At the start of your career? Opt for face-to-face

During the pandemic, remote work has become essential wherever possible. Feared at the beginning by some employees and managers, it now has many champions. In a post-pandemic world, many employees will have the possibility, or even the obligation, to work at home.
This has important implications for the professional progression and network-building of new post-secondary graduates. In-person work offers more chance encounters with colleagues and makes it easier to pick up on company culture and work expectations. These circumstances can greatly contribute to a new employee’s speed of integration and professional success, but also to the pleasure of a job.
Many years ago, an executive whom I had mentored gave me a piece by Ron Robertson, then president of an executive search firm in Ottawa, titled “For a successful job change.” It identified eight rules that, according to Mr. Robertson, allow for a successful job transition.
Nearly 30 years of experience in recruitment, career transition and employment integration confirm to me that this text remains relevant. This is the first of two articles that will look at how, amid the shift to remote work, we can support the successful job transition of recent graduates. In both articles, I will present the strategies that seem relevant to me, and how we can think about them in our current context. These strategies, in addition to facilitating integration, promote access to a feeling of competence – the holy grail of well-being at work.
The essential foundation – developing your internal network
The strategies I will outline below are all based on a common condition: the quality of the relationship with work colleagues.
New graduates cannot rely solely on their own experience or expertise, which is why it is recommended that they quickly develop a network of contacts within their new organization, and not only in their department. Employees need access to resources in all areas of their organization: finance, human resources, information technology, production, operations, content experts, etc.
The challenge is that in the context of remote work, meetings are mainly oriented toward the processes and activities of single departments. When we must validate or obtain information from another unit, we often do not know whom to contact. Often, we are even unaware of the existence of a department or service that has information that could help us.
“New graduates cannot rely solely on their own experience or expertise, which is why it is recommended that they quickly develop a network of contacts …”
In the physical workplace, there are many more opportunities to get to know other employees. Cafeterias, hallway discussions, social or sports activities with colleagues are all situations that allow a new employee to develop a network of contacts, giving access to information that can influence their work. One cannot always call on one’s managers since their workload does not always make them easy to reach. Moreover, as you will see in the proposed strategies, it is useful and sometimes necessary to have access to other resources.
Know the culture and adapt to it
Early career professionals should be aware that in addition to skills, managers will also consider know-how when assigning interesting, important or delicate mandates. This know-how must therefore be compatible with the culture of the organization.
This organizational culture comes from its history, its management style and its employees. For example, what place does the workplace give to humour? To the dress code? What kind of relationship do employees have with their supervisors? What attitude is favoured by colleagues?
Anyone who has experienced virtual meetings on Teams, Zoom and other platforms will tell you that they are much more formal than in-person meetings. We hear fewer jokes and out-of-context remarks. More importantly, when someone disagrees with something in a conference room, even if the person is not speaking, it can be felt in their non-verbal behavior. We can also see it during breaks, talking in the hallway.
A knowing look at a colleague, a smile, a nod of the head and the reaction of the facilitator of the meeting are all elements that allow a new employee to decode the new workplace. Do managers encourage speaking out and brainstorming by inviting staff to express their ideas in front of the group? If so, is the discussion that follows constructive? Or do the managers pretend not to have observed signs of disagreement or questioning?
While working remotely, dissent is expressed in other ways, often by text message or in private conversations. No one will see the private message that someone sends to another meeting participant, like “He really has no idea what we are doing!” During a call, cameras may be turned off; even if they aren’t, it is impossible to detect subtle emotions over a small video thumbnail.
Virtual meetings are generally planned and organized with participants already identified: managers or members of our team or colleagues we are working on a project with, for instance. In person, all these encounters also take place.
However, there are also the most revealing encounters when it comes to culture: impromptu meetings in the cafeteria at lunchtime, those improvised in the hallway, conversations between colleagues that are intercepted because they happen next to us and that we hear, the meeting that we provoke because we want to know what makes our colleague laugh or what upsets him. It is also during these meetings that you get to know the character of your managers and the winning strategies to use to make a request, propose a change or announce bad news, for example.
Remote work necessarily limits the number of contacts with colleagues. So many opportunities to identify colleagues who need help with their work or who give clues to the state of mind of our manager.
In the next article, I will introduce you to other strategies and offer hope to committed remote workers.
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