Businesses around the world are in the middle of a massive work-from-home experiment. So far, the results have been promising: Virtual offices have helped create a more efficient work force while requiring less office space and no commute. They’re also encouraging more creative ways to connect people together.
But the shift may be jarring for this summer’s interns and new grads, who will be the first cohort to enter the work force fully remotely.
Although it’s understandable that there may be some initial feelings of disappointment for students who were expecting a typical office and team, this is a massive opportunity for them to gain new skills and support a company during a time of accelerated innovation.
What companies can do
Many businesses would do well to communicate to new and old employees alike that we are all in this together.
“This remote work style is our normal now and it will likely continue into the future,” says Jennifer Carpenter, vice-president of talent acquisition at IBM. “Interns are getting this really unique preview into what the future of work will likely be for many, even when we get through recovery.”
Ms. Carpenter says IBM is moving to ensure the social aspect of internships doesn’t get lost in the virtual world, by matching students for coffee chats, holding virtual events with executives and even asking students to host their own radio hour on the company’s radio platform.
Companies can also make an effort to foster community by encouraging their staff to connect regularly through platforms such as Slack, or even sending care packages to employees. Above all, come up with fun, institutional activities that replicate some of the sense of belonging and camaraderie employees would feel if they ran into each other in the hallway or the office kitchen.
What interns can do
The onus isn’t just on company leaders. Students and recent grads entering the work force have an opportunity to shape what working will look like in the next few years. Their experience will become the history book for this new world of work.
It’s a generation that already knows how to connect online, and companies will be looking to its members to come up with innovative ways to enhance connectivity, digital-first development and cross-team knowledge sharing.
“We’re going to be asking them to help us,” Ms. Carpenter says. “These are the problems that we are wrestling with right now, so what better way than to crowdsource solutions from those that are coming in.”
They’ll still need to remember the basics of networking – such as being professional, taking web calls as seriously as regular ones and being prepared for informal meetings with executives or mentors. The goal is still to find ways to add value and be seen.
But they will also immediately have something in common with every new person they meet through this pandemic, and they will have an opportunity to be part of the solution.
What managers can do
Connectivity and belonging are key for people’s productivity and happiness at work.
But now that there are no “water cooler” moments, managers need to be deliberate about creating social collisions for their employees digitally. How can they help replace what might have happened in the elevator, at a networking event or in their open concept office?
If helping individual teams stay connected isn’t handled properly, it will be the biggest Achilles heel of this entire transformation.
The challenges this pandemic has created for workplaces cannot be overstated. But they are ones employers and employees can (and should) tackle together, because this new way of working is not going to go away. The COVID-19 crisis may have gotten us to a world of remote work faster than anticipated, but we were headed in that direction already.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the crucial role relationships and connectivity play in making employees happier, more productive and helping them move up in their careers.
From now on, those connections will just have to be fostered in different ways.
Dave Wilkin is the CEO of Ten Thousand Coffees, a global enterprise talent development technology company.
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