For many workers established in their careers, office life before the pandemic often meant chitchats in the hallway with colleagues, PowerPoint presentations in conference rooms and smelly kitchen microwaves.
For young employees hired for their first job during the health crisis, who have been obligated to work remotely, rancid microwaves may still be a thing at home, but other aspects of office life are as foreign as a fax machine.
Some young professionals lament they are missing out on important career-building and interpersonal skills that come with connecting with peers in the office and worry that for their bosses, they are out of sight and out of mind.
At the same time, others say they are thriving, as time saved from the lack of daily commutes helps facilitate a better work/life balance, while the seclusion offered by remote work leads to higher productivity.
‘I need to make a name for myself’
Jamie Bornscheuer, a 21-year-old PR account executive with Scottsdale, Arizona-based Knight Agency, falls into the former camp. She says she didn’t count on dealing with debilitating social anxiety when she started her first full-time job at the company while working remotely.
“Since the start of the pandemic, I have, like many others, developed a social anxiety I’ve never had to deal with before,” she said, referring to her fear of eventually having to do in-person networking.
“This is incredibly frustrating for me as I am at the age where I need to make a name for myself in this industry, and I am now suddenly faced with a mental-health roadblock that is literally keeping me from making the connections necessary for success in this field,” she added.
While Bornscheuer says her anxiety is improving, she admits she’s still “rusty.”
Her boss has inspired her to step out of her “anxious shell” and “re-learn the social skills I’ve lost,” she added.
To be sure, some young employees working remotely say they aren’t sure what they are missing. After all, they have nothing to compare it with.
Olivia Arkema, 23, a Nebraska-based research analyst at remote market research company aytm, loves her job and doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything.
“I absolutely love it. I also really enjoy not commuting,” she said.
Francesca Bjorkegren, 26, concurs. She started her role as a digital public relations executive at London-based PR firm Aira a week before the first lockdown in the U.K.
“I have never experienced the office with my new colleagues, so I don’t know what I’m missing,” she said. “But it does mean that I can do things at my own pace — within reason of course.”
Bjorkegren also likes that she can attend career events virtually, and since everyone has had to do that, she says she doesn’t feel left out.
Still, some human-resource experts are worried that in the long term, full-time remote work would be detrimental for this new generation of young workers.
Nelson Sherwin, a Nebraska-based manager of PEO Companies, an employee-leasing provider, says it’s unfortunate that new recruits and young talent are missing out on these extremely important aspects of their professional development.
“I can recall so many times in my career when being in the office and surrounded by talented individuals only bolstered my talent that much more,” he said. “The conversations, and ultimately work, that comes from being in the same proximity of talented people is just something that can’t be mimicked remotely.”
Patti Demitros, an HR leader at industrial company Elkay in Illinois, said the pandemic is affecting young professionals’ in-person relationships and her company is centering its professional development program around the issue.
In addition, the organization switched to shorter virtual meetings instead of the hours-long conference calls they held in the past.
“In some respects, we are actually more connected, since video-conferencing has taken away the impersonal phone calls,” Demitros added.
Supporting young professionals
Rolf Bax, the chief human resources officer for Resume.io, a resume builder and career resource based in the Netherlands, says he has tried to compensate for the lack of in-office interaction by making sure the onboarding process for new hires uses as much video as possible.
One way to work with people struggling with remote work is to ask them what the company can do to replicate the office environment, he says.
“If the company has tentative plans to return to an office at some point in the future or at least in a hybrid arrangement, you can also let the employee know that there is still a possibility they will get to have this experience,” he added.
Jenny Morehead, chief executive officer of Flex HR, an HR outsourcing firm based in Atlanta, says her company is working on a flexible work policy where employees work a few days a week at the office and the others remotely.
“We believe this will provide the right balance of culture development in the office and time at home that provides an easier way to balance work and life,” she said.