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Succeed at work

Workplace environments come with all sorts of expectations and relationships. These resources can:

  • help you adapt to life in the workplace
  • grow as a professional
  • succeed at work

Your new job

Congratulations! You’ve accepted a job offer and are ready to start work. These tips can help make your first day a success.

  1. Arrive a few minutes early: this will show your employer that you’re excited to start working. Plan for delays—you don’t want to get caught in traffic on your first day.
  2. Know what to wear: make sure you know the dress code and dress appropriately. It's a good idea to lay your clothes out the night before. If you’re not sure what to wear, contact your employer in advance to ask about appropriate dress.
  3. Be polite: you’ll probably get introduced to many different people on your first day. Be professional and polite, and don’t worry if you can’t remember everyone’s name right away— this will come with time.
  4. Take notes: you'll absorb a lot of new information on your first day. When in doubt, take notes to make sure you don’t forget any important information from your new colleagues and supervisor.
  5. Find out where you fit in: most organizations have a chart that shows the organizational structure. Ask your supervisor for this information—it will help you figure out the different levels within the organization and where you fit.
  6. Complete an orientation: your supervisor will probably include some type of orientation on your first day. This might include an introduction to the physical workplace, an overview of hours and expectations, details about health and safety procedures and more. Some employers provide a formal orientation, while others have a more casual system. You can also use this orientation checklist

Co-workers

You'll be working with a wide range of people who have different experiences, personalities and approaches to work. Here are some ways to make strong connections.

  1. Respect others: we all have different ways of communicating, thinking and solving problems. Be considerate, polite and even-tempered with everyone in your workplace.
  2. Learn the culture: observe and learn the workplace culture to be professional in the workplace. Some workplaces are more formal than others.
  3. Find mentors: learning from others in the workplace can help you understand the bigger picture and where you might want to develop.
  4. Participate in social workplace activities and events: if you're comfortable, you can get involved in social activities or connect with co-workers on Teams chats and more.
  5. Avoid gossip: gossiping about others is unprofessional and hurtful. Do not discuss problems you have with a coworker or superior with other coworkers—especially through work email, where it's visible or accidentally sent to the wrong person.
  6. If you're feeling unhappy: identify the problem. Is it a coworker, manager, working conditions, workload or all of these? Most conflicts are two-sided; ask a neutral person you trust for objective feedback. If you can’t solve the problem yourself, get help from mentors, career professionals, counsellors, books, websites or training courses to find solutions.

Work habits

Setting expectations for yourself from the start can help you set up a solid routine.
 
  1. Be on time: always contact your supervisor if you’re going to be late. Follow office policies for illness.
  2. Respect office policies around computer use, workplace scents or allergies, etc.
  3. Communicate regularly with your supervisor: a regular check-in or email is a great time to discuss work priorities and projects.
  4. Seek clarification if needed: it's important to know expectations, timelines and priorities, especially if you’re unsure about how to proceed on a project.
  5. Keep track of your accomplishments: let others know when you have successfully solved a problem for a client, improved a system or received a commendation. Ways to do this include emailing occasional updates to your supervisor or checking in at regular meetings. Make sure to keep copies of any relevant materials or jot down notes to add your successes to your portfolio.
  6. Re-evaluate your goals on a regular basis: share them with your supervisor. A history of setting and meeting goals will make a strong case for you as a team member to keep and promote.
  7. Polish your skills: take advantage of in-house training, professional development courses or adult education classes offered at your workplace to expand your skills.
  8. Stay flexible: new responsibilities are often added to a position you are already doing. Showing interest in new tasks gives you a chance to cross-train and build new skills.
  9. Consult your supervisor if you’re overwhelmed with your workload: a regular check-in meeting is a good time to discuss this. Make sure to bring it up as soon as possible if you're worried your workload won't allow you to meet an upcoming deadline.

Communicating at work

Workplace communication can be very different from classroom work or other jobs you've had. Here are some resources to help you set yourself up for success.

  1. Always include a meaningful subject line in your email so the receiver knows what your email is about (and can find it again!).
  2. Be brief and to the point. Use bulleted or numbered lists if possible, especially when asking questions.
  3. Avoid using the “reply all” button—this can overload all participants with messages. Use the regular “reply” button to respond only to the sender, unless specific others need to be included.
  4. Respect confidentiality. Don't share messages beyond who you are communicating with, unless you ask first.
  5. Use proper spelling and punctuation. Think of an email like a short letter rather than as a text message.

Email do's

Date: July 3, 20XX
From: student@company.com
To: supervisor@company.com
Re: RFP package for Garry Oak project

Hi Supervisor,

I was pulling together the proposal and had a few questions:

  • Should we include our estimated staffing costs separately or work that into the overall project cost?
  • How many staff hours did you suggest we allocate at the last meeting?
  • What’s the time frame for getting the first draft back to you for review?

Thank you for your time.

Student

Email don'ts

Date: July 3, 2013
From: student@company.com
To: supervisor@company.com
CC: director@company.com, person@company.com, somebody@company.com, everybody@company.com …
Re:

Hey Supervisor, What was I supposed to be doing on that RFP thing from last meeting? I forgot to take notes on if you wanted me 2 hand it in today and if staff are supposed to have their time on it and what was the name of that guy at the meeting?

  1. Answer your phone within a few rings.
  2. Ask your employer if you should use a scripted greeting, e.g., “Thank you for calling Business X. You’ve reached Jane Doe in the ABC Department. How can I help you?”
  3. Request permission before placing a client or colleague on hold. "Can I just place you on hold for a moment while I look into that?" 
  4. Speak clearly and use professional language.
  5. Make sure to record important details when taking messages.
  6. When dealing with a difficult client or colleague, use a calm tone of voice and listen to the person’s concerns. They are probably frustrated and want to feel heard.
  7. Ask your supervisor if you should use a scripted voicemail message when you're away from your desk.

When you work in a cubicle, it's important to be respectful of your fellow cubicle mates. Here are a few tips to make the most of your shared workspace.

Privacy

  1. Try not to startle someone working in a cubicle. Announce yourself at their doorway or lightly knock on the wall.
  2. Never read someone’s computer screen or comment on conversations you’ve overheard. Resist answering a question you overheard asked in the cube next to you. 
  3. Be respectful of your coworkers’ workspace. Just because there’s no door doesn’t mean you can help yourself to their paper clips.
  4. Post a sign or flag at your cubicle entrance to signal when you can be interrupted.
  5. Don’t loiter outside someone’s cubicle if the person is on a phone call. Come back at another time.
  6. Keep your personal belongings within your cubicle rather than draped over the cubicle walls.

Phone noise

  1. Try to pick up your phone after one or two rings. Set the ringer volume at a low level.
  2. Limit the use of speakerphones. If you must use one, keep the volume as low as possible. Use a meeting room for conference calls.
  3. Watch your volume when talking on the phone. 
  4. When you leave your cubicle, turn your phone ringer off and let it go to voicemail or forward your phone number to your new location.
  5. With personal or sensitive calls, be aware that your neighbours can hear your end of the conversation.

General noise

  1. Use email or instant messaging to communicate silently with your coworkers.
  2. Play music only with headphones.

Scents

Avoid perfume and cologne. Your neighbours may have allergies or chemical sensitivities.

Culture is a set of learned attitudes, behaviours and experiences that make up a way of life. Although you’ll share your organization’s work culture with your colleagues, it’s unlikely that you’ll all share the same personal culture.

Different people will have different communication styles and etiquette. Here are some areas where there are common differences in cultural style.

  1. Courtesy: greeting styles may differ, as do ways of discussing problems or conflicts.
  2. Arguments: in some cultures, arguing in an impersonal manner is the norm; in others, arguments tend to be emotional.
  3. Assertiveness: different cultures have different levels of acceptable assertiveness. One culture may be quite reserved, while another may be more forward.
  4. Candor: some cultures value “telling it like it is”, while others value preserving harmony.
  5. Simplicity: some cultures present information in simple, straightforward language, while others take longer to convey information.

These are just a few examples of cultural differences—there is no “one way” of doing things. By developing your cultural intelligence (CQ), you'll take a big step toward effective communication. 

Remote work

Many organizations have shifted to remote or hybrid work arrangements, including setting up co-op students and other student employees to work from home.

Here are some tips to help you set up a healthy home work space.

Check with your employer to make sure you have the proper technology to do your daily work. This will include:

  • appropriate computer hardware
  • appropriate software
  • VPN access to the appropriate shared servers, and how to set this up
  • teleconference and videoconference tools that your organization is using to stay in touch

Ensure that you also have:

  • strong, reliable WiFi – connect with your employer about your WiFi to ensure it will allow you to connect with your team
  • access to appropriate policy or training documents
  • an understanding of your organization's security protocols around accessing/sharing files

Resources to support this:

Working from home presents unique challenges. You may be sharing the space with friends or family members and may not have a private office space. Connect with your supervisor to set clear expectations about: 

  • your regular work hours
  • if and how you should track your hours
  • how your supervisor will communicate with you, including what tools to use (email, teleconference or videoconference tools, phone, etc.) and the expected response rate
  • your work goals and deadlines
  • expectations around availability
  • how you should report on your progress and share information with the team

Resources to support this:

Here are some tips to help you effectively work from home:

  1. Set up a space in your home where you can create a work from home routine.
  2. Remove distractions where possible.
  3. Get changed out of your pyjamas and into work clothes to mentally be ready to work.
  4. Organize a desk space, even if you’re working at your kitchen table.
  5. Take scheduled coffee and lunch breaks—get some fresh air, connect with friends and make time for yourself.
  6. Connect with your co-workers regularly.
  7. Resist the temptation to work beyond set business hours so that you have boundaries. between your work day and personal time.
  8. Use project management skills to keep on top of your tasks.
  9. Break big projects into smaller, achievable goals.
  10. At the end of the day, create a to-do list for the next day of work.

Resources to support this:

Ask your supervisor to share information about:

  • changing protocols, processes and guidelines
  • relevant updates from your organization
  • who you should contact if you have questions or need support

Resources to support this:

Working remotely can be isolating, especially if you live alone. Here are a few ways to stay connected:

  1. Ask your supervisor to schedule short daily video conference check-ins. These check-ins can be both social and productive and are a great way to boost morale.
  2. Set up daily check-ins with other co-op students working at your organization through video conference or chat.
  3. Follow along on updates from other UVic students on the MyUVic Life blog.

Resources to support this:

Need help?

View this article for some helpful student resources.

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