Moving from a small office to a very, very big one. Tips?
February 12, 2013 9:08 AM   Subscribe

What should I know before starting my first job at a large, corporate company that I may not be prepared for coming from a tiny, flexible office environment?

Following on some of my previous work related questions on here, I took some people's advice to pursue a higher paying position with a larger (and very corporate) company. I start next week. Hooray!

I'm very excited, but also want to make sure I get off on the right foot. I am used to working in a very small, very flexible environment for the past 4 years, where about 90% of my time was actually focused on getting tasks done directly. No bureaucracy, very few meetings, very direct ways to approach colleagues and clients, all quite self-directed. Office politics were non-existent.

I know from my interview process with the new company and my own research that a lot more of my day will be spent in meetings with various team members, and my actual work will need to get done in the mornings or possibly brought home with me at night. That is one big adjustment. What are some others I may not be thinking of?

I've read things on career sites about pros and cons of big companies vs. small, but I found most of the insights to be on the general and vague side.

Anything you wish you knew before joining a large company/office? Particularly on making a good start? Avoiding or navigating office politics? Not getting lost? Anything small or big you can think of would be helpful, the more specific the better. Thanks!
posted by the foreground to Work & Money (28 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Don't take work home! If you need to, block out time in Outlook so that you can get work done and not have people schedule meetings during that time. Don't do it all the time but in meeting intensive companies you have to set aside time to actually do the work that gets assigned/discussed in meetings.

Be cooperative and collaborative. Office politics vary enormously. Don't get drawn into office gossip but always pay attention to it. The issues, personalities, power people, slackers, idiots, empty promisers, allies, etc. will reveal themselves.
posted by shoesietart at 9:20 AM on February 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

"Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." [though ignorance is more often the case than outright stupidity]
posted by DigDoug at 9:21 AM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

A lot of people won't take lunch breaks -- they'll eat at their desks while doing work. But actually, they probably spend at least an hour on personal stuff (e.g. watching YouTube videos) per day, so it evens out.
posted by cranberry_nut at 9:21 AM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Draw a line in the sand w/r/t work-life balance from Day One. Many people, starting a new job, will work super-extra hard to impress and then suddenly you're that employee who is now expected to work until 9 P.M. or take work home every night.
posted by griphus at 9:24 AM on February 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Start keeping notes on what you talked about with colleagues/bosses in meetings, phone calls, or the quick convo in the hallway, especially as it pertains to you and getting your work done. At my old company, we called this a CYA (Cover Your Ass) document, but you hopefully aren't that cynical yet.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:26 AM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

You will likely lose some flexibility because larger corporations tend to stick to HR policies to be "fair" to everyone. Mine is very strict on PTO usage, coming in late/leaving early, dress codes etc.
posted by maxg94 at 9:37 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

There will be a process for everything. I mean everything. This can be annoying if you're used to flexibility, but in a big company it's necessary - to ensure that things are done the 'right' way, to record data accurately, all that kind of thing.
posted by essexjan at 9:37 AM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Learn how to use the phones. Nothing quite like accidentally hanging up on a client when you're trying to put them through to another department, or finding out that you have dozens of messages on an answer machine you didn't know you had.
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:38 AM on February 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

There will be many hoops you need to jump through to get mundane things done. One thing you'll notice is you probably won't have admin rights to your computer-if you need something installed you can't just go out to the internet and grab it yourself. Learn who in your area knows how to get things done and be nice to them.

Also, don't get frustrated at the pace-big companies move really slowly. Everyone knows it, everyone hates it, but it's not gonna change so learn to roll with it and don't let it get to you.

Big companies aren't inherently horrible-but they do take some acclimatization. Don't get frustrated after a month-it takes a while to find the rhythm of a big company.
posted by pdb at 9:46 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't hesitate to speak up in meetings, but prioritize teamwork over promoting your own insights (even when you are sure you're right). It is my experience is that good ideas often get watered down or corrupted the more people touch them, but if it's the corporate culture to do things by consensus, go with the flow.

and my actual work will need to get done in the mornings or possibly brought home with me at night

This is super concerning. Big corporations usually at least give lip service to work/life balance. If this is really their expectation, I hope you are being compensated very, very well.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:49 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In a bigger office, you will be ruled by your calendar. This can be used to your advantage. I mark off at least an hour or two for "work time" in my calendar every single day, so that I can't get swept into meetings when I need to work because I had openings.
posted by xingcat at 9:49 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've done this - went from a small company of about 40 people total to a team of 100+ in a building of 2000, on a campus of 3 buildings, which was one of 7 or 8 campus across the country. It was a culture shock, to say the least.

What everyone has said about your calendar is correct. Try to block out time to get your work done - no one will know if you do extra work at home, so there's no recognition there. The question is whether you got the work done at all. There may be times when you really do need to put in extra hours, but if you make sure you have time during work hours to do your work, it should minimize it.

Make friends with someone in a similar role who has been there a while. In my part of the cube farm, we had 3 other analysts and a developer. We used to go out for a walk at lunch and solve the world's problems / complain about our projects / talk about tv,film, etc. It's been 5 years and some of us still get out when we can.

Recognize that you don't know everything there. And if you don't know how to do something, ask. Trust me, this was my failing point for a while.
posted by neilbert at 9:59 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Show up EARLY for the first three months. After a while, you can just roll on the fumes of your good reputation. And it's so much easier to get work done when there's no one else there.
posted by mochapickle at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Keep all work-related emails (and keep them in a way so they are easily searchable). I know this is hard for minimal inbox email type people. But I can site numerous moments where I was able to retrieve a 3 year old email which either covered my ass, or illuminated some current problem.
posted by kimdog at 10:15 AM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

In a small company it is acceptable and necessary for everyone to be accountable to each other and to collaborate on an as-needed basis. In larger companies you need to be a little wary of giving your time or imposing on someone else's time because it can ruffle the feathers of managers up the line. There are big companies that sill have a very collaborative environment but until you know the personalities assume that you work only in your immediate group, not for the whole company.
posted by dgran at 10:15 AM on February 12, 2013

In big organizations, the support staff tend to wag the dog, especially IT staff. You may be shocked by seemingly irrational difficulties getting help or permission for anything more complicated than checking email. You may find office staff vetoing things that you're not accustomed to having vetoed. Don't be discouraged! Try to form relationships and avoid burning bridges while you become accustomed to the unfamiliar balance of power. Learn the process, and then learn how much you can bend the process before it breaks.
posted by mindsound at 10:17 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In any bureaucracy, there are a handful of people who can get your stuff done and move things along. For example, at a big company I worked at, sending anything to Legal might be a month-long ordeal...unless you knew which Legal Assistant to bug and which treats to give them and didn't lean on it too much, then you'd miraculously get things done in a few days. Find those people and cultivate them as friends and allies. They're usually low-paid and treated like dirt so some basic human courtesy in dealing with them will reap you tremendous dividends.

Things are going to be done a certain way. In a small company, you can say "Why don't we do it this different, better way?", make a case for it, and probably do it that way. In a big company, that's making trouble because you're not only fighting institutional inertia, there's tons of people invested in the existing process (even if it's stupid) that probably don't want to change it.

And sometimes it's there for political reasons. My approval process for sending things out at one place I worked required literally 20 signoffs all the way up to the CEO. And it was stupid. However, all of those people had a tendency to "forget" they approved something and came roaring into our department to pitch a fit every time there was something they didn't like in said things, so we put that process in place just so we could say "But I have your approval on this."

In a small company, you can probably just walk up to the guy you need to do something and have him do it. In a big company, that's going to ruffle feathers and cause political drama. There's a chain of command in place and you'll need to figure out how to make it work for you.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:19 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

There will be company events and you'll attend them. Cocktails will be served. Many people will act like they're on spring break.

Show up, and have a drink. Leave early, before you are drunk and before anyone else gets drunk.

Not showing up is frowned upon, but don't get a reputation for doing tequila shots off the ice sculpture.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:20 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

In any bureaucracy, there are a handful of people who can get your stuff done and move things along.

Oh, god, yes, this. I completely forgot about this. If you know someone who can fast-track stuff or has the ear of someone who can, they are your new work buddy. Also, cultivate a good relationship with the executive assistants. They know the score and can get you information a lot faster than official channels.
posted by griphus at 10:30 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In a small company, you can say "Why don't we do it this different, better way?", make a case for it, and probably do it that way. In a big company, that's making trouble because you're not only fighting institutional inertia, there's tons of people invested in the existing process (even if it's stupid) that probably don't want to change it.

This, quoted for truth. This is especially true while you're still new (like, within your first year even, if most of your coworkers have been there for many years). It's really easy when you start a new job to see tons of ways that processes could be more efficient or more useful or less frustrating or whatever. Some of this is because of your outside perspective and fresh eyes; some of this is because you don't know enough about the company yet to understand the hurdles to changing the current process. But there are going to be TONS of annoying and potentially fixable things at a big company compared to a tiny company. And there will be almost no flexibility to actually change them, compared to the easy changes you can make in a company of 4 people.

You'll probably be tempted to suggest changes early on, thinking it will make you look like a go-getter with valuable fresh insight, but honestly it will just annoy the people who have been there for a long time. Either your idea would actually make things worse and you'll be the only one who can't see it, or it would make things better but getting it started is a ton of extra work for people you're supposed to be making friends with, or maybe it'll be an easy and effective change that somebody who's been there 10 years will look bad for not thinking of sooner. In a big company, there are a lot more people to piss off, and there's a lot more generalized work frustration floating around that could get focused on the new person. So while you're the new person, pay lots of attention, do your best not to get frustrated by the slow and lumbering nature of change, and wait to suggest changes until way longer than you think you should.
posted by vytae at 10:31 AM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you are a minimal inbox person, steal my approach. Two folders: Inbox and No Response. Outlook will find anything.

Learn the document retention policies. Found out the hard way that IT doesn't save the emails of former employees unless specifically asked. And when we switched to the cloud, they were auto-deleting all emails older than a year to save server space.

Get used to that CC line in your email. It should include not just the folks directly involved in the project, but also your manager, and possibly his manager if it's a big deal.

Likewise, if you've got people below you, expect a huge flood of email only tangentially related to something you care about.
posted by politikitty at 10:32 AM on February 12, 2013

Best answer: Know who your boss is. Who can fire you, task you, excuse you from other people's taskings, approve a sick day, let you go home early, promote you, etc. etc. etc. It will likely not be the same person for everything. That's okay, but know who it is. You will probably have a day-to-day "manager" or whatever. Get clearance from that person on everything until he or she tells you to stop. Conversely, if anyone works for you, have them cc you on everything and meet with you every day until you have a good grasp on what they're doing. Micromanagement? Yep. But some people need to be micromanaged, and it is a lot easier to start that way and slack off after a few weeks than to start slack and tighten up.

Approval is not always the end. Your boss may be able to approve things, but you may still need to make sure they get done (particularly administrative things, like making sure your PTO is accounted for).

Know who can say "No." Both formally and informally, be aware of who can actually stop something. As mindsound points out, there's a lot of dog-wagging in large organizations, but a lot of that is just because people have let it happen, and when you actually push, you find that, for instance, IT doesn't get to decide whether you get your own printer, they just think they do.

Precedent is incredibly important, for good or for ill. Several people have said it, but I'll repeat it, because its importance can scarcely be overstated. Inertia is a principle of physics, and it applies to large organizations just as much as it applies to large bodies.

Take your own time. Figure out the rules -- official and otherwise -- for things like running errands at lunch or reading MetaFilter at work.

Start early, start hard, start fast, start well. Your first two weeks will determine who you are for 80 percent of the people you work with.
posted by Etrigan at 11:18 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just started my first job in a large corporate company (and have worked in small offices although in a different field) and things I have noticed are:

- a lot more conformity, leading me to feel that I must conform
- people are much quieter/private and less willing to talk about personal things
- it takes a LOT longer to learn the politics

posted by kitcat at 11:22 AM on February 12, 2013

Best answer: In small companies, the focus is on getting things done.
In big companies, it is on doing them "the right way."

"The right way" might be inefficient or not make sense to you or might be actively wrong for some purposes, but you gotta do it. Trust that the policies and procedures were put there at some point for a good reason and follow them.
Many times, you'll get more insight and the irrationality that you originally perceived will disappear as months pass.
Once you are more valued and trusted after having spent 6 months of good service there, you can question procedure and suggest changes.

Another practical application of this is asking questions even when you think you probably know the answer.
Do you know how to answer a phone? Duh, of course. But actually, maybe not. Ask your manager if the company has policies about what to say.
Do you know how to mail something? Because you might have to fill out 2 forms and get approval on that. Or you might have to set up your own corporate FedEx account. Or you might have to take the address and the uncovered docs on a sticky note down to the mail office.
The Boss asks you for a draft of something. Do you have a model for that or a sample doc? Are there filing or emailing conventions you need to know?
etc etc etc

Don't let that stuff make you feel stupid. Smart, engaged people ask questions.
And if the answer ends up being "you pick up the phone and say hello?" then you just smile and say "Ok thanks! Sometimes there's more of a special procedure for these things so I just wanted to check."
You will be appreciated for thinking to ask instead of assuming you know.
posted by rmless at 11:57 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, great answers. Please keep them coming if you think of more.
posted by the foreground at 12:50 PM on February 12, 2013

Be straightforward with teammates and supervisors about their preferences. I just made a similar transition, and during my first week, I asked a lot of questions like the following, and it's made things much smoother:

"For quick questions, do you prefer I contact you via phone, or email, or just drop by?"
"If I'm supposed to be meeting with you and your door is closed, would you prefer if I knock, wait, call you, etc?"
"Do you have a conference room that you prefer to meet in when I schedule things?"
"If I have questions about something you mention in a meeting, would you prefer I bring them up in the moment, or save them til our next check-in?"

I also learned my own preferences pretty quickly and shared them with my team. For example, I work with my door open, but headphones on most of the day. Anyone can drop in any time. But if my door is shut, that means I'm really trying to focus and don't want to be distracted unless it's an emergency. I also prefer email to phone for anything more than quick questions so I have it written down and can refer back to what we'd been discussing.
posted by JannaK at 3:45 PM on February 12, 2013

You will likely lose some flexibility because larger corporations tend to stick to HR policies to be "fair" to everyone. Mine is very strict on PTO usage, coming in late/leaving early, dress codes etc.

Ohhhh yeah. Depends on how much your supervisor nitpicks this sort of thing, though. Some will give more leeway and some won't. But in general, your 15-minute break BETTER BE FIFTEEN MINUTES, you better get back in an hour after lunch (though it sounds like your job is probably the kind where everyone works at their desk while they eat), you have to account for being out for any reason between 8-5. God forbid you arrive at 8:01 or leave at 4:57 in some places. Don't expect to easily take care of daytime appointments or leave to pick up a sick kid without some complications.

And yet, every single supervisor I have had does not get into work before 8:15, ever. Manager's privilege. You just have to deal with that.

I do think this sounds already like one of those jobs where you're not allowed to have a life outside of work, though. If you're already being told you have to be in meetings all day every day and do your work at home...I'd watch out for that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:15 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

my actual work will need to get done in the mornings or possibly brought home with me at night

This is a giant red flag. Honestly, I would spend a little time every day thinking "how will today get me my next job / make my resume better?"

Not that you need to leave soon - you may be there for a decade or more. But corporations, especially large ones, are very good at looking out for #1. #1 is the owners, not you. So as you work, think about how the work you are doing will benefit you. Because every task you do that does not benefit you means you're enriching others, rather than enriching yourself and others, which should be the point of gainful employment.

If you are being sucked into too many team meetings and it's preventing you from taking part in forward-looking, exciting projects, then find a way to ditch those meetings and get involved in the projects that engage you. Find a way to expand your skill set and learn interesting, useful things that make you useful to your current employer and future employers. "Diligently attends staff meetings" is not a skill, it's a confession. Seek out ways to add things like "Deployed new corporate intranet," "Lead transition to new reporting infrastructure," and "led efficiency initiative that saved 20% on " to the list of things you've done.

Not because you might leave soon, but because big things like that are much more likely to get you recognition from this big company than attending meetings and writing reports. You have to do the process things - we all do - but make sure your focus is on the big things. It's easy to say "they expect me to do this BS task, so I'll do this instead of something big and interesting." But that's the road to becoming redundant. You have to follow process - they often exist for a reason, and even if they don't not following process results in chaos and broken things. But also dedicate more time to yourself and your skills than to process.

Similarly, as others have said, carve out sacrosanct personal time. You can't be effective at work if you haven't rested. Don't spend all day doing rote BS and then take the interesting work home. If you have to take anything home, take the status reports home and endeavor to finish each one in under 10 minutes.

Finally, I'll be frank: them letting you know that you are expected to take work home is unusual; most companies at least have the good sense to lie to you about work/life balance. This may be them stating "we own you, and we know it." So don't hesitate to run for the hills if you feel like it after you've settled in (say, after 1 year or so).

Dot your i's and cross your t's, don't calligraph them.

posted by Tehhund at 8:26 PM on February 12, 2013

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