Onboarding in the time of Covid-19

Jes Martell, of Penn State, discusses onboarding for her new records management position during the time of Covid-19:

There is no better feeling than nailing an interview and getting offered the position you were hoping for. Starting a new job is an exciting opportunity to explore your potential within a business, company, or institution, and yet the first few weeks in your new position often present a new set of challenges that you may not have necessarily planned to encounter. What will a day in this new job look like? How will I build relationships with my peers and co-workers? And, of course, what will the onboarding process and job training be like? When I accepted my job offer for the position of Records Center Specialist at the Pennsylvania State University in March of 2020, I had all of these same feelings and thoughts running through my head. Unbeknownst to me, I would face the obstacle of onboarding during a pandemic that was just around the corner. In this post, I will be sharing my experience stepping into my new role in Records Management during the time of COVID-19.  

Just after, I accepted my job offer, the governor announced a state-wide closure of all non-essential businesses. At this time, I wasn’t sure how this might affect my job offer at the University. The hiring manager was fully honest with me about the situation. Penn State University would be experiencing a hiring freeze and we were unsure what this would mean for my onboarding. While this possibility was scary to consider, I appreciated the transparency. Luckily, I made the cut-off and was able to be onboarded into the Office of Records Management team.  

The Records Center, which normally operates at full-time hours during the week, would be required to cut back operations to three days a week. On my first day at work, we began by establishing Records Center operations during COVID and implementing safety plans to help mitigate the spread of the virus. This included use of separate offices, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves, enhanced cleaning, maintaining physical distancing at all times of at least 6 feet or more, and video conferencing for all meetings. As a new employee, it was reassuring to know that my team would be taking all precautions to keep us safe during these uncertain times. As a large majority of my position requires physical labor, I was also able to observe and be trained on the physical aspects of my job, such as records destruction and operation of machinery, during my first week of work. 

The two days of the week that I wasn’t working on-site, I was assigned a laptop and webcam to work remotely. I never worked from home before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Being so new, I hoped that I would still be able to be productive and contribute to projects as part of the team. Working remotely those two days allowed me the time to complete the necessary University onboarding requirements such as HR remote document verification, selection of benefits, on-line lift training, and IT tech orientation. While working at home, I was also able to assist my team with a shared drive migration project. Each member of our team was assigned folders within the shared drive to review, after confirming that all records inside of those folders were still necessary to keep, I was responsible for moving the records from our previous file-sharing application, Box, to Microsoft SharePoint. We also used this time to review our Records Center website. I reviewed each page on our website and made notes about any suggestions that I had and we shared our edits as a team during our daily meetings. By the end of the first week, I was feeling much more confident in my ability to learn both on-site duties and be an active team member remotely. On Friday, April 3rd, we received notice that the Records Center would be shut down completely until further notice in response to COVID and would operate on an on-call request basis only.  

For the following 10 weeks, we made a few brief appearances at the Records Center once or twice weekly to provide access to records for life-sustaining services, such as Human Resources, University Health Services, and Penn State Law. I used those on-site opportunities to do as much hands-on work as possible in hopes that when we did return full-time, I would feel confident in my ability to successfully operate the Records Center. I felt optimistic that I would be able to learn the physical duties required of my position; the biggest mystery for me was learning Records Management. I did not have much of a background working in the field prior to this role, so I knew there would be a lot for me to learn.  

One of the most valuable tools that my team has been using during the remote work period is Microsoft Teams. We use the application for all meetings, including our daily morning meetings which give us the opportunity to touch base on projects, talk about current events, and get to know one another, as I had only met a few of my team members in-person once at this point. We also used Microsoft Teams to provide Records Management training for me on topics such as audits, litigation holds, University policies, records retention schedules and many others. My team invited me to consultation meetings with different departments at the University so that I could observe the retention schedule creation process for a variety of records. I was also included in meetings with departments we work closely with, such as Human Resources, Archives, and General Counsel, to introduce myself and ask any questions I had. In a way, I feel that the pandemic afforded me additional undivided attention for training sessions and opportunities to ask questions that perhaps I may not have had otherwise during what would typically be very busy weeks had we been working on-site. I felt surprisingly positive about how well I was able to learn remotely.  

By the beginning of June, our Team was feeling ready to return to on-site operations, so we submitted the required “PSU Return-To-Work” proposal for consideration and on June 10th, we were approved for a partial return-to-work schedule of 3 days per week for 6 hours per day. Although I was somewhat anxious returning on-site with the virus still very much present in Pennsylvania, I knew that my team was taking all precautions to keep me safe and it was always made very clear to me that if at any time I did not feel comfortable working on site, there would be no hesitation in accommodating my concerns. As a new employee, this was extremely comforting to me and it meant a lot knowing that the focus was not on productivity at this time, but instead on our health and safety as individuals.  

As of August 24th, the Records Center is open again and I have returned to work full-time alongside the Records Center Manager. With her guidance, I have become fully competent in my physical duties working on-site and, thanks to my entire team, I feel confident and knowledgeable in the space of Records Management. Stepping into a new job position in a remote environment presented me with many challenges but also a lot of opportunities for individualized training. In my opinion, the most valuable resource that I had while onboarding was my team. If you have a patient, supportive team dedicated to helping you grow and succeed then you too can survive onboarding, even in a pandemic! 

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