Top tips on starting new assignments virtually
With continuing numbers of interim assignments being conducted on a hybrid style working pattern, interims may still face starting new assignments virtually. Whilst many of us are now used to working from home or working in a hybrid style, starting a new assignment remotely is very different to starting in person.
Interims may have a series of queries prior to commencing a new role, including what will they be walking into, what stage is the project at, what the key deliverables and who the key stakeholders are.
We spoke to several of our interim managers to discuss their top tips for starting an assignment virtually.
- Tailor the induction to your requirements - this could include virtual coffees in the first few weeks with all direct reports, key stakeholders, and partners on the project. Whilst this may feel time-consuming it is a worthwhile investment as it helps to develop an understanding of what is required, as well as the working styles and culture of the organisation. These can also be held in person when working on site.
- Identify and ask for the key information needed to be successful in the role – including reviewing governance charts, organisational charts, terms of reference, permissions to access e-folders, names of ‘go to’ contacts, any intel on the project/role deliverables as well as meetings that must be attended, and when these are. Taking the time to review this information will help you identify key people within the organisation.
- Develop an understanding of the company’s IT Systems - ensuring you have the number for the IT helpdesk, correct passwords/login details and that you are aware of any internal systems. You will also need to know which social media groups you need to be involved in and to be aware of which company shared drives, yammer, social media, WhatsApp/email/teams groups you need to be included in.
Remember it is ok to ask questions, especially if you are unsure of what is expected of you, who to contact for information or what is needed for meetings.
Keeping track of progress
Feedback can be harder to obtain when working remotely and it can be challenging to judge the mood surrounding your work or appointment.
As part of understanding the challenges of the project/role, find out who the key stakeholders or decision makers are, what is expected of the project and who you need to speak with to understand this. Don’t be afraid to ask key stakeholders whether you are doing things right and in the preferred style/format of the organisation.
In the early stages of an assignment, it may also be helpful to either send a recap of what you believe to be the main project objectives or to arrange conversations to help track assignment progress.
When starting an assignment, it can be a good idea to identify a pace that you can sustainably maintain and be clear on these expectations to colleagues and stakeholders to avoid over promising and under delivering.
It is also worthwhile negotiating flexible working upfront and agreeing the rhythm so there are no surprises during the assignment.
Get to know the office and company structure – what are the core values/company mission? What is the organisation structure like?
It can be harder to identify the decision makers in a flatter organisation structure, especially if the role is largely conducted on a remote basis. Spending time speaking to colleagues – whether in person or virtually, can not only help to identify who are the decision makers within a firm but also provide insight into the overall company culture. People may come across more informally over Zoom, telephone, and email and so it is useful to know who you are communicating with and maintain a level of professionalism.
Get to know communication styles and look for opportunities to ‘walk and talk’ – this can get you away from your desk whilst meeting colleagues more informally. When working remotely this could be stepping away from your desk to have the conversation or arranging a virtual coffee or lunch meeting.
When working remotely we often use different skills to those we deploy in an office environment. In the office we often take part in casual chats in the kitchen/at the copier where it is easier to read body language. This becomes trickier when working virtually as information is not so easily shared and communicated. Meetings become more formal - what could have been a 10–15-minute coffee break chat may now be a scheduled Zoom.
As an interim manager you will often need to speak to colleagues at all levels of the organisation and to build relationships across the whole project – being accessible, visual, and approachable will help with this.
Attending meetings both in person and virtually can be a good way of meeting colleagues.
Impressions are made quickly over zoom and people may be very interested in you and your video background – take notice of your own room/background and how it may be perceived.
Your new colleagues do not know you and will be looking to learn what they can about you from press releases, social media content, word of mouth, and what they see in person or over Zoom.
Also ensure you are dressed appropriately for the business culture (at least on the top half when working virtually).
Self-Preservation & Mental Wellbeing
When working remotely be mindful of your working hours. The pressure to always be “on” and available makes it very easy to log on early, switch off late and forget to take breaks. Taking regular breaks from the screen or trying to keep 10-15 minutes between Zoom meetings is not only beneficial for maintaining concentration and avoiding burn out, but it also provides the opportunity to reflect on meetings and prepare for the next task.
When working remotely try to separate your workspace from your home space – this will help you to switch off at the end of the day.
Also remember the winter months are harder on our mental wellbeing – days are shorter, and it is often dark as we start and end our working days. Getting fresh air and day light is very beneficial - consider organising the working day rhythm around some outdoor daylight time.
Remember - switch off at the end of the working day.
Remember to acknowledge that Zoom fatigue is real – continuous zoom meetings can be emotionally and mentally draining. Ensure that you build breaks in between meetings and take time to reflect before joining the next meeting.
For more information, please contact Zoe Spalding.