Making an office of a makeshift desk at home

How graduates experienced the transition to remote working in the midst of a pandemic

Like so many other office-based workers, graduates typically traded the open plan office for a makeshift desk at home.

Like so many other office-based workers, graduates typically traded the open plan office for a makeshift desk at home.

 

When Covid-19 hit last year the world of work experienced wholesale disruption resulting in far-reaching change for businesses and organisations across almost all sectors of society.

While remote working was already on the increase before the pandemic, Covid-19’s arrival greatly accelerated this trend. The education sector and non-essential businesses had to close their doors to the public in the space of just a few weeks while society was forced to quickly adapt to new ways of working and communicating.

This transition presented significant challenges in the world of work, not least for graduates who, in many cases, had to familiarise themselves with starting a new job while isolated from the rest of the workforce.

It meant an end to valuable networking opportunities. Connecting with colleagues face-to-face was no longer feasible. Nor were water cooler chats or drinks after work. Instead, like so many other office-based workers, graduates typically traded the open plan office for a makeshift desk at home.

So how did they cope with new blended working arrangements?

To get a broader perspective on what it was like to transition from student life to working life under these unusual circumstances we spoke with three graduates who each began their placement during the pandemic.

Together, they shared their own individual experience on making friends, learning on the job and striving to achieve a life-work balance.

While remote working allows for greater flexibility and can contribute to more productivity, it also comes at the expense of social contact with colleagues.

This can prove challenging at times, but can be more pronounced for younger workers and graduates especially when the downsides can include workplace disconnect, less one-on-one time with a manager or colleagues and the dangers associated with overworking.

Ciara Folan, who works for Deloitte in the Financial Services Audit department, already knew some of her colleagues before she started her graduate programme. Her company organised coffee breaks for 15 minutes on a Friday morning and used breakout rooms on video-conferencing platform Zoom during her induction.

“It was really good for getting to know people and gaining more insight into everyone’s different roles within the company,” she said.

Kendall Rice
Kendall Rice

Before she started in her role, Kendall Rice, who works for An Post as a quality management project executive, did not have the same community base to call upon. Originally from Texas, Kendall felt the effects of not being able to meet with people in an office environment. She said that even though she is quite introverted, it would be great to get to know work colleagues.

“Coming here from the States you don’t necessarily have this huge network of people. Therefore, it would be nice to make more connections and meet more new people.”

However, Kendall was also very lucky that her company provided an opportunity for graduates to connect with each other virtually, through leadership training that is frequently provided.

She says: “These sessions, teach different skills that would be beneficial in a leadership position. This could be something like working in teams, change management, project management, negotiation skills, and commercial acumen. Skills that will help us be managers that are also leaders.”

Eamonn Brosnan, who achieved a placement in a leading telecommunications company in their Commercial Operations department, hopes the future will be different for graduates. “It’s tough to develop a one-on-one relationship with your team members individually and to try and also develop an outside of work relationship”.

In pre-Covid times, starting a graduate programme meant taking that first step into the working world and showcasing skills and knowledge that were gained at college. Doing this virtually, especially when it’s your first job, can feel intimidating. The question is how do you overcome this?

“Your approach makes a huge difference,” Eamonn says. He admits that there is a lot of learning that has to be done on your own but that everyone he worked with was very supportive and that this is a testament to the culture of the company and the people they hire.

It was the same for Kendall, “There are a lot of virtual calls and people sharing their screens. But usually you are able to do what the other person is teaching you in tandem with your own screen.”

For learning on the job, Kendall’s advice is to always let someone know if you need help. “Your managers are always willing to help you and to answer your questions.”

Ciara Folan
Ciara Folan

Work-life balance
When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of working remotely, the graduates were mostly positive. Although remote working has some clear benefits, each was in agreement on their preference for working from the office. But until that becomes a reality many have introduced rules for themselves to make the best of remote working. and to make sure that they take breaks and can disconnect from work.

“The most important thing you can do for the sake of both your work and your health is take breaks, go for walks and clear your head,” says Ciara. “Get outside no matter what the weather, even when it is raining. After a long day of work this really helps with creating a healthy work-life balance.”

Eamonn Brosnan
Eamonn Brosnan

Eamonn is also a firm believer in getting out when possible and disconnecting from the working day.

“Try and leave your house before you start your day. It’s stimulating to get up and leave your desk.” For him checking work emails after a working day is a no go.

“No one expects you to do this and we all have different ways of working. No one is going to expect you to reply to emails after you have finished work. Be determined to stick to your normal working day because you will burn out if you don’t disconnect when you are finished.”

Kendall was of the same mind, “Make sure you take frequent breaks because it is quite exhausting sitting at your desk all day. It’s important to get out and go for a walk and especially in the morning. It’s also good to get your mind out of the space where you are both working and living. Especially if you are working in your own room, you can end up spending a lot of time in the same place.’

“Definitely don’t be afraid to put in time with people,” says Eamonn. “Everybody was new once and everybody understands the struggle of not being able to pop over to somebody’s desk and say something as simple as, ‘do you have five minutes to help me with something.”

Ciara has similar advice, “Reach out to anyone you can who works with the company, even before you start the work”

She would also suggest a quiz, coffee breaks on a Friday, these provide an opportunity to discuss plans for the weekend and simply have a bit of craic. Again, getting to know people in a different context.

For international students like Kendall, she says it is important to connect with other people in your company and with other international graduates.

The graduates, like most, are looking forward to a return to some sort of normality as society opens up.

‘I really am looking forward to returning to the office to experience the social aspect of it,” says Kendall.

“Ideally, I would prefer mostly working from the office, and maybe one or two days at home.’

Similarly, Ciara is also looking forward to meeting her colleagues.

“Now that offices are reopening I’m really looking forward to going back so I can get to know my fellow graduates and gain that hands on experience that would have been difficult to obtain via Zoom,” she says.

“In an ideal world a three day week in the office would be fantastic.”