Starting a new job under the cloud of the 2020 pandemic is inarguably tricky business. Recent hires in the children’s publishing world speak about the challenges of navigating uncharted professional waters: working remotely and learning the ropes of a new position and company from colleagues whom they haven’t yet met in person. Not surprisingly, they have experienced ups and downs as they tackle an unprecedented learning curve.

Connecting from Afar

All but one of the staffers queried report that they were interviewed in person before the Covid-19 work-at-home dictate was issued, yet most worked in their new companies’ offices only briefly—if at all. Natali Cavanaugh, whose mid-March start date as Abrams’s children’s marketing coordinator coincided with that of New York City’s mandated quarantine, worked remotely from the get-go, an experience she deems “not an easy transition. New jobs of any kind have an adjustment period, and like so many others I was feeling even more isolated than usual, physically and emotionally. Getting to know new people is much harder when you don’t run into them in the office kitchen or have a chance to ask about their weekend.”

Cavanaugh also came to a new awareness during the early months of the pandemic. “I never realized how important meeting and being connected with other people of color in publishing was to me until I didn’t have that in person anymore," she explains. "It’s hard not to be with that community right now, especially when so many of my friends are hurting. So, I’m doing what I can, reaching out to people more than usual, trying to give support in the ways I know how, and being more forgiving of myself when it doesn’t feel enough.”

Connecting with colleagues while feeling secluded has also been a challenge for Kristen Nobles, who returned to the workplace after six months at home with her baby when she started her job as art director at Charlesbridge Publishing on March 17—staffers’ final day in the office. “After only one day in a sparsely occupied office, I needed to build working relationships with my fellow designers, editors, and production teammates as we all shifted to work-from-home,” she says. She focused on “connecting on the phone, asking personal and professional questions to get to know each colleague better. About a month into working from home, I was feeling the strain of isolation. I shared with an editor, whom I’ve only worked with remotely, how much I was missing a friend who is fighting cancer in the middle of all this. She listened and sympathized, and I realized I was successfully making deeper connections despite the lack of face-to-face time.”

Making a Double Leap

A pair of recent hires made compound changes in these tumultuous times, accepting jobs that necessitated moves. Ashley Hearn, formerly an editor at Page Street Publishing, relocated from Massachusetts to Atlanta in June to become an acquisitions editor at Peachtree. Hearn says that, having grown up in the Atlanta area, “the burden of double-adjusting has been somewhat eased on me—the move was a homecoming of sorts!”

The professional transition, Hearn says, “has been fairly seamless, because I am still focusing on YA books, as I have for most of my career. So it has just been about taking my knowledge and integrating it with how Peachtree operates.” Working remotely has been a mixed blessing, she says, since “there are some tasks—like submissions reading—I’m actually more efficient at working from home, since I’m not being pulled away by as many day-to-day office tasks. But I thrive on the personal connections I make with people, so overall I like working around other people more than working alone. Hopefully, we’ll all be together soon!”

Maria Correa’s job change entailed a move of greater distance—from London, where she worked at Little Tiger Press, to New York, where she is now an associate editor at Random House Books for Young Readers. She assumed her new position on March 9, four days before the company transitioned to working remotely. Discovering that “everything is a bit less human over email, so it takes longer to build a rapport,” the editor instead began calling colleagues individually or inviting them to virtual meetings, since “even just hearing someone’s voice helps to enhance your mental image of them, to make them less abstract, which in turn makes emails a little less formal, a little less dry.” Though working at home has given her “more time for self-directed research and solo brainstorming,” Correa notes that she is eager to return to the office to strengthen “bonds with my team, all of whom I now feel comfortable with and close to.”

Mastering Distance Learning

For two new employees, the complications of working under Covid-19 restrictions have been amplified by the fact that they began their first publishing jobs from home. Ciera Burch, who joined HMH’s Versify imprint as an editorial assistant in early April, had interned with the company in 2018. “I was lucky enough to have already met a majority of the people I currently work with,” she explains. “That has absolutely been beneficial in terms of forming relationships and reaching out to people for assistance.” Another positive aspect of her current working situation, Burch says, is her discovery that she works more productively alone. “I find I am better able to manage my time when I’m in my own space, and that working from home has also saved me from the slightly awkward welcomes and meetings that always come with starting a new job. Welcome emails worked just as well!”

Also putting a positive spin on the unconventional launch to her publishing career is Tristan Lueck, who became marketing and publicity assistant at Little Bee Books in March. “I had a grand total of one week and four days in the office before Covid-19 caused us to close down,” she recalls. “While I did get to meet my colleagues in person, I didn’t have a chance to get to know them. Since then, over a multitude of team calls, I have formed office friendships with people in other departments, which I’m not sure would have happened if not for the pandemic. Everyone was so willing to help and answer my questions, and that really alleviates some of the stress. Though I had a lot of anxiety those first weeks, now that I’ve found my niche, I feel like I can conquer anything. Personally, I think we should all be able to put Worked through Covid-19 on our résumés!”

Finding Silver Linings

While acknowledging negative aspects of pandemic-dictated work life, children's staffers see bright sides to their new situations, praising their teammates for supporting them from a distance and expressing eagerness to work side by side in safer times ahead. Thandi Jackson, who became a publicity assistant at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in early April, notes that her colleagues “have truly been great making me feel included. When I started, many called me and chatted with me virtually to see how I was doing, which was more appreciated than they will ever know. But I am definitely excited to go to my new company’s office and meet my team face-to-face.”

Liz Kossnar, who joined LBYR in mid-March as senior editor, misses the “casual learning” that is key to discovering the inner workings of a company. “I can’t walk around meeting new people outside of my department, chatting or overhearing conversations to glean insight into the rules written or unwritten,” she says. “But I’ve had plenty of Zoom coffee dates and everyone has been incredibly generous in explaining who’s who and what’s what. I’ve just begun organizing a weekly office video call where coworkers can log on to coexist and feel like we’re together in a workspace. Still, I’m eager to be back in the office to meet everyone in person and go out for coffee and drinks—and see the books. I’d love to close the gap I’m feeling.”

“It’s been really odd getting to know everyone remotely,” says Kathy Wielgosz, four months into her tenure as production editor at Macmillan Children’s Books. “But I’ve really come to value a friendly Google Chat or a virtual meeting that runs a little late because we’re all just talking. Also, my managing ed department has worked hard to revamp our interdepartmental procedures for fully digital workflows, so I actually learned how to do my job from home at the same time that everyone else did, which made my transition a little easier. Though I am thankful that I have the privilege of working from home, there are parts of office life that I really miss, like the sense of community that comes with being next to your coworkers and the structure of a normal workday. As comfy as it is to do my work in pajama pants, I am looking forward to the day that work can safely resume at the office.”