Posted by Steve Taylor on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - 00:00
Starting a new job? Don't stick out like a sore thumb. Observe your new environment with eagle eyes and you'll be "one of the team" in no time.
No matter how many jobs you've held, it's always a little unnerving walking into a new office. There are so many variables at play and any number of them can make or break you.
Whether you're starting a full-time gig or joining a team temporarily, there are plenty of things to look out for on your first day. Ten months into my project, The Great Agency Adventure, I've had the distinct pleasure of assimilating into a wide array of work cultures. So, I wanted to share some of the clues I look for that help me to understand the type of office I'm coming into. Hopefully, these pointers will help you transition smoothly into your next new role.
1. Front Desks & Coat Checks
I've come to find that an agency's reception area says a lot about the office. That's because it's the first thing clients see when they enter the building and the higher ups want to make sure it reflects the company's personality. If you see it's filled with high-end furniture and infused water jugs, chances are you're in for a distinct experience. On the flipside, if the front desk is made of a giant log and the walls are covered in old Frank Sinatra records, you're in for something vastly different. In either case, take note and prepare for the ride.
2. Suits & Ties
When you enter a new office, pay attention to what everyone else is wearing. I always make a point to dress up on my first day. It's easier to dress down the next day than try to erase the memory of your Hawaiian shirt. If you see other people sporting graphic tees and flip-flops, don't hesitate to do it, too. But, if you see your coworkers in dress slacks and button downs, you'll probably want to follow suit.
3. Lingo & Dialogue
Are you finding people are more tight-lipped or casual in their conversations? Some places won't stand for the "seven words you can never say on television," but some have bosses who sound more like sailors than executives. If you enter an office where everyone converses like family, do your best to join the club. However, if you find yourself on the more professional end of the spectrum, don't let those four-letter words slip.
4. Posters & Artwork
Make note of coworkers' desks. If you're someone who loves to be surrounded by toys, tchotchkes and jars of candy, look to see if anyone else has already done the same. The amount of artwork in an agency can also be telling. Some places go hog wild with their decor and encourage employees to also personalize their space. Other establishments may prefer clean lines and tidy desks. Look around and get a glimpse of what everyone else is doing before bringing in your collection of bobble heads.
5. Drop Ceilings & White Walls
Much like artwork around the office, the overall aesthetic of the space can say a lot. Creative shops, for example, typically go out of their way to create a space that speaks volumes. Take The Barbarian Group's "Superdesk" for example. The enormous wooden desk that flows throughout the entire space truly embodies the collaborative nature of their culture. It's very telling of their agency and vastly differs from plain white walls and fluorescent lights. Even if your new space is as plain as they get, focus on the pieces of it that make you happy or excited. Otherwise you'll have a hard time doing your creative best.
6. Cubicles & Dividers
This is kind of an odd one, but I've noticed that offices with walls tend to be more corporate than those with short partitions or open floor plans. Whether intentional or accidental, high walls keep you from interacting at your seat, and when you can't chat it up with the people next to you, chances are you're going to spend more time on your work. That's not to say one setup is better than the other, of course. It's all about personal preference. Noticing a small piece like this simply allows you to get in the right mindset to help you deliver your very best work.
7. Kitchens & Coffee Makers
One place you should visit on your first day is the kitchen because it says a lot about the people you're working with and their habits. Are the contents in the fridge clean and organized or piled high with expired products? Is the sink pristine or filled with week-old dishes? Regardless of the scene, leave your pet peeves at the door or risk making frenemies. I, for one, hate when people stack dishes in the sink. But if I let that bother me day in and day out, it would wear on me and eventually start to affect my mood at work. That's why the kitchen is so important. It let's you know upfront what you're walking into so you have time to adjust.
When starting a new job in a new office, the little details can say a lot about where you are and where you're going. These are just a few examples. The best advice I can offer is to keep your eyes open and take in every piece of information you can. In the end, it can make all the difference when settling into your new workspace.