New hire

"Turning Off Mute:" Conversations with New Hires During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic launched the world into an all-virtual format, and with that came a flurry of Teams meetings, Zoom happy hours, and reminding people they are on mute. While most people had a somewhat seamless transition – doing their best to carry out their work relationships and projects from home – a whole new generation of employees entered the workforce in less-than-ideal conditions.

The Class of 2020 -began their careers in a year so tumultuous it’s still hard to fathom. They were robbed of graduations and  launched into their jobs right in the middle of the pandemic. As a new hire in Bala’s Marketing group,  I sat down (virtually, of course) with other new hires from our Electrical, Mechanical, and Plumbing groups to discuss our experience with remote work early in our careers. Many of them experienced most or all of their onboarding from home, while a couple began their onboarding in person but started working from home soon after. Each had a unique experience, with different lessons learned, takeaways, challenges, and high points.

For those who were in the office briefly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the fast-paced changes forced them to become effective communicators overnight. Instead of asking the person sitting next to them for advice or help, they had to start emailing, messaging, or calling their supervisor to stay on the right track during the integral first few weeks on the job. When the first lockdowns were announced just a few weeks after one new hire’s start date, they thought, “Well, I guess I won’t see these people for another two weeks.” Over a full year later, they still have not reconvened in person. Thankfully, weekly department and project team meetings have allowed us to continue our projects and still learn some important skills from our co-workers along the way.

I was welcomed onto the Marketing team with a flurry of one-on-one Teams meetings with Project Managers, Engineers plus the Accounting and Marketing departments that I would be encountering over the coming months. While this was overwhelming at first – it was hard to keep track of all the new names and faces on my screen – it proved to be incredibly beneficial in the long run. When I encountered people in group meetings, I was not meeting them for the first time and had already developed a familiarity with their role in the company. Additionally, the Marketing team scheduled virtual happy hours so that we could get to know each other outside the “office” setting. Altogether, taking these extra steps during the integral first few weeks set me up for success by helping me establish familiarity and comfort around many of the people I work with daily right from the get-go.

Those who did venture into the office during the pandemic, mostly during the fall months, found a very different environment than what they would have encountered in previous years. It is no secret that the pandemic has made it hard to interact normally with others – masks cover our smiles, and social distancing makes interactions with others awkwardly spaced and impersonal. During the fall months when the offices were occupied at a low capacity, it was still challenging for new hires to integrate themselves into the company. In many cases, they knew people’s names but not their faces, making it difficult to interact with new people in the office.

Project site visits were one way that everyone was able to find some normalcy and unity with  their teams. Site visits allowed the new hires to interact with their supervisors in person and meet some of their fellow team members. They also allowed them to grow professionally – one person mentioned a stressful first site visit where they made many rookie  mistakes, only to find the lessons learned from that first site visit prepared them perfectly for the many more site visits to come.  Collaborating with fellow team members on site, learning field guidelines and discovering how building systems operate is an important learning experience for new engineers.

“All that I design on Revit every day clicked when I finally went on a site visit,” said a participant. “It’s my favorite part of this job so far.”

(Picture of new hires, Nate and Meryl on a site visit!)

While the onboarding process can feel long for anyone (even in pre-Covid times), Bala’s new hires were able to catch up quickly, considering the circumstances. While some cited confusion regarding who to reach out to for work or help, or worried  they were not doing enough, training videos on Bala’s OneDrive were helpful for learning software like Revit. Other new hires were introduced to   Co-ops or newer employees who were former Bala interns. This personal, albeit sometimes virtual, interaction was very helpful for both learning the ropes of the company and branching out to meet others during Covid.

While remote work has had its ups and downs, especially for new hires, it is certainly a constantly evolving facet of life. New hires and seasoned employees at Bala look forward to connecting with their coworkers in person, especially through office lunches, company picnics, volunteering at charity events, and holiday gatherings. Even a year into the pandemic unknowns about the return to the office loom.  However, the technology and experience that the Bala team has developed has created the infrastructure to successfully work (and onboard) in a remote, in-person, or hybrid environment.

Emily Himes
Emily Himes
Marketing Assistant