How are you doing? I hope you are safe and healthy as you read this post. 

Months into the COVID-19 travel restrictions and work-from-home realities that have become the new normal this 2020, we and our organisations have started to adapt and move forward. It hasn’t been easy, but we take each day as it comes, doing the best we can.

One thing that gives me hope is my LinkedIn feed! I’m particularly struck by the number of my connections who have started new jobs in this period. And of course, some of these are members of the ALUSB community! 

So I got to thinking: How are people starting new jobs remotely and how are employers onboarding their new hires? 

Step up Akshay Vishwanath ‘20, a newly minted MBA, proud Kenyan and rising leader in conservation. In June, Akshay joined Maliasili as Manager, East Africa Portfolio, and kindly agreed to an interview with me to talk about his experience:

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Q: OK, so let’s set the stage. You completed your MBA at ALU School of Business in March 2020. You were ready for a new professional challenge. What kind of opportunity were you looking for? 

A: I reflected a lot towards the end of the programme, as part of the final MBA Leadership Lab term. I identified three main objectives for my next professional move and for the kind of African leader I wanted to be: 

  • To play a part in supporting the growth of indigenous conservation organisations.
  • To improve the financing of conservation across the continent.
  • To play a bigger role in the advocacy and social justice side of conservation.

Maliasili was an excellent fit, given its mission to support the growth of local, entrepreneurial, people-centred conservation organisations in Africa.

Q: You applied to Maliasili just as COVID-19 restrictions started to impact regular business operations. How did this impact your recruitment process? 

AThe Maliasili team was already working remotely across the continent and the US. They adapted quickly and were able to remain focused on the growth of the organisation and so the recruitment progressed. My start date was delayed by one month, but this was to ensure that I had a full plate of work when I started.

Q: Tell us about the onboarding experience. You were joining Maliasili’s Kenyan office, but due to COVID-19, starting remotely and working from home. 

A: I started with two others. A completely remote, online onboarding was new for the organisation and also for the new hires! Maliasili had to adapt and conduct our onboarding in unprecedented times. 

When you change a job and join a new organisation, you normally make a mental shift. Usually, this happens as you move into a new office space and experience a new commute. Sometimes you move home and city! You turn the page and you start a new professional chapter. 

This time everything was virtual. My new employer made a great effort for us to initially understand their team culture, dynamics and organisational culture. They made sure we understood the quality and standards that were expected as part of delivery. Doses of humour and fun infused everything. Whereas other organisations usually begin by providing a lot of reading material for you to familiarise yourself with the organisation’s goals, strategy, operations, successes and on-going work, I felt that Maliasili flipped it. They put more focus on team dynamics and organisational culture first.

“My new employer made a great effort for us to initially understand their team culture, dynamics and organisational culture.

Q: So how has your first month been? 

A:  I spent my first three weeks in the new job understanding the organisation and team. Maliasili eased me into the job and organisational culture. 

Q: So we’ve heard a lot about what Mailiasili did. What about you? What did you do to adapt to this new way of starting a job? 

A: A big part of it is to go easy and not put too much pressure on yourself. Take a day at a time. Make a conscious effort to maintain your curiosity and hunger for the new job and all the potential that comes with it. 

I was also conscious that my new employer was in unchartered territory too, and that we were experiencing these unprecedented times together. 

Q: Any final tips to share about how a new employee can start remotely, successfully?

A: Here’s my advice: It’s about mindset. As the global health crisis continues into the second half of 2020, we are aware that things are not going to be the same. So throw the rule book out of the window and get comfortable with the fact that the world as we know it has changed. 

But it’s ok. We adapt. Adjust your expectations and roll with it. Sometimes new chapters in our lives will be super creative and innovative, but things will also go wrong. Be ready for anything. 

Don’t compare what is going on now with how things were done in the past or what you’ve experienced before. Experiment and figure things out – everyone has room to make mistakes. Be bolder, feel like you can apply yourself. You are not alone, there are many of us experiencing this across the world. Feel more confident to be your best self, knowing that mistakes are more accepted in these times of adaptation. 

And I can’t stress enough; place emphasis on your new organisation’s team dynamics and culture. Spend time getting to know people on a 1-2-1 basis and schedule time to have fun together. When you finally meet in person, I am confident that you will slot right in. 

“… throw the rule book out of the window and get comfortable with the fact that the world as we know it has changed.” 

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Author: Vani Nadarajah, ALUSB Director of Admissions