Entering the workforce during a pandemic isn’t easy. A lack of regular face time with managers and coworkers can strip younger workers of mentorship and networking opportunities. After nearly two years, there is a growing sense remote work is flatly failing them. But with many return-to-office plans still on hold, companies have an opportunity to change this.
After graduating from college in 2020, Erin Mahar landed an internship at Salary.com, which turned into a mostly remote, full-time job as a marketing associate. The company’s onboarding process integrated her in a way that made her feel connected to people throughout the company, despite going into the office only one day a week. This included regular check-ins with her supervisor, coworkers, and human resources; ongoing product training; daily marketing team meetings; working on cross-functional projects; and even a virtual meet-and-greet with Salary.com CEO Kent Plunkett.
“I have a lot of opportunities to grow professionally,” Mahar said. “I’m definitely well connected to my team, which is great.”
Mahar’s experience is just one example of how, by using the right tools and setting up digital resources, companies can make remote work actually work for their younger employees.
Set up digital communication and resource libraries
Having onboarding systems in place positioned Salary.com to get new hires up to speed quickly, even while working from home. Not every company has a digital headquarters, meaning having the digital tools and platforms for a work-from-anywhere environment. That infrastructure can help with onboarding new employees who work remotely. Only 12% of U.S. companies said they do a good job of onboarding and nearly one in five employees said they had either inefficient onboarding or none at all, according to Gallup.
Remote work gives companies the opportunity to create a richer onboarding experience while streamlining communication, mentorship, and continuing education.
If it doesn’t feel like a strong onboarding plan to the people joining the team, they can get lost quickly.jeremy lande, senior director at Advantage Unified Commerce
“If it doesn’t feel like a strong onboarding plan to the people joining the team, they can get lost quickly,” said Jeremy Lande, senior director at Advantage Unified Commerce, where he manages two fully remote teams with many who started during the pandemic. “People need to understand the company they’re working for and the culture. They may work in one division, but have to understand the broader spectrum of other departments.”
Lande said not to assume new employees have worked with products such as those found in Google Workspace, and to have some sort of virtual resource training for other programs. He said his company has developed a digital training library anyone can access.
“Whenever we do trainings or recordings, we upload them into a master catalog,” Lande said. “People have access to trainings with leaders or subject matter experts. There’s on-demand learning from the company.”
Cameo, the app where celebrities and other notable people record short personalized videos for people, has a similar library being developed to create a “knowledge transfer culture,” according to Cameo’s Chief People Officer Melanie Steinbach. She said this documentation can include videos showcasing tips from top sales people or ways to engage an entertainment agent to help new hires.
“I describe it as we went to this remote work party and none of the tables or chairs were set up,” Steinbach said. “It’s up to us as leaders to set that up and give things structure.”
Make meetings work for everyone
Part of the challenge is ensuring no employees are left out or left behind. In a virtual environment, people can get lost in large meetings.
“You need to be rotational on how you let people present on team or functional meetings,” Steinbach said. “I have a different leader lead our people team meeting every week because I want to make sure other people get seen, their voices are heard, and their view is front and center.”
That same methodology works for younger employees as well as those who may not feel as eager to speak out in a group setting. Lande said the people he consistently sees fall behind are more introverted or may not be great self advocates. He said having weekly one-on-one meetings with those folks can help managers stay intune with what that employee needs. He also said holding smaller meetings can help.
“Someone once told me he didn’t like having meetings that are too big where everyone can’t share one pizza,” Lande said. “It’s about creating more intimate meetings to give those younger employees an opportunity to speak up and not have anxiety with 10 or 20 people on a call.”
Collaboration platforms such as Slack can help keep people connected and engaged in a remote work environment.
Don’t make it all about work
Collaboration platforms such as Slack can help keep people connected and engaged in a remote environment. And the chatter doesn’t have to be all about work. Setting up channels by interests like parenting, pets, travel, gaming, food — even a channel to give shout-outs to team members’ great work — allows people from various facets of the company to engage with one another. It also creates opportunities for company leaders to make themselves available to younger employees.
“Leaders can have open-door policies on those channels to respond to anyone reaching out on those platforms,” Lande said. “There’s a lot to be said about what you’re losing by not being in person, but there are also things being gained. It’s a bit of a balance.”
Slack also offers the Donut bot that when installed can randomly introduce people within your organization. This creates more cross-team connections and helps reduce the intimidation factor that can be associated with younger employees chatting with more senior team members.
“[Donut] selects someone and tells them they get 30 minutes with me and I love it,” Steinbach said. “They just get to meet with the chief people officer and I’ve gotten really good responses to that.”
Cameo also sets up “Cameo Calls,” which are like quick-hit office hours. Steinbach will announce she’s live on Cameo Calls and anyone can sign up for short slots to talk to her about anything without the pressure of having an HR (human resources) issue that needs to be addressed.
“We need to find a way to replicate those social collisions that happen in the elevator or cafeteria,” Steinbach said. “These are the tools we’ve been using to replicate that.”
It’s going to be harder in a remote environment, but managers have to make it a priority and do it.”Melanie steinbach, chief people officer at cameo
Commit to staying connected
To keep younger employees engaged, managers can commit to ongoing conversations about their future. It’s not just about having successful onboarding, but continued education and one-on-one meetings where managers discuss people’s near- and future employment goals.
“Training needs to be continuous,” Lande said. “It’s about continually giving the team the training they need, whether on changing trends in the market or leadership skills.”
And while it may seem fruitless or appear more difficult to connect in this way in a remote work environment, making that commitment can ultimately be the difference between someone feeling engaged or falling behind.
“The most important thing a manager needs in all of this is to know this is their responsibility,” Steinbach said. “It’s going to be harder in a remote environment, but they have to make it a priority and do it.”