The world is getting used to hybrid working. For most workers, the past 18 months of working primarily from home have been a big adjustment, and the return to the office will pose its own challenges.
For many graduates, however, hybrid working is likely to continue as a core part of how they work. So how can the class of 2021 put their best foot forward?
It can feel daunting for new graduates, but María Belizón, assistant professor of human-resource management in the UCD College of Business and a founder of HR Analytics Ireland, a knowledge-sharing platform for HR professionals, says that they have an advantage in the world of hybrid work.
“Graduates have had to be resilient and adaptable in the face of a sudden switch to online-only learning since March 2020,” Belizón says. “They have developed more skills than other cohorts and are mindful of interacting with people online. I think, on the whole, they have experienced more of the life they will face in the workforce, so it is a good training ground.”
Jane Lorigan is chief executive at Saongroup, which runs IrishJobs.ie. "I don't think that everyone will be entirely remote, because a lot of companies have realised that relationships and building a culture can be harder if colleagues don't meet face to face. Graduates benefit and learn from the informal conversations that happen in the moment or if someone sees or hears your work and can advise you on better approaches. Constant, in-the-moment learning doesn't happen as well remotely, and the conversations on the way back from the meeting can be as important as those that happen in the meeting itself."
Belizón agrees that students will have missed out “the coffees, the interaction, and the hands-on onboarding process”. In this context, she says that companies need to ensure that they provide their graduate intake with “frequent and meaningful feedback . . . companies are doing regular engagement surveys”.
But what exactly is “office culture” and how is it defined? And why, for instance, might a science graduate choose to work for one pharma firm over another. “That comes back to where the companies are focusing,” says Lorigan. “This includes their employer brand and the sort of employer they are and aspire to be – this is important for them to find [their candidate].”
“The other negative for graduates may be visibility: when managers see you getting involved in the office, it can help with promotion. I advise graduates to try and meet for coffee or face-to-face team meetings.”
Graduates also may have hesitations about working from home because, being younger and unable to afford to buy a home (or indeed, to afford or even find a place to rent), they are unlikely to have a dedicated home office and may be trying to do their job from the bedroom. This can impact on wellbeing, Belizón says.
“You can always look for a work space elsewhere, such as a library, a work hub or a coffee shop. And while everyone is free to organise themselves, companies should be able to provide support with equipment or office furniture – particularly as it saves them money when you work from home.”
There is a knack to settling in well, says Lorigan. “We looked at this from the point of view of graduates who didn’t have the experience of a physical office. First, they should focus on being responsive: if in the office and asked and question, you can answer immediately, but if you’re out of sight and asked that question, it is easier to dodge. It is important to get a reputation for being responsive. This doesn’t mean you have to drop everything immediately; it’s about acknowledging that you have been asked and either answering straight away or giving a timeline as to when you can answer. It all comes back to communication.
“Secondly, we see this a lot on video calls: people leaving their camera off or going on mute and we’re not sure if they are there or not. They may be physically attending but not contributing. Be attentive and contribute to the meeting.
“And third, if you can arrive to the physical or virtual meeting to have some of the chitchat beforehand, this will stand to you.”
While this will help graduates, it’s also really important for companies to have a clear onboarding process.
“This is as important for graduates as any new start,” says Lorigan. “Any new person who joins us will have a week of onboarding which includes an introduction to our company, how it works and what our products are. It is about respect, making sure people feel valued and comfortable. While you might not remember everyone, they will recognise you so if you come to ask them something, they will know that you are the new person. It’s also about checking in and not just assuming that the [new hire] has had an indiction but also regularly checking in until they are fully settled, having a clear understanding of what is expected of them and helping them find a career path in the organisation.”
Graduates should take ownership of the process, Belizón advises. “Can you ask a senior colleague to be a mentor or buddy in your journey over the next few years? Of our graduates, those who take the initiative to engage are those who have thrived.”
How to switch on – and switch off
Bedrooms can feel like a place of rest – or a prison. Over the past year, thousands of people without the space for a dedicated home office have woken up in the morning, rolled out of bed and over to the bedroom desk, worked all day, then used their computer to stream TV and then gone to sleep in the same room.
If this sounds unhealthy, it’s because it is – but not everyone has had the luxury of choice.
Career psychologist Sinéad Brady has compiled a set of online resources to help people find a better work-life balance in the age of hybrid working, which will soon be available on her website, sineadbrady.org.
“There’s an idealised image of everyone having a separate work space but many people – particularly graduates – are working from the kitchen or bedroom,” Brady says. “We work in a cognitive environment – that is, we work from our heads. It is challenging to feel you have time off when sitting at a computer, unless you create bridges to help you transition from one space to another.”
Sinéad Brady’s top tips include:
* Moving from one space to another. “When you’re transitioning to non-work activities, put away the computer or laptop. Physically shut it down and put it out of sight.”
* If you have two devices – one for work and one for life/streaming – that is ideal. If not, create two separate profiles to log on to – for instance: “Peter work” and “Peter life”.
* Every morning, take 10 minutes to walk out of the house, get a tea or coffee and perhaps catch up on the news, but don’t just go straight from bed to work. In the evening, again leave the house to mentally break away from being at work, perhaps reading a chapter of your book or listening to a podcast. It’s all about making your mind and body feel that, despite living and working in the same space, they are two separate experiences that don’t bleed into one another.
* If you have a coffee cup that you use for work, keep it separate from your other cups. Again, this is all about creating psychological bridges to tell your mind that you are moving from one state to another.
* If you’re not a morning person, give yourself permission to start the day with lower effort and be a bit slower until you reach the part of the day you excel in.
* Work on a 90-minute focus. Don’t sit down from 9am-1pm and not leave the desk, because your body needs routine movement to help you be more productive. Move your body for 15 minutes at the end of every 90-minute work session.
* For those 90 minutes, do try to stay focused on a particular task. Stay off social media and email. Write your focus word down on a Post-It note so, every time you feel drawn away from the task at hand, touch that Post-It.
* After 90 minutes, leave the space whether or not your task is finished. Move, get some coffee, step outside. Social media may not be the best use of your break.