Four Actions Leaders Should Take To Support Careers in a COVID Environment

Written by: Ron Scheese

Are you hiring todays college class?

The Class of 2020 has demonstrated remarkable resilience.  Completing their college studies under a rapidly changing, virtual world, they also launched new careers as  companies (including Andesa) pivoted to a work-from-anywhere or hybrid environments.

What can we learn from their experience about leadership in a hybrid or virtual environment?

To find out, I recently sat down with Christian, Josh and Nick to discuss their transition to the Andesa workforce.  Both Josh and Nick interned at Andesa so they had some experience working in the office prior to COVID.  On the other hand, Christian was hired in the summer of 2020 and spent his first 90 days in a hybrid on-boarding experience that our human resources and operations team collaborated to create.  Our open and authentic conversation about their experiences, highlighted for me four actions leaders can take to support recent graduates as they launch careers.

Humanizing the Workplace

“As far-fetched as it may be, I would like to see more of a rekindling of the family values. That is the foundation for the work environment around Andesa.  I’m really not sure what the solution is, but I missed that part a lot and I think integrating the corporate camaraderie and the family values somehow, all this stuff that we kind of took for granted around the office.”

“I feel like the point that I’m at now is that I’m getting to know my co-workers as dots with their initials on the screen.  Now, I’m not one that wants to force you to put your camera on for the tiniest of meetings, but there’s definitely that lack of engagement.  It’s just the nature of the beast really.  But it’s really made me  value the little snippets of humanity that we experience in meetings every once in a while.”

Let’s face it.  We’ve all become adept at virtual meetings.  The technology platforms have allowed us to collaborate, but, upon reflection, most of our meeting time is transactional.  Gone are the informal moments and spontaneous camaraderie that people experience when they meet in person day to day – those “snippets of humanity”.  Recent new hires did not have the opportunity to build career collegiality that others in the office had years to perfect before pivoting to work-from-anywhere.

It is incumbent upon leaders to find ways to humanize the virtual workplace.  Perhaps it means adding some time to a meeting for personal reflections.  Or, perhaps it means scheduling a coffee chat or virtual happy hour with no business agenda.  Simple conversations between colleagues might do the trick.  Help your new talent build the informal connections that will lead to their professional social success and make them want to stay with your organization.

Lean-In More

“I don’t know if this is for everyone, but I have like an imposter syndrome.  I guess if that makes sense, where you feel less competent than everyone else.  It’s not because of your intelligence.  It’s just your experience, where you enter a position and it’s expected that you don’t know much about the technicalities of the system.  But, you have your base of knowledge that you’ve learned over the years, which is normal.  You just got to train on the systems that are proprietary, and you get mentored through that, but it felt a lot more isolating starting out this whole time in the pandemic year.”

“One of the weird things that I’ve noticed about myself, working from home, is that you are more apt to ask for help earlier if you are in the office. The hesitancy to do it online is just now you’ve got to schedule that time.  It might be a little more hesitant to reach out but, I think there’s also what I would describe as an opportunity window to approach someone else in the office.  If I stick my head up and I see that one of my teammates is joking with somebody else and they’re not engaged actively with their work at the time, I know this is a great time to go over and ask a couple questions.  So, I think maybe not necessarily consciously reaching out less because of being remote, but, in fact, getting less face time with the team and being able to get answers more quickly just as a product of the different environment.”

By the time we rise to leadership, we forget the excitement and nervousness of being the new kid on the scene.  Everyone around us seems to know more and speaks in acronym-based language that was never taught in textbooks.  It takes a lot of courage for a new hire to reach out for help.

It is incumbent upon leadership to seize the communication initiative and “lean-in” more in a virtual world.  Think about the number of new hires you have onboarded over the years and think about the amount of time you invested in their success.  The frequent “wander by their desk” check-ins don’t happen in an isolated, virtual world.

The leadership, natural alarm clock you used in the office also needs to be turned on in a virtual world.  In the office, you might have strolled by to check in at about the time you expected the task to be completed.  But, in the virtual world, clarity around expectations is a technique that might help as well.  As you assign the work, intentionally communicate an estimate of time for completion as well as an estimate of time for check in – something like, “I would expect you can complete this in about two hours.  Why don’t you check in with me in an hour and let me know how you are making out and if you have any questions”.  Your new hires will appreciate the clarity and support.

Broaden the Circle

“I would say conversation is driven less organically in the digitized office nowadays.  I said that one of the bigger things I’ve missed is the scope of the business.  My bubble is me, Zach and Greg and I kind of fail to recognize that there’s 200 more employees in the office.  I would say it felt more like a team than it does remotely.”

“I think it’s more difficult to pick up on the business being remote.  I think it goes back to kind of the buzz you hear in the background when you’re in the office.  I might be sitting in the cafeteria eating my lunch and maybe there’s a business analyst talking about a business requirement and how they go about figuring that out.  It’s not something I’m actively taking notes on as they’re doing it but it’s things that may stick in my mind.  I think it’s harder to pick up on the state of the company and what the business is actually doing because you only hear about your specific portion of the business.  You don’t have Tammy coming by to talk about something for five minutes or something like that. Your scope is really laser focused on your team and it is a lot harder to kind of pick up on the rest of the company and the business as a whole and what the business is doing and how to grow the business.”

For work to be meaningful, the leader must connect the task to the greater purpose and mission of the company.  Doing so helps the new hire sense they belong, are contributing and making a difference.  The office environment had a natural spirit and rhythm which is difficult to duplicate on-line.  Leaders must be purposeful in their interactions to move beyond the technical and transactional to educate on the broader business.  If your team meetings are following the same agenda online that you followed when you were in person, it is likely time to shuffle it up.  Talk about the business, the opportunities, strategies, other department successes.  Periodically tie your team to the organizational activities and accomplishments.  What used to happen organically now requires leadership to intentionally provide the connection points.

Mentor, mentor, mentor

It was my first professional and corporate work experience.  My mind is like, okay, it’s going to be like everything I’ve been told about in classes and books, which in of itself is ridiculous.  But I got in there and started getting acclimated to the office environment.”

 Talking to my peers who are going through the same thing that aren’t at Andesa, you know, the people I went through all my classes with, they’re in complete opposite conditions in their job.  Nobody taught them the corporate strategy.  It’s like something super exclusive to this company that nobody else does.  I haven’t heard a single person say that they’ve had a mentorship where they’ve had two different types of mentorships, you know the technical one that I’ve had and the business / corporate one.  I would say without that I’d be fifty times more lost.  That’s something huge, I would say super huge, to my development here.”

It is easy to forget situational leadership when the physical environment is removed.  It’s easy to remember that Christian, Josh and Nick are newer when you see them everyday and are building the relationships.  It is easy to forget they are newer when they are isolated, and your encounters are less frequent.  Formal mentoring check-ins (both technical and professional) provide a reminder of the investment you, as a leader, make in the talent of the organization.  Take advantage of the time to coach and develop to their unique skills.

I so value the openness of some of Andesa’s employee-owners in sharing their experiences with me.  I’d love to hear from you.  What have you learned as you launched your career in COVID or what advice might help leadership navigate this new career launch onboarding?  Leave me some thoughts in the comments section.

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