New beginnings

Rollercoaster at dusk

This week I started a new project working for a new client. My first completely new client in a long time. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a project that hasn’t involved at least one person who I’ve known from some previous work. Connections breed connections.

This time there is a loose connection, in the sense that I’m working with people who know people I’ve worked with before, but we’re new to each other. So I’ve got this 2-month contract and we’ll see how it goes.

At the start of a new project, I tend to feel there is a range of specific feelings and emotions that always come to pass and follow a similar pattern. Not always, but often.

There are the same doubts and frustrations and there’s a similar path that these feelings follow. Maybe it’s just me, let me know how you feel about it.

I start off with a sense of, not excitement as such, but a positive feeling of looking forward to getting started. I feel a sense of energy. My curiosity is heightened and I’m intrigued to find out exactly how things work, keen to take on the challenge. I feel confident that I can do what the client is asking of me.

The usual scenario is that the project starts with an onboarding meeting, there are some documents to read and a lot of information to process. It’s rare that these initial meetings aren’t a positive, energetic experience. I tend to get on with people easily and quickly.

I probably talk too much. I’m keen, a bit excitable, slightly anxious.

Then after this energetic beginning, there’s a comedown. I’m alone, focusing on the work – getting to grips with the information and the task. My energy drops as everything becomes real and somewhat less exciting. The nuts and bolts. The grind.

Maybe this isn’t actually as interesting as I thought it would be?

This blurs into a feeling of uncertainty. Do I really get all this? Can I do this?


Imposter syndrome: this is harder than I thought.

There’s often a fairly steep learning curve. We’re expected to take all this information in and make a start on actually producing something asap. We’re aiming to hit the ground running.

I have questions. Have I missed the answer in the docs? Have look again. Is this a stupid question? Will they think I’m an idiot?

After this first stage, often it’s just after the first day, my head is swimming with information, I’m concerned about what I’ve taken on and I have questions that I may or may not have decided to ask. I’ll probably have had a check-in of some kind, so depending on whether I’ve had a response, I’m wondering if my progress so far is what they were expecting. It’s been a mentally draining day, so regardless of exhaustion, I probably won’t sleep well.

The next day; the next stage. I have some feedback. It’s positive! Well, at least nothing’s gone wrong.

I carry on.

Gradually, I realise that things are coming together. The information is settling in my head and I have answers to questions that weren’t stupid (not obviously so, anyway!). During this second stage, things start clicking together and everything makes more sense. By the end of the day, I’m feeling much more confident, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to deal with all this and I can actually sleep properly.

The next day, everything feels pretty good, I’m keen to get on with things and stay on a roll.

My rollercoaster of emotions goes something like this!

😃 🙂 🤔 😔 đŸ˜Ŧ 😰 😭 đŸĨ´ đŸ˜Ē 🤔 😌 😊 😃 😴

While writing this, I’m reflecting on the fact that the projects I’ve worked on over the last 2-3 years have all been somehow new and challenging. Never doing the same thing again. So I tend to feel excited to be doing something that is, in some way, new. Thinking about it, I feel quite privileged that this has been the case, it makes life more interesting.

But this is part of the ‘new normal’: the ‘Future of Work’ that is already here for may of us, “it’s just not evenly distributed“.1

For so-called ‘knowledge workers’ – learning is the work. We have to pick up new skills just to get work done, take full responsibility for organising our own learning and generally be good at learning.

Some say2 that the future of work will be project-based. It’s certainly true that careers don’t work the way they did.

Image with Seth Godin quote

Perhaps we freelancers are already ahead of the curve in that respect. We need to be self-reliant, innovative and tolerant of ambiguity. We need to be resilient – capable of dealing with uncertainty, complexity, change and pressure. We think, make, do, learn and adapt, and put up with quite a lot.

Funnily enough, for a reason I’ll avoid mentioning, lots more people are beginning to understand this.

A project onboarding experience is strongly connected to HOW freelancers are onboarded. Last year I had a great chat with Mike Tannenbaum about onboarding contract workers. He’s produced some great stuff related to this and thought a lot about it.

In particular, there needs to be a lot of empathy from ‘in-house’ teams towards remote freelancers and what is needed to successfully onboard them to a project. The feelings I’ve expressed above have come about, for the most part, DESPITE a decent onboarding process. For me, certain elements of the process are critical to empowering contract workers to hit the ground running and bring “our whole selves to work“, as they say.

So, I’ll finish off with some thoughts on good practice for onboarding remote freelancers.

5 Top tips for onboarding success with remote freelancers

  1. Send out some clear, precise and succinct instructions (a brief) that will enable a quick, comfortable start, ideally before an onboarding meeting, so the meeting is to discuss not to deliver this information.
  2. Arrange a video conference meeting and make sure there’s a positive, supportive vibe.
  3. Make sure there are clear expectations – what is needed and when: today, tomorrow, end of the week, end of the project.
  4. Provide details of the team, the workflow and communication: who does what, when and how.
  5. Get all platforms and logins sorted in advance, as far as possible – access arranged, checked and working.

Digital discovery

My discovery of the week is the wonderful As you might have guessed, it’s an encyclopedia of emojis. I found it while creating some course content in Arist, which I’ve mentioned before, and if you’re creating funky, cool, down-with-the-kids learning content, then emojis are a thing!

  1. Attributed to the writer William Gibson, but it’s another popular internet quote that is made up, even though apparently he said it, or something like it, quite often. The Quote Investigator has more. ↩ī¸Ž

  2. Quote from Seth Godin is from the Squiggly Careers podcast. Go here to listen. ↩ī¸Ž

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