I started my first job completely remote. Here's how I formed meaningful relationships with my coworkers and stood out when I didn't know anyone.

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I started my first job completely remote. Here's how I formed meaningful relationships with my coworkers and stood out when I didn't know anyone.
Since starting my new role at Insider Inc., my bedroom has also become my home office.Courtesy of May Teng
  • It's intimidating to start a new job remotely and form a whole network of work connections over Zoom screens.
  • But for me and my graduating class of 2020, starting work from home has become the norm. When I joined Insider Inc. in July, I onboarded completely remotely.
  • To this day, I still haven't met any of my work colleagues in person — but I have taken steps to get to know them and form meaningful relationships. Here's how I did it.
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It's been nearly six months since I joined Insider Inc., and while I live a few subway stops away from the company's New York office, I've yet to set foot inside. There's no designated seat for me in the office. I haven't even met any of the coworkers I work with every day.

I came onboard as an editorial fellow writing for Business Insider's strategy section in July. It was my first job after graduating college. My first shiny work laptop. And my first byline at a digital media publication. There was just one first I wasn't quite as eager about: first remote job - and one where I didn't know anyone.

Forming connections with colleagues is a crucial part of the work experience. When we get along with our coworkers, we have better mental health and are more productive. But as companies like Google and REI begin to shift to long-term remote or hybrid remote working models, more new hires like me will have to learn to form bonds with coworkers through a screen.

Starting a new job remotely is intimidating. But for me, and the rest of my graduating class of 2020, it's become the norm. I've commiserated with friends over the struggles of the Zoom introduction, the monotony of work day, and how strange it feels to roll out of bed and immediately clock into work.

There's probably no virtual replacement for a conversation by the water cooler or having a coworker stationed across the hall. But I've taken advantage of the screen time I do get throughout the workday to build meaningful work relationships.

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Overcommunicate

On my very first day of work, my editor gave me a piece of advice that I've taken seriously: don't be afraid to overcommunicate.

In a physical office, I wouldn't think twice about leaning over to the person next to me to troubleshoot a technical issue or asking for a second opinion on a headline. But when I'm forced to type out the same thought, I have more time to second guess myself: should I be asking this question? Would it be too complicated to explain over Slack?

There's some validity to this; sometimes it only takes an extra minute to figure out that you can solve a problem yourself, so it can be worth thinking twice before asking something. But I've learned that, by consistently asking questions and making sure to clarify, I'm also learning more about my team and what they value.

Heidi Brooks, an organizational behavior professor at the Yale School of Management, told CNBC that establishing a consistent rapport with colleagues can build a sense of psychological safety. That means that the more consistently you communicate with your coworkers, the more you can start to trust them and be honest about how to best collaborate on projects.

That's why I make a point to not think too much before sending messages or hopping on a check-in call. Chances are, your team won't feel as burdened by your query as you think they will.

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Find ways to socialize

Aside from collaborating on work, I've also enjoyed getting to know my coworkers on a more personal level.

This is a little harder to coordinate, even for those who have worked at their company for some time. A recent Clutch report of over 300 workers found that 63% spend less time socializing with colleagues since the onset of the pandemic.

It helps if your team can set aside a regular time to bond. Within my team, for example, there's a biweekly happy hour on the calendar, where we can connect from the comfort of our own homes.

If large group Zoom calls are daunting, it's helpful to coordinate smaller, less formal remote gatherings. After a few weeks, I met the other fellows on my team who had also joined remotely. We quickly hit it off and made time for our own virtual happy hours, creating a space where we could discuss our shared experiences.

Many companies have gotten creative with their team bonding. From virtual cooking classes to a socially distant drive in movie night, there are a lot of ways you can connect with your team virtually.

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It can feel strange to gather remotely with people you've never met before, but acknowledging the awkwardness can make the experience easier for everyone. During one virtual happy hour, we were able to laugh over not knowing each other's heights despite working together regularly, and proceeded to guess how tall each person was - to hilarious results.

Reach out

At a large organization like Insider, there are plenty of people I admire but don't get the chance to work with on a daily basis. That means it's up to me to take the initiative to reaching out if I want to get to know them.

It's intimidating at first. When I was feeling particularly nervous about a Zoom coffee introduction, I would think of questions I had for the person: an action plan of sorts, so that I would know what to say when the camera and mic came on.

There wasn't a single person who rejected my request for a virtual coffee chat. In fact, they made my requests feel welcome and were eager to offer whatever advice or help they could. Research actually shows that people like to feel helpful, and are more likely to perceive someone seeking out advice and asking questions as likeable.

As I relaxed over time, the coffee chats felt less like informational interviews and more like what they were: informal, but meaningful, conversations between colleagues.

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I'm still waiting for the day I meet my coworkers in person. But when that day comes, I have a feeling it will be less like a series of first introductions and more like a reunion with familiar faces and old friends.

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