Changing Jobs: How to Acclimate to a New Agency Environment

Entering a new agency environment – as a freelancer or full-time employee – can be as frightening as it is exciting. From the moment you walk in the door, you'll be bombarded with handshakes, instructions and directions.

You'll have to remember Steve in Accounting and Steve in Creative, as well as all three Debras down the hall. There's obviously a lot to take in when you're the office newbie. But have no fear because these five tips can help make the acclimation process easier.

1. Do a Run-Through Before Your First Day

Was it a left on Main Street or was it a right? Do I park in the garage next to the building or across from it? The last thing you want to do is be late on your first day. That's why it's best to test your commute beforehand. Not only will it ensure you have the right directions, but it will also make you aware of pesky obstacles along the way (road construction, traffic jams, lane closures, etc.). You'll even save yourself a headache, because everyone knows a rough morning commute can ruin your day before it even gets started.

2. Ask Questions

When you're new to the office, asking a lot of questions may seem like an annoyance, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Every employee has been in your position and most will be sympathetic to your situation. By seeking clarification early on, you're saving yourself a lot of hassle in the long run. If there's a meeting in the large conference room by Karen's desk, just ask a coworker where exactly that is. It's a lot better than wandering around until you find what you're looking for.

Of course, questions can also save you from making critical mistakes throughout the day. How long of a lunch break should you take? When do people usually start trickling into the office? Is there a dress code? If you're a freelancer, how do you clock out? Don't figure out the answers to these questions the hard way – just ask.

Every office environment is unique and you have to treat it as such. Just because something worked at your last agency, doesn't mean it will work everywhere.

Whether you're hired as a freelancer or full-time employee, it's important to abide by the agency's rules, otherwise you run the risk of offending your new colleagues. Those who don't want to acclimate to the culture are doomed to remain an outsider – and that's not a place you want to be. So, ask as many questions as you can from the get-go to avoid putting your character in question.

3. Don't Try to Meet Everyone

It's understandable that in your first couple days, a lot of people will introduce themselves to you. The only problem with this is that you're also being inundated with a lot of other information, too. I've found that it's best to start small and get to know your immediate team first. Once you've learned everyone's name, branch out and get to know other people in the office.

Forget a name? As I mentioned above, just ask. It's better than spending days, weeks or months pretending you know it.

You don't have to befriend everyone at once. Take your time and build meaningful friendships instead.

4. Don't Be a Party Pooper

Have your new coworkers invited you out for a drink? Is the office getting together for a taco party? Does every week end with Funky Fedora Friday? Join in! If you have the opportunity to be a part of something taking place in the office, you should always jump at the chance. It shows you want to be part of the team.

The best way to fit in is to take part.

If you notice that a group of people always grabs lunch together, ask if you can join them. Did the office start a running club or community kickball team? Ask if you can participate.

The more involved you are, the more opportunities you have to get to know your new coworkers, paving the way for stronger working relationships. The more people know about you and the more excited you appear to be there, the greater the chance you'll have new opportunities opened up to you. Conversely, when you don't participate in group activities, others may think you don't want to be at the agency. And if that's the case, you may get passed over for plum assignments or even socially ousted by the agency.

5. Find Your Balance

One thing I've learned from The Great Agency Adventure is that different agencies expect different things. Some demand longer hours and others have late start times. Some encourage you to grab a beer every Friday afternoon; others will ask that you work a weekend or two when things get hectic. While you can't always control your circumstances, you can find a way to build a schedule that works for you.

Are you a morning person? Ask the boss if you can come in and take off early or vice versa. Do you have to pick up your children from daycare twice a week? Ask if it's OK to work from home for a few hours in the evenings.

We work in a demanding field, but that doesn't mean it can't be as equally as accommodating.

Thanks to my project, I've had the pleasure of experiencing six different agency cultures and I still have eight more to go. So far, each one has offered different environments, incentives, personalities and issues, but what I've found is that each one also comes with a ton of great people.

So, while changing jobs and joining a new team might make you nervous, just remember that everyone there has been in your position before. When you enter those doors with a positive outlook on what's ahead, you'd be surprised at how well your presence is received. Creatives can build some unique spaces and they just want you to be a part of it.

Act like you belong, not because you should, but because you do.

Related post: Tips on Teamwork: How to Collaborate, Take Criticism and More