What I learned from starting a new job during the pandemic
Stay focused on the target, be adaptive, and keep up your energy and pace
When I decided to join Imperva last year, Covid-19 was still a brief headline in the news and when coming in to sign my contract, I didn't realize that this was the last time I would be in the office for months. By the time I actually started working, the entire country, like much of the world, was in lockdown.
For me, starting a new position always meant spending a lot of time in joint breaks and random discussions in the hallways, until I got to know everyone. This usually also included quite a bit of traveling, visiting my remote teams, to personally experience the different sites.
This time I started a new job without ever leaving home, never having a chance to meet even my local team, not to mention visiting other sites.
Naturally, it makes success in my new job a lot more difficult to achieve, but, I must say that this has actually worked out pretty well.
I have to give a lot of credit to Imperva, for the well-organized onboarding plan that was prepared for me, to my supportive managers, and especially to my incredible team, who have gone out of their way to help me cope with this challenge.
What I can say for certain is that I have learned some important lessons through this process. In one sentence, my advice on how to succeed in this situation would be: Stay focused on the target, be adaptive, and keep up your energy and pace.
Humans are social animals. Social distancing helps in controlling the spreading of diseases but it's bad for teamwork. This is especially felt when you are new to the team and trying to build knowledge and relationships from scratch.
Non-verbal communication - To be an effective leader, you have to connect with your people on a personal level, and empathize with them. A lot of this is based on non-verbal cues, which, even over video conferencing, are often lost on the digital medium.
Free flow of information - Development work is creative work. Innovation is associative in nature. A lot of great ideas come up unintentionally by overhearing a technical conversation. A lot of problems are solved at random ad-hoc discussions. All of this is significantly impacted by the fact there is no office and all conversations are planned and pre-scheduled video conferencing calls.
Bonding and Unofficial meetings - Where are the coffee and lunch breaks? This is the time to bond, to get to know people on a personal level, to create good work relationships and a fun atmosphere. Moreover, there are many discussions that are better conducted in an informal atmosphere. Some of the most productive sessions, I had, were over coffee, during a walk around the building, or any other form of meeting that is not a one-hour pre-planned Zoom session.
What worked for me?
Don’t say it can’t be done, be adaptive, and find another way to do it - When everything changes, keep your focus on achieving the results and adapt your methods to the new situation. I was lucky to get a team of fighters. We worked closely remotely, got to know each other through the camera, learned with a virtual whiteboard, brainstormed along with network connection problems, pushed changes by communicating through google excels and slides, improved, and showed success.
There is no substitute for visual contact - Audio calls or emails do not fill the gap of not being able to look somebody in the eyes. Video calls are not a perfect replacement to face to face meetings but it is a significant improvement. In this case, the video part really saved me.
Good vibes and a bucket full of energy - Keeping a good atmosphere is especially important in hard times. A mixture of openness, trust, and a sense of humor can help overcome the fact that our only communication is currently, through digital media and make it feel less cold and more ‘real.’
A lot of 1:1s - Under normal circumstances, you get to meet your local colleagues on a daily basis, for coffee, lunch, or just walking past them in the hallways. In these times, the only people you meet are those you Zoom with. And so, if you don't set up a meeting with someone, you are not going to talk to them at all.
Business as usual - At Imperva, we kept up the focus - we recruited and built a new R&D site, without ever visiting it, we made a significant acquisition and we kept running at full speed as if there was no pandemic.
A few things to end with…
We are already entering 2021 and Covid-19 is still not behind us, but hopefully, this is the beginning of the end.
Although I joined at a difficult time, I am very happy with the choices I made along the way.
I have certainly learned a lot from it all: Striving for success despite the challenges, adapting to changes, and keeping a positive energy and a can-do attitude at rough times.
A good runner is someone that knows how to run when he has hurdles in hteir way. When they recognize a hurdle, they quickly calculate a new path. Team - thank you for this run.
Liat Ashkenazi is the Senior Director Of Engineering and Data Security at Imperva