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The Awkwardness of Starting a New Job Remotely During Coronavirus

José Goicoechea had just left his apartment for a quick trip to the grocery store in April when he got a calendar invitation.

“I think I walked out at 11:55 and the meeting was at 12,” Mr. Goicoechea, 29, said. The other invitees on the Google Hangout included an H.R. person and Mr. Goicoechea’s manager, “so I was like, ‘Uh oh, this is not good,’” he said.

It wasn’t good. Mr. Goicoechea, who had been working from his apartment in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn for a little over a month, was being furloughed from his job as a product designer at a luggage company. The pandemic hit and people weren’t traveling as much. Sales had dropped more than 90 percent, he later learned.

“I think I was furloughed on a Tuesday, and my last day of work was on a Friday,” he said. “So I had three days to wrap up and leave.”

Mr. Goicoechea had never been unemployed before. But neither had many other workers who suddenly found themselves without work in one of the worst recessions on record. His best friend, who was living in Berlin, was also furloughed. “I forget what the German version of that is.” (“It’s called Kurzarbeit,” Mr. Goicoechea emailed later.)

[Read more from Out of Office: A Survey of Our New Work Lives]

Mr. Goicoechea had moved from Los Angeles for his job less than a year ago. Now it was back to the drawing board, only this job hunt was a little different.

He started looking for listings on Glassdoor, the job site. He applied for about 10 positions and interviewed for two. There was one that he knew he wanted, at a direct-to-consumer bedding company.

His final interview took place in his bedroom, with the company’s C.E.O. “Doing the call in your bedroom is kind of funny” Mr. Goicoechea said. His laundry hamper was visible in the background.

Then there was his look. “When I was interviewing, I hadn’t had a haircut for like three months,” he said. “I’m usually the type of person who gets their haircut every two weeks.”

He ended up buying hair clippers and buzzing it off: “I watched a bunch of YouTube videos.”

That went about as well as you might expect. “The first time I did it, I was very ambitious and tried to go for a fade,” he said, laughing. “It just didn’t look very good.”

He got the job and started in late June. He has yet to meet any of his co-workers in person.

His days are often packed with video calls, which can have their own idiosyncrasies, like the moments when two people speak over each other, or awkward pauses. “Conversation isn’t anywhere near as fluid as in real life,” Mr. Goicoechea said.

“I am more introverted, so I don’t speak up as much or express how I think about something if it’s not part of work,” he said. “When I’m in an office environment, I just like seeing people, going on walks or out to lunch to get to know each other.”

During his first days at the new job, Mr. Goicoechea was assigned a “welcome buddy” to help him get settled. There was no use filling him in on office details like where the bathroom was, or what to avoid in the cafeteria, so she told him about the fun Slack channels he might not know about, like one where employees talk about recipes they’ve tried, or music they are listening to.

Finding small talk has been tough. The weather? Well, many of us never have to go out in it. Weekend plans? They tend to be more redundant. “Nowadays, weekend plans are like maybe just stay home and cook, or go to a park or something,” he said. “That question is kind of awkward because someone kind of has the same answer, more or less.”

It’s also his first time being someone else’s boss. He wanted to show his new report how to use a new tool, which would have been easier if he could just run over to her desk. Now those casual interactions are either even more casual (send them a Slack) or more formalized (find a time, schedule a meeting).

His new employer was already planning to move into a new office, now set to open in January. The company recently took a survey to see how staff felt about going back. Mr. Goicoechea hasn’t seen the results yet.

“It’d be nice to go to work and meet people,” he said, but acknowledges “if we’re all wearing masks, it’s kind of weird.”

So he’s prepared to keep working from his bedroom. For now.

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