Within seven days of college graduation, I moved to Chicago and was sitting at my desk in an advertising agency on the first day of my new career.
As the work began, I learned two things quickly; my curiosity and interest in new subjects was an asset to the team, but constant question asking was about as welcome as a 3-year-old in the boardroom.
Whether you’re starting a new job or working virtually as a freelance contractor—in every position, there’s a certain extent that you’ll need to employ self-training techniques. Even if you have a traditional job with a formal training program, there will probably still be gaps you’ll need to fill in.
Although you may actually be sitting alone working, you are not alone when it comes to getting yourself trained. Here’s how I handle learning on the job in the virtual world.
1) Keep a Running List of Questions
Back to the advertising agency for a moment.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that constantly raising my hand in meetings with yet another question wasn’t winning me any fans. So, I started employing my list of questions.
Each meeting I’d grab my pad of paper (Yes, I know this dates me) and I would take the entire meeting in. As a question arose in my mind, who’s so and so, what’s this vocabulary word, where is the client’s ad library located, I would simply write it down.
After the meeting, I would find someone who was willing and able to help and I would go through all my questions at once. Getting up to speed without causing a major disruption to the flow of business.
With all the great perks that come with working virtually, I found I couldn’t just grab my list of questions and walk into someone’s office for a quick meeting.
Wait, or can I?
2) Find Your Virtual Ally
Sometimes you just need a second set of eyes before moving forward. Sometimes you know you have that “dumb” question that needs to be asked. This is why you need a virtual ally.
The digital world can throw you a curve ball and you aren’t quite sure if what’s happening to you is happening to everyone, i.e. the time Google Docs went down. Your virtual ally can do a quick check from their station to confirm or contradict your thoughts. With Don’t Panic Management, I’ve found an entire team of allies to ensure I am moving forward confidently when issues arise.
3) Take Advantage of Tutorials
Digital tools are changing all the time. Even the ones you thought you’ve mastered change their interface or add features without a moment’s notice. It’s important to stay up to speed on the tools your client prefers, but your client isn’t the one to ask.
The good news is, most digital tools offer video tutorials walking you through how to use them. And even if the provided tutorials aren’t very good, you can often find more in depth tutorials on YouTube, or with a simple Google search.
4) Make Friends With Customer Service
The one challenge to online tutorials is that you can’t easily ask questions. What if you don’t understand exactly what the video is saying, or you have a unique situation not covered under the material?
This is the time to put those friendly customer service representatives to work. After the tutorial video is over, most tools will have a chat button which connects you to customer service. Refer to your list of questions and work with your representative either over chat or by phone to walk through your issues one by one. If you’re friendly and informed, most will be more than happy to help you with any questions you may have about the tool.
5) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Your Client
When on-boarding a new client to your roster, there will be a lot to learn. New vocabulary words, new writing style, new schedules. Some of these questions can only be answered by your client directly. But if your new clients are anything like mine, they’re busy. This is the prime time to use your questions list to its fullest.
Instead of peppering your client with a new question every hour, keep adding new questions to your list. When you have a solid list of questions and you can’t move forward any longer, it is time to ask for a meeting. Your prepared list will help you run a short and efficient discussion.
Your clients will appreciate you are proactively keeping yourself up to speed and the way you respect their time while doing so.
You may not be sitting in a physical office, but if you look around, you do have an “office” of knowledge out there ready to help you learn what you need to succeed in your virtual work.