The job that arguably taught me the most in life was my first Saturday job. I was 15, and the job was in a vegetarian café. And aside from learning how to make pastry from scratch, it also taught me some life lessons that I still use today, including:
- How to receive feedback without feeling upset
- How to communicate with people from all walks of life
- How to manage my own time and solve problems
- How to deliver excellent customer service, even when hungover
- How to put on my brave pants and take a summer off to travel through California
Now, at age 47, I’m still friends with Helen, the other Saturday girl who saved just as hard as I did to join me that summer in California.
What we learn from first friendships at work
There’s a unique energy that comes from first friendships at work: a peer to learn and laugh with, to support and be supported by. Standing next to Helen, prepping salads and serving customers helped me learn how to spot the emotional cues when someone isn’t feeling 100%, to realise you don’t both have to be good at the same thing to be a great team, and (most importantly back then) to know when the appropriate time was to have a sneaky flirt with the Saturday boy in the shop next door. We were bonded by a shared experience.
Hybrid working is perfect for the 47-year-old me. When I’m in the office, I get energy from the people around me, randomly exploring a new idea with someone or simply taking in the discussions my colleagues are having. Equally, I love being at home, where I can schedule focused time more easily and maximise the lack of travel by immediately rolling my yoga mat out at the end of the day.
Starting out in a hybrid world
What would my life be like now if my first step on the career ladder had been in a hybrid or remote job? Would I have the same confidence, awareness, and knowledge? Would I have the soft skills that have been honed without intentional development since I was 15? Would I have the same network of friends and peers? For many young people now, work life is turning on a laptop at the end of their bed. It means very little contact with co-workers and precious few opportunities to build relationships with peers. My 21-year-old niece is in her final year at university, and she has yet to step into a lecture theatre.
There is much to be learnt when joining a new company. Some of this can be found in the employee handbook, but most of it is absorbed. This kind of ‘learning by osmosis’ occurs from witnessing how people work together, from after-work drinks and shared lunches, from observing body language, and from small talk and passing exchanges. These everyday office-based interactions may seem inconsequential, but on an aggregate level, they provide the new starter with a huge amount of information about culture, etiquette, behaviour, tone, and norms. They also contribute to the development of vital skills such as communication, networking, and socialising, as well as building the confidence needed to ask questions, share ideas, and speak up.
How to make hybrid learning intentional
But does hybrid working really deny young people the chance to form consequential relationships and valuable life skills? In reality, these development opportunities can still occur, but rather than happening organically, people managers need to be intentional about making them happen:
- Make learning meaningful and focused – Starting a first job is exciting but also stressful, and virtual working compounds this as the potential for confusion and overwhelm is high. So be selective about exactly what your new starter needs to learn and at what point they need to learn it. Remember, less is more.
- Arrange mentorship – Organise a mentor who can provide guidance, answer questions, and give good career development advice. Choose someone senior enough to advise but whose work they will be able to relate to and who will make the time for them.
- Bring them together with others – Double down on arranging social events so that the new starter can get to know colleagues as individuals and can become known and visible to others in the business. Whether it be in-person drinks or a virtual quiz, make sure that there are opportunities for fun in which they can learn how people interact socially in the business and that it’s safe to bring their whole selves to the table.
- Make time to teach them about the business – Don’t underestimate how much a fresh graduate or school leaver won’t know about business. Explain to them the organisation’s history, the industry it is part of, its competitors, and the major risks and threats it faces. This context is vital information and will help them to understand everything that’s going on.
- Fill their calendar – Arrange one-to-ones for your new starter with key people in the business whose virtual paths may not cross otherwise. Furthermore, invite them to sit in on a variety of meetings so that they can observe how meetings are conducted, how people work together, what different departments do, and the key processes at the heart of the organisation.
- Make yourself available – If you had a new starter in the office, chances are they would sit close by and be able to tap you or other teammates on the shoulder for help. So, role model by example, respond quickly to questions and requests for help, give regular feedback, and pay close attention to build confidence and rapport.
Hybrid highlights for young talent
We dispute the claim that our next generation of leaders is at risk of missing out on learning and development. Hybrid doesn’t have to mean lacking, and starting a career in a remote context doesn’t have to be a disadvantage.
In fact, with the right leadership and organisational structure in place, there are many unique opportunities for someone starting their first job in a hybrid world: the chance to connect with global colleagues from the get-go, to build a broader network, to develop resourcefulness, resilience and motivation. Not to mention expertise in using workplace technology and the opportunity to acquire highly developed skills in virtual communication. In this way, with some thought, planning, and consideration, our next generation of leaders can turn a potential disadvantage into an opportunity to develop the emerging set of power skills for the future.
Ailie Shackleton is Content Marketing Lead at Impact.