New Guys- An Orientation For Offshore Colleagues

By Lizzie Widdicombe, New Yorker

It’s tough being the new guy at work. There are protocols to master, computer programs to navigate, desk locations to commit to memory. Then there are the social perils, best encapsulated by an old Onion headline: “INTERN STRIKES UP FRIENDSHIP WITH LEAST-RESPECTED EMPLOYEE.”When Tolu Komolafe and Jesmine Omonori, both twenty-five, started working for Everplans, a tech startup in the Flatiron district, earlier this year, they faced the additional complication of living five thousand miles away, in Lagos, Nigeria. Everplans is a digital platform for end-of-life planning. Komolafe and Omonori had been hired as programmers through Andela, an organization that pays talented Nigerians to learn computer programming, then puts them to work, remotely, for international companies. Unlike most offshore firms, Andela encourages its people to forge close relationships with their new colleagues. Because Komolafe and Omonori couldn’t meet the Americans in person, Komolafe said, “we went online and read everything about them.” They hit Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. For months, they lived, virtually, in the Everplans office: joining meetings via teleconference, hanging out in Slack chat rooms, even contributing the occasional office in-joke—such as when Komolafe circulated a video of Omonori moonwalking.The extra effort helped. “The video of Jesmine dancing is amazing!” Bernie Kravitz, the company’s V.P. of technology, said the other day, in Everplans’ Manhattan office. Abby Schneiderman, a co-C.E.O., added, “We consider them part of the team.” The office has the kindergartenish look of many tech startups: whiteboard walls covered with scribbled code, a conference table piled with Legos.After months of working remotely, Komolafe and Omonori had just been flown in for an orientation. Neither had left Nigeria before. Komolafe is petite and peppy. She had her hair in long braids, and she wore a pink polo shirt and little diamond hoop earrings. Omonori is more reserved. He wore an orange T-shirt that said “Head to Toe Rock n Roll.” They said that their favorite thing about New York was the variety of food. The night before, they’d joined colleagues for happy hour at Rosa Mexicano, where they ordered virgin mango margaritas. Komolafe said, “We actually loved guacamole!”At around 10:30 A.M., Komolafe and Omonori aced their first hurdle: the daily “standup” meeting, which the tech team conduct on their feet, to keep it speedy. (Komolafe demonstrated a flair for office-speak by announcing that she was done—“but not done done”—with an assignment.)At eleven, it was time for the “new guy” orientation, an office tradition. Adam Seifer, the other co-C.E.O., explained, “When you start at the company, you’re the new guy.” In the orientation ceremony, the previous new guy meets the new new guy and teaches him or her the ropes. The tech team filed out, and Everplans’ less-new guys—Matt Kempin, Justin Valle, Scott Schmugar, and Peter Bogart Johnson—filed in.“How are you guys liking it so far?” Schmugar asked.“We’re so excited,” Omonori said. “I couldn’t sleep yesterday.”Schmugar opened a black binder called the “new guy Bible.” First order of business: bathrooms. “We’re responsible for the whole floor,” he said. “If anything’s out, check under the sink for more toilet paper. Don’t leave anyone hanging.”Next, the whiteboards. “You can write on any of the walls,” he said. “If you want to save what you wrote, take a picture.”Komolafe pointed to a regular wall that was not covered with whiteboard paint. “Can I write on this wall that’s white?”“No.”Bogart Johnson took the binder. “We have four printers in the office,” he said. “Two are color, two are black-and-white.” He flipped back to the bathroom page. “In the men’s room, there is a butt-washer that was introduced by Ammon”—a member of the product team—“fairly recently. It is exactly what it sounds like.” Omonori grinned.Next came notes about coffee—“There’s a special coffeemaker called an AeroPress,” Bogart Johnson said. “Bernie and I know how to use it”—and snacks. Mondays are “bagel breakfasts.” Kemper told the new guys about an in-office bar with “a lot of high-end liquor.” They nodded politely.Schmugar brought up local lunch spots. “Where have you gone?” he asked.Komolafe and Omonori looked at each other. “Dig It?” Komolafe said.“Dig Inn. That’s a good spot.”Schmugar said, “Now tell us something people might not know about you. Do you sing, dance?”“I play the snare drum,” Komolafe said.Omonori thought for a minute, then said, “In high school, my tuition was less than eight dollars for one year.” He added that he’d represented his school at the state Math Olympiad. The less-new guys seemed intimidated.Omonori offered another fun fact. “I did standup comedy in college,” he said, adding modestly, “I don’t think I’m that funny anymore.”Komolafe assured him: “You’re not funny.”This seemed to satisfy the old new guys. They packed up the binder, and everyone went to lunch. ♦

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