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In conversation with... Ruth Anna Paul

Davina Fisher Davina Fisher, Career Advice

Ruth started her career in private practice at Clifford Chance in London working in the Corporate team before moving in-house to Link Asset Services. Ruth joined Trinity College London as Senior Legal Adviser in July 2020 and on-boarded remotely.

What were the challenges for you in being on-boarded remotely and how have you managed these?

A year ago I would never have imagined that straight out of maternity leave I would be working in a new job having never met any of my colleagues in person! However, when the role with Trinity College London came along (thank you, Taylor Root), it was too good an opportunity to pass up - a chance to finally bring together my career in law with my love for music and the arts. And so, in the midst of the pandemic, I virtually interviewed with, and then remotely joined, a new organisation.

The interview process was carried out via video conferencing. My biggest concern was that without being face to face with my interviewers I would not be able to portray an accurate version of myself. It helped to remind myself that everyone interviewing for the job would face this same hurdle.

The key challenge when I started work was overcoming a sense of disconnection between the work I was doing and Trinity. It felt surreal to be virtually connected with colleagues I had never met, office space I had never entered and a digitally transformed organisation that I had only ever viewed through my laptop. However, after my colleagues and I pulled together to meet my first deadline, I quickly felt part of the team!

Besides this, starting my job virtually has not been too different to what it is usually like. It always takes time to understand a new organisation better, meet people, develop relationships and discover the best ways of collaborating with the team. Doing this remotely has just meant that I have had to be more intentional about it.

Being the new person in the team and organisation has its challenges in terms of introductions, developing relationships and getting to know the business. Doing this remotely I envisage adds another layer of challenges. How have you dealt with this?

I miss chance meetings with colleagues in corridors and informal chats around the kettle/water cooler. You get a sense of the rhythm of things, the buzz of what’s going on. It is simpler to work out who to speak to about what. It is also easier for people to know you have joined – they see a new face around and want to know who you are.

I report to Trinity’s Legal Director, Fiona Butcher, and am fortunate to have a boss who had already given this some thought. Fiona spent time briefing me about the business, invited me to shadow her for certain meetings so that I was introduced to a range of colleagues, suggested names of people I could speak to and arranged for me to join various teams at their meetings.  Trinity, as an organisation, has been incredibly warm and welcoming. Some colleagues contacted me directly to welcome me, introduce themselves and describe the work they do. Others invited me to their team meetings. Almost everyone I have worked with so far has taken the time to describe the part of Trinity’s workings and history that they are familiar with.

Other things that have helped include reading the material Taylor Root sent me that covered onboarding remotely. It helped me to know what to expect. I also found it useful to seek out video calls where possible rather than phone calls or emails – this helps me feel like I’m getting to know people rather than just names on an organisational chart. The fortnightly virtual ‘team coffees’ have helped me connect with my immediate team on a personal level, and inspired by this, I have just started meeting colleagues for the occasional virtual coffee catch-ups.

Having gone through this process recently, what would your advice be to other candidates going through the same over the next few weeks, or possibly more longer-term?

To immerse yourself in collaborating with colleagues to get a task done, which should help you feel connected to your new organisation quickly. To meet as many colleagues via video call as possible and to be intentional about asking questions about the organisation and the way things work. To recognise and accept that things are going to be different when onboarding remotely - and then not to get too worried about this.

 What would your advice also be to organisations going through this with candidates?

To give candidates as much information as possible about the environment they are joining – not just the role itself. To set up IT kit on or before the start date. With remote working, this is key to a new joiner’s initial experience of the organisation. To be intentional about introducing new joiners to as many people and teams as possible to enable them to start making personal connections. And finally, to provide them with virtual opportunities to regain some of that lost coffee-time chat.