Did we forget to give young people a manual on remote work for their first job?

Working in an office or on a construction site was the norm before Covid. This is how you most likely started your first job.

Perhaps you were feeling a bit uncomfortable and unsure how to fit into the work culture? Perhaps you didn’t know who to ask for help and how to speak appropriately? However, over time you got a feel for how things worked and who to talk to in the company to ask questions and get the right information.

Now imagine being catapulted into the workforce as a new hire during these extraordinary times when many workers are starting their first job remotely.

How would you understand working life and work culture if you have never set foot in a workplace?

interpersonal challenges

It’s a challenge for people in their first jobs who have to work remotely to stay motivated, especially when they have infrequent meetings and calls from their employer. Your bosses and co-workers just aren’t “on call” like they are in a face-to-face workplace. These new hires will take more effort and time to find the information they need to do their jobs.

Many company policies, procedures, and onboarding programs provide guidance but have gaps in workplace culture insights. New hires working remotely may be overwhelmed and have many questions. But feel free to ask them, because you think they should work things out themselves and not draw attention to themselves by asking questions.

Check in on different channels

Managers should consider checking in with new remote employees on a daily basis. An avalanche of notifications and tasks throughout the day doesn’t necessarily make a new hire feel like part of a work community. Consider confusing your contact with email, phone calls, video conferencing, or reaching out through online collaboration portals. Encourage questioning and, as teachers say, celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities. A “virtual buddy” can help support your employees on a more informal level. Apart from the virtual coaching which I talk about below. Provide details of potential career paths and milestones. Think of it as the light at the end of the tunnel.

And if there is an opportunity for your less experienced employees to work part-time in the office or on the construction site, make it happen. A PwC study found that more than a third of workers aged 18 to 24 prefer to work remotely for just up to one day a week. In comparison, only a fifth of the other respondents. That’s great for onboarding and relationship building, but you need more experienced teams there to trickle down the company knowledge.

To make it work

Emily has started her first job as an IT apprentice during the pandemic for an international horticulture company. She managed to spend a few days in the office before it was temporarily closed due to Covid-19. In her early days at the company, she shadowed her mentor online. She listened to his calls and watched team meetings to learn how to troubleshoot IT issues.

However, Emily found it daunting at first, says Emily. “I was afraid of doing something wrong or deleting an entire file from the company. But my team is a great support. If I have questions, there is always someone I can contact remotely.”

Within four months she was working alone, with more confidence and well advanced in process driven work, speaking with employees to solve their IT problems. Emily thrives in her role due to the support of her manager and team, her ongoing IT studies and her motivation to keep learning.

But the experience of those working remotely for their first job may not match their success.

perception and well-being

Research into teleworking during Covid-19 found that teleworking had differential effects on employee work performance and job satisfaction, as well as physical and mental well-being.

The researchers, whose work was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that remote worker cognition and well-being was associated with:

  • The plans of their organizations
  • how they were implemented
  • To the extent that they were, they were accepted
  • isolation caused by remote work, and
  • Conflicts with family responsibilities and work of employees.

And the cohorts that performed best? These were employees with previous experience and therefore competence in remote work. Apparently, the people who got their first full-time job didn’t fall into that category.

Here are the researchers’ suggestions for making remote work less stressful for new hires:

  • train Everyone Employees in collaboration tools
  • Cover communication etiquette with colleagues and supervisors
  • Train employees to access and use databases to manage their jobs and solve basic IT problems
  • Engage your experienced remote workers to help develop and review remote work programs
  • Think of such employees as your “change agents” mentoring and coaching employees who are new to remote work and
  • Engage with other organizations in your network or industry to pool best practices for managing remote work.

As far as mentoring is concerned, there is a trend that is becoming virtual and being maintained even when employees return to face-to-face work. Virtual mentoring can make workers feel valued, validated and empowered to achieve “excellence,” say Shana Yarberry of the University of Arkansas and Cynthia Sims of the College of DuPage in Illinois. They suggest bringing such programs to life with learning communities, communities of practice, and human resource groups. All of this happens remotely.

Also, be more explicit in promoting soft skills in your new hires. You need human contact to develop these skills effectively. Also, consider a rewards and recognition program for remote workers who demonstrate ownership and creativity.

There is also an opportunity to give a new hire some early achievements to build trust. Have them chair a meeting together or present a topic that would be beneficial to the company. This would help build trust and create credibility among peers.

They will be the ones to help you rewrite the manual for your future new employees who will be working remotely. Take the ’embarrassment’ out of the situation and draw on two years of working with Covid-19 to welcome your new hires, no matter where they work from.

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