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Starting a new role during a global pandemic

Kevin Dobson's move to a new job role at Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead coincided with the early days of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. In this blog he shares his reflections on self-isolation, transitions and relationships in the workplace.

Starting a new role during a global pandemic

By Kevin Dobson, Peer Research Co-Production Worker

Walking into a new office, with new colleagues, to start a new job is something I think we can all agree is a nerve wracking experience. “Who’s going to be my lunch buddy?” is often my first thought and the first relationship I look to strike up.

On April 1st 2020, I started my new role as a peer research co-production worker within the Research and Evaluation team for Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead. I was very fortunate to already know my new colleagues and have visited my new office as I had worked with the team in a different role for the previous nine months. The first day nerves didn’t cross my mind. The worry about not remembering anyone’s names after a two-minute introduction, or the eating lunch alone, didn’t even factor into my new experience. Yet, this was, without a doubt, probably the strangest first day I have ever had or will have.

Wednesday morning, April 1st. I didn’t set my alarm for my new job. No polished shoes and freshly ironed shirt. No early departure to make sure I wasn’t late. Instead, I rolled out of bed at 8 am, showered, threw on some comfortable tracksuits trousers and a t-shirt and set up my office on the dining table before walking the dog. I opened my ‘welcome to the new role’ email from my new line manager and the following emails, echoing similar welcome messages from my colleagues. I checked my diary and had a ‘skype chat’ scheduled later that morning but little else the rest of the day. I didn’t get lost or forget anyone’s name, but I did eat lunch alone.

A very different start to the first day I had expected when I was offered the job only a month earlier. In fact, a month earlier, on March 4th 2020, a virus had hit the UK with a reported 87 people infected. Italy had closed their schools and universities as the virus had already surged in Europe. Two weeks later and England announced closures of schools at the end of the week and followed with closures of pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues on March 20th. Three days later, the UK was in ‘enforceable lockdown’.

This new experience has had me thinking about starting a new job. The things you look forward to, the things you fear, the things that make a new job enjoyable and how you celebrate it. I think, overall, it has highlighted to me how much of a social aspect work is for me, both professionally and socially. The idea of working from home has always been appealing. Time with the kids, dog walks for lunch, no travelling and no parking, not to mention that cheeky early finish on a Friday! In reality, I’ve found it quite difficult, especially with a new job, one I haven’t worked in before. I’ve missed not sitting next to someone for that reassuring “is this right?” or “how do you…?”. The listening to conversations about what’s going on within the team. No chippy dinner on the Friday or a pint with the team at the end of your first week. I’ve not really been able to get on with my job as it’s quite focussed on meeting people, networking, and co-producing (which is difficult while isolating!). My team meetings have been replaced with Microsoft Teams meetings and my lunchtime banter about football or TV have been via Whatsapp messenger or the occasional Skype call. Even with my personal friends, no one has asked about my new job because everyone else has their own worries about work and their families.

I’m almost two weeks into my new job and have been electronically asking my virtual peers about digital inclusion and online reflective practice in multi-participant web chats. I didn’t see that coming! I’m beginning to find my feet a little this last few days and have started some work which is keeping me motivated and enthusiastic about the work which lies ahead. When I do finally get into the office and sit at my new desk, I’ll feel like an old-pro and be able to take on my (not-so) new job with ease without that first day worry of “can I do this?”.

One thing I have thought about during this time is that self-isolation is difficult. New job or not. And there are a lot of people out there who have been doing it for years.