Director Unimenta
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New starter working from home
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How to develop career starters in a hybrid workplace

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After the recent disruptions to traditional working practices, young people just starting out on their careers are feeling out of touch with their professional environment. L&D needs to focus on nurturing collaboration and communication to help their new joiners flourish.

22nd Sep 2021
Director Unimenta
Columnist
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As we return to a new hybrid workplace it is obvious that being in a physical space together with others is key for collaboration, creativity, social connection. For young people, just at the start of their careers, this has never been more important. 

Feeling disconnected

The best organisations value and respect employees and their contributions no matter where they’re working. But it is also human nature to pay attention to what’s directly in front of us. We are most focused on what we can see, hear and experience most immediately, and this has implications for workplace visibility, learning and the careers for those starting out.

A recent LinkedIn survey of 1,000+ workers in the UK found that 69 per cent of young people aged 16-34 believe that their professional learning experience has been impacted by the pandemic. Over half (57%) of those asked to return to offices feel their ability to make conversation at work has suffered, and 71 per cent say they’ve forgotten how to conduct themselves in an office environment. The vast majority (84%) ultimately feel “out of practice” when it comes to office life, particularly with delivering presentations (29%) and speaking to customers or clients (34%). 

Those who consistently mentored and supported young people will have already built better foundations for strengthening these skills once back in the office

How can learning and development departments approach this development need, especially when it comes to nurturing and fostering stronger communication and collaboration skills? Some of this will depend on how well departments and teams have already worked together whilst working from home. Those who consistently mentored and supported young people will have already built better foundations for strengthening these skills once back in the office. 

There's no time like the present

Wherever you are with this, the most important thing is to start. It is likely that hybrid is here to stay so the first thing is to decide what that is going to look like and begin at the top. If you expect and want people to be in the office at least three days a week, for example, make sure leaders and managers are modelling that and that everyone knows how this is going to work in practice.

It is no good if companies are coming up with too complicated (or too flexible?) models with two days one week, three days the next or six days spread over a fortnight. Young people and career starters need clarity, and they need to know when their supervisors or managers are going to physically be in the office.

Next, specify when you expect your career starters to be there. Full-time or likewise a mixed hybrid model? For example, you may feel that having trainees or career starters physically in the office full-time makes most sense but if so, who else will be there with them? 

Thirdly, make some decisions and get clarity on how and when you will ensure there are opportunities for collaborating and learning. This may be fixing certain types of meeting where creativity and ideas are the focus on certain days. Or ensuring trainees have regular mentoring sessions in person. Once these broad foundations are in place, what else can learning and development do?

It is likely that hybrid is here to stay so the first thing is to decide what that is going to look like and begin at the top

Engagement is key

The first few days of a new job are vital so make sure that as much of this as possible is in person – perhaps spending time with different key people in the company. This can help support social skills and just getting used to being in an office. If you have several new starters, why not arrange a kind of “treasure hunt” exercise to help them find their way around the building and office.

Think, too about using team-building activities to support new workers. These can be a mix of in-person and online. Creating opportunities for the team to share experiences in a less formal setting and allowing everyone to get to know the new starter outside of the job role is always key in the first few weeks to make sure everyone feels more comfortable. 

Think about training

Training has gone through substantial shifts during the pandemic. We have discovered that online works well but it’s important to now really think about what might be most effective in-person. Knowledge and information can all be accessed through online courses but perhaps the hands-on skills sessions can be face-to-face for trainees. Some courses are much harder to replicate virtually such as the softer interpersonal skills that require a deeper emotional connection and behavioural mind-set shift. 

Many companies are thinking about continuing with up to 80% of training run online but require in person attendance for more immersive trainings or ones where specific practical skills need to be acquired. Now is the time to evaluate what learning and development training is beneficial to run face to face in the workplace and move other content online to make it more accessible for employees across the business. 

The first few days of a new job are vital so make sure that as much of this as possible is in person

At the same time there are also plenty of high-quality interactive training sessions that can be run online. These tend to be shorter (90 minutes or so) and can be followed up with coaching or one-to-ones. Perhaps the coaching can be done between a supervisor and trainee drawing out what was learned and how to best put it into practice. 

Prioritise in-person team days

Encourage managers to prioritise certain days for teams to be in the workplace together to help new joiners settle into the team and start building relationships, improving their experience of and effectiveness at work. 

Continue to use virtual networking sessions

Enable junior employees to build relationships with colleagues across the business and consider delivering development sessions online to increase take up and engagement. Invest in training and tools which encourage managers to think differently about team organisation and engagement as more people work in a hybrid way. 

Make learning practical

Workplace learning teams need to factor in what learners seek and need most now: flexibility, trust, communication, engagement, motivation, and collaboration. Learning can happen within creative ideas meetings; while shadowing and sitting in on presentations; with giving new employees and trainees problems to solve and by encouraging open conversations and new ideas. 

Emma Sue Prince is a specialist in experiential learning and believes strongly that this methodology is key to developing life skills and soft skills as it is the only way to develop self-awareness, upon which all behavioural change is based. She is the author of 7 Skills for the Future, published by Pearson Business, available now in all major bookstores and from Amazon. Her podcast 7 Skills for the Future is on Itunes and all podcasting platforms. Find out more at www.unimenta.com.

Interested in this topic? Read Why collaboration is key to learning in the 'new normal'.

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