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These key team members aren’t thriving with remote work. Here’s what to do

16th Jan 2022 | 05:00am

As a young professional, I was a road warrior. I flew often to visit customers face-to-face and built a network of colleagues, mentors and friends that helped me expand my career and enrich my understanding of how to work, lead and succeed.

Younger workers today face a different world. The pandemic institutionalized remote work, and we now connect more via technology than the water cooler. More than one-third (35%) of workers ages 25 to 34 expect to continue to work remotely full time even after the pandemic, our 2022 Pulse of Talent Report shows.

Many people prefer remote work, and it enables more work-life balance. But it’ll also require employers to be more intentional about training and onboarding younger employees who’ll be the first generation to start out in this now highly flexible, fluid, borderless, and always-on work world.

For the first time, they’ll be making work connections and networks virtually that, if done well, will help them for years and years. As a younger worker within an office environment, I made deep friendships that developed over boardroom tables and red-eye flights. When people work remotely, workplace friendships will grow differently than before. So, too, will learning opportunities between leaders and younger workers, which happened much more organically in the office.

Personally, I always enjoyed finding opportunities to connect with individuals from across our organization either through formal mentorship syncs or through casual conversations in line at the local coffee shop. The value of these in-person connections today is no less critical, but they need to happen in new, remote-first ways.

The good news is that companies are finding successful ways to embrace a healthy remote workplace for everyone, including those first starting their careers.

At Ceridian, we had a bit of a head start as we’ve always been a digital-first workplace. We’re also a technology company that builds human capital management software, so modern, cloud-based technology was already the backbone for how we worked and connected with each other.

But even with that foundation, adjusting to a near-total remote work model was not without its challenges, especially as it relates to keeping our workforce connected and prioritizing impacts to younger colleagues entering the workforce. Here’s a few examples of what has worked for us.

Offer more exposure to leadership

In an office, younger workers have organic exposure to more leaders. They connect in hallways, elevators, and conference rooms. They absorb different leadership styles as they walk past other departments. With remote workplaces, exposure is limited to being on the same Zoom call. Sometimes, a worker might only have regular connections with a direct manager. If that manager doesn’t excel at leading people, the young worker will be at a disadvantage because of lack of exposure to stronger leaders. Leadership training is important, but I’m a proponent of one-to-one ‘skip level’ meetings with managers once removed – or with leadership from different functional areas – to increase exposure to a broader leadership set.

Formalize sponsorship and mentorship

Younger workers need mentors and sponsors to help build and advance their careers. They need intentional leaders—those who motivate and drive teams toward a common goal. Before the surge in remote work, many companies left mentorship to chance, our research shows. Only 21% of workers ages 25 to 34 can say for sure that they have someone in a position of authority invested in their development. In a remote world, look for that percentage to drop even more unless sponsorship and mentorship are formalized.

Encourage mobility

Today’s world of work is increasingly global and skills-based. Employees can take on new roles and oversee new markets—all from their kitchen tables. This approach helps forward-thinking companies manage their talent ecosystems, and is especially valuable for employees just starting out. Internal mobility accelerates exposure to new colleagues, leaders, functions, and geographies that can help younger employees gain connections and skills. And it also helps the organization adapt to the changing needs of the business, giving leaders the ability to better understand the talent they have, and how to apply it to emerging priorities.

Prioritize connection

Our research shows younger workers listed virtual networking and team building activities as the second-best way to enable better collaboration with remote coworkers. Offering a mix of engaging virtual events and small group networking, as well as in-person company on-sites when appropriate, will go a long way toward helping younger workers feel connected and valued within the organization.

Invest in onboarding

Onboarding is an employees first point of contact with your organization and it needs to be done right—particularly in the absence of side-by-side cubicles where you can ask a friend. Having the right technology, combined with assigned onboarding ‘buddies’, is a good idea in any workplace, and a great idea in a remote one. I also like to see leadership attend virtual onboarding events to create connections from day one. Numerous studies show that feeling socially accepted is a deciding factor in a new hires success.

Almost overnight, the pandemic turned workplaces upside down. Today, workers are in the driver’s seat. But different workers at different career stages will need different things, and making sure younger workers get what they need, while they’re knitted into the fabric of a company’s culture, will be a win-win for both worker and employer.

Leagh Turner is the President & COO of Ceridian.