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Making connections when remote working wasn’t (remotely) planned

05 May 2020

By Tali Robinson, Partner

When I accepted an offer in January 2020 to join Newgate Communications as Partner in its property division, the world was a very different place. Amongst my excitement about the upcoming challenge of working on new clients and projects (particularly after twelve years in the same place) I also envisaged the fun of joining a new team, working in a bustling office in the City, making connections and experiencing a new culture (one of the main things that had originally drawn me to Newgate).

When the permanence of lockdown became evident about six weeks before my start date, I realised I would quickly need to let go of most of those (now seemingly lofty) ideas. While reminding myself to check my privilege (painfully aware many were not lucky enough to be starting, or even keeping, jobs) I started trying to imagine what a new role would look like in this ‘new normal’.

I was full of doubt and questions. Can you really make tangible connections over Zoom? How does one get to grips with a raft of new property clients when you can only visit their websites, rather than actual sites? How much longer would the annoying newbie period last when you can’t just lean over to ask a colleague one of a myriad of tiny logistical questions? And - perhaps most importantly -how would I ever properly understand the culture, the tone, the style and the nuanced expectations of this new organisation without actually seeing and feeling any of it? 

Eventually my start date arrived, and found me sitting in my study, wearing makeup and actual work attire (on both halves - no pyjama bottoms) and trying to ignore the background noise of my children protesting their dad’s new attempt at home schooling. That day was one of the most surreal experiences of my entire career (second only to my ‘virtual farewell’ the week prior) but by the end of the week I was astonished to discover that not only did it feel entirely normal but it also felt quite… exhilarating. I had (almost) the same buzz as if I’d physically been in a new office of a big, bold and innovative agency.

I had been in almost back to back video calls getting to know my team, my wider colleagues, my clients and all the new tools and systems at my disposal. I’d had virtual welcome drinks, online team cooking lessons, daily morning briefing meetings, Friday ‘quiz and fizz’, a mindfulness session, and a Zoom meeting with almost 100 of the London team present. I felt immersed in things already, I had a real feel for the culture and ethos, and I felt strangely like I knew everyone in a way I’d never imagined possible after a few days of working remotely.   

Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that this is a communications agency, and arguably all you need is first-rate communications to keep everyone – no matter how many or how dispersed they are – feeling that they are all (still) on the same journey. Perhaps I was just lucky because of the stage I’m at in my career or my personality type, or the fact I’d had plenty experience with flexible working in the past. Maybe it was the serious investment the senior team had made in its people and its culture and making sure everyone knew the vital role they had to play. Or maybe it was a combination of all these things. Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb said: ‘Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion’.

While I’d still give anything to take my new colleagues for a drink or my new clients to lunch, I am trying hard to see the beauty and uniqueness in this experience: I am still making real connections. I am still truly experiencing a new culture. I still feel supported and inspired by a brilliant, warm team. Which just shows that the new normal might surprise us all and turn out to be even more remarkable than just ‘normal’.