Onboarding During a Pandemic: An Interview

Next month, Oxford Dictionary will be announcing its selection for 2020 Word of the Year and an excellent candidate that comes to mind is “resilience.” While humans can be resistant to change, humans are also resilient. A quick scan through the history of the world supplies us with endless tales of humans repeatedly rising to meet all manner of challenges. We may not like it, but we rise, and we persevere.

The dawn of the new decade has provided an endless supply of challenges of every shape and size, requiring us to pivot often and test our natural resiliency. Our two newest attorneys, Lina Toma and Jonathan Safron, had the added challenge of applying for a job as attorneys just prior to the shut down in March due to COVID-19.

While the process of finding a job screeched to a halt, Lina and Jonathan eventually accepted offers to join Carlson Dash and started with us in May, while we were all still working from home. Starting a new job can be stressful enough but having to integrate with a firm in the absence of all the usual welcome lunches and one-on-one trainings created some unique challenges. However, it was also an opportunity for the firm to test its onboarding process and come up with new ways to set Lina and Jonathan up for success and allow them to create meaningful and successful working relationships with everyone in the firm, in spite of not being in the office.

Let’s hear from Lina and Jonathan, in their own words.

First day jitters take on an entirely different meaning when you are under lockdown orders. How did you handle that first day and first week?

Lina Toma: First-day jitters don’t disappear when you onboard from home, but they are significantly less because you’re in your comfortable environment. CD had me set up with my laptop within the first day, and I got to meet many people through video calls that week. We had a set schedule for training, and we were set up with mentors who contacted us from the get-go. Overall, I feel that the orientation and onboarding was a breeze.

Jonathan Safron: We are all navigating uncharted waters right now. For guidance, I turned to a motto from my days as a summer camp counselor. The advice I received years ago to “improvise, adapt and overcome” guided me through any nerves I had about onboarding remotely. It was rewarding to bond with my co-workers over the shared experience of coming up with a solution on the fly. Our CD teammates made us feel at home, even when we were starting the job by working from home.

Building relationships with co-workers seems like a big hurdle when starting a new position during the pandemic. How did you approach meeting your co-workers and do you feel you were able to build relationships without being able to meet them in-person?

LT: Everyone in the firm gathers once a week during our virtual “hangout” sessions where we talk about anything and everything! Those virtual hangouts have brought us together. Also, Jonathan and I were lucky enough to start at the firm during the same time and since we are both outgoing – we had no problems bonding. This helped us turn to each other for support as we were both in a similar situation.

JS: Lina and I had our first “offline” chat within the very first hour of working together, and the distance between CD’s Chicago and Pleasant Prairie offices hasn’t kept us from becoming friends. It was such a blessing to join the firm on the exact same day as another associate, and I know I can always count on Lina for the right answer delivered with a sense of humor. The other attorneys and staff are all proficient with Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which made getting up-to-speed on cases a much more personal process than simply emailing or writing memos to each other.

What were your greatest concerns about returning to the office, and how were those concerns addressed?  

LT: I think most of us have the same concern: we want to stay healthy and safe. The firm implemented protocols into our workplace from wearing masks, social distancing, and even making sanitizers and masks available at the office. The leadership has been ahead of the curve in figuring out ways to bring the whole team back into the office with calculated transitions.

JS: I guess you could say my biggest concern was uncertainty in general, and to that end, CD’s admin team gave us guidelines to follow and continued to monitor and improve the guidelines as needed. It meant a great deal to me that my new workplace placed the well-being and security of its employees as the #1 priority.

What have you learned about yourself and your employer that you might have not otherwise learned without going through this unique experience?  

LT: That determination and grit can go a long way. If we continue to persevere then we will charge through, which is why we can only navigate these times by joining forces. CD is a team and just like any winning team, each player’s skills and talents come together to bring success. Going forward, we know we can rely on the strength and authenticity of our team to help us deliver to our clients, no matter what comes our way.

JS: No matter what’s happening around us, we can still take part in meaningful work through fostering connections with others. The CD team prides itself on its resilient spirit, and our co-workers dug deep to make us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. The client and employee relationships in the CD family will allow for continued building and growth, even during a turbulent year.