'The day of the water cooler chat is gone'

Tips for remote working: your first day in your new job could be in your own home

It is predicted that almost half of employees could be working remotely at least part-time once the pandemic passes. Here’s what to expect.

1. Be adaptable

The new way of working is very much in its infancy for employers and employees alike and it is important to be adaptable and tolerant of the speed bumps that may be encountered in the coming months.

"Remote working is the big changer at the moment," says National Recruitment Federation director Geraldine King.

“A lot of companies have been catapulted into this and have had to move quickly to keep the business up and running.

“For those that physically have to be at the workplace new safety measures will make it very different to be in the company of other people. The day of the water cooler chat is gone for the foreseeable future.”

Jack Kennedy, an economist and researcher at Indeed's hiring lab, says adaptability has always been top of the list for many employers, but even more so now.

“Starting a first job can be daunting in normal times, let alone while the whole world is in a constant state of flux,” he says. “Stay flexible and remain helpful. Accept that changes will happen and that this is a difficult working period for everyone right now.

“A first job is an opportunity to learn the workings of a business or organisation from the ground up. You will not be expected to have all the answers, but you will be expected to have questions. Stay engaged, actively learn about the company and show your enthusiasm.”

2. What you can do to make it work

It might be a new normal but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a worse normal. There are things you can do and steps you can do take to make working remotely a smoother process.

Ensure you have the required infrastructure in place, such as a suitable chair and the necessary equipment. Try to maintain frequent communication with team and managers to as to feel connected and not alone. Be clear on the goals and objectives expected of you.

Maintain clear work/life boundaries, and don't be afraid to ask questions and speak up if unsure. Deirdre Parker, a careers advisor at University College Cork, says one of the challenges of remote working is remaining visible.

“It can be very easy to disappear and get lost remotely so graduates need to be make a conscious effort to participate in meetings, ask questions if necessary or helpful, and make sure they get essential support and training to perform as well as possible,” she says.

“There is more of an onus on the employee to manage their own internships, clarify expectations, and create their own structure to ensure that they are making progress. They also need to impose their own boundaries to ensure an adequate work/life balance.

3. What are the advantages for graduates?

One positive for new workers will be the fact they will be starting from a clean slate with no old habits to shed. “They will only know what they are entering into as it is now, therefore making them productive from the get go,” says King.

“They may also bring new ideas of how things can be done in this new world of work and this will be advantageous to the employer. They will not have had to make the shift of working in a physical space with colleagues and to then moving to working remote.

The biggest challenge I think graduates will face starting a new job remotely will be building up their network

Chris Paye, general manager of Jobs.ie, says there are lot of reasons for young job-hunters to be hopeful about the prospect of remote working. "For today's graduates, they have grown up with phones and tablets, amongst other forms of tech," he says.

"They are used to interacting with their peers online so this still stand to them in the professional world too. They are already tech savvy. Graduates are so used to interacting online on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and now TikTok that they probably have an advantage here."

4. What are the challenges involved?

The challenges faced with remote working are myriad but not surprising. “I still remember when I was a graduate having to really learn to adapt to an office environment,” says Paye. “It helps shape young people as you are dealing with people, face to face, with colleagues at all levels.

“I remember playing football on a Monday evening with our HR director, CEO and CFO. These interactions probably helped me feel more comfortable in expressing ideas and putting myself forward.

Emma Scott, people partner at PwC agrees. "The biggest challenge I think graduates will face starting a new job remotely will be building up their network," she says. Networking and interacting with your colleagues and managers is a vital component of working life.

“It can be harder to build a relationship with someone that you have only met virtually rather than in person and also you won’t bump into anyone in the lift or getting coffee and be able to introduce yourself informally.

“The best way to tackle this challenge is to attend any social events available, there are a lot of firms having online quizzes, catch ups etc. This way you can meet people in a more informal way.

Michelle Coen, career and skills consultant at the UCD Careers Network, says it is possible that you might be interviewed and hired by a company without ever meeting anyone face to face.

“Your first day in your new job could be in your own home,” she says. “But don’t worry, you will be provided with all the support you need. Some companies have had remote working arrangements in place for years.

5. Find some structure

The best way to tackle these issues is to be proactive about putting more structure on your day and your life more generally. “Stick to a routine and a timetable,” says Paye. “Get up at a normal time and not five minutes before your due on a Zoom call.

“Get some air before sitting down at your home desk. As I learned to adapt to working from home, these were the things that prepared me for the change in my working day.

“The biggest challenge I think anyone faces when working from home is managing your working day. You are in the environment where you normally relax. It’s therefore important to try to find an area that will become your workspace and this needs to be different to where you would relax.

Coen is largely of the same view. “It might seem daunting working remotely for your first job; so be sure to set boundaries for yourself around your working hours and take regular breaks,” she says.

“Many companies organise virtual social events to help employees socialise and to reduce isolation so be sure to participate in those as much as you can.”

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