what you think. So don’t be shy! 

You don’t have to have a fully formed opinion about everything. Start by telling others what you’ve noticed, and frame these observations as questions, hypotheses and hunches.

“Most people ask questions. But it’s even more important to share hunches,” says Wes Kao, cofounder of AltMBA and online learning platform Maven. “Even if you’re wrong, it opens up conversation and learning moments.”


Sharing your thoughts can certainly be good for building a rapport with your team and positioning yourself as observant and insightful — but it also can boost your own confidence and help you feel more successful in the role.

9. Let them know what you’re up to.

When your boss isn’t around the corner, they can’t always easily see what you’re working on and sometimes might make the wrong assumptions when you’re too quiet. Communication becomes even more important to staying on the same page with your boss and team. Whether this is your first remote job or your fifth, it’s smart to set a tone from the beginning by routinely sending out status updates.

Freeman+Leonard’s Edmonds says, “I send my team what I like to call a Weekly Action Plan: what I’m currently working on and where I am with everything, what I plan to work on the following week, and any updates from the last week. That way my team and my manager know where I’m at with projects, so they aren’t always checking up.”

Not only does communicating these updates proactively build a good relationship with your boss, it can also help you feel more in control of your assignments and how your work product is perceived.

If you’re still a bit unsure of your place in your new company, give it time. 

“In six weeks or so, most of your anxiety will fade,” says Art Markman, Ph.D., in his article for Harvard Business Review, “Why Starting a New Remote Job Feels So Awkward.”

“You will develop new habits, you’ll discover you understand at least half of the new jargon that gets thrown at you, and you’ll have a couple of people who can guide you through the social scene.”

Your recruiter is happy to be a sounding board, too. 

Your recruiter wants you to be successful in the role. If your onboarding experience isn’t going as you’d planned, they’re always available to offer advice or insights about the company or role — so don’t hesitate to reach out.