For years, the conversation about remote work has centered on the differences between working remotely (often from home) and the way we always worked in co-located situations. But what if that comparison is outdated? Specifically, how do you train and on-board new workers who don’t have that frame of reference. In short, you can’t compare anything to working in an office if you’ve never worked in an office before.
To those of us of a certain age, this notion might never have occurred to us. After all, everyone has worked in an office before. And if they haven’t, they were probably hired to go into the office and will pick it up quickly enough. But remote work was already growing before the pandemic, and there is a whole crop of people who’ve been hired during that time.
A different set of expectations
I’ll bet you have people on your team you’ve never met in person, or only seen a couple of times. Now imagine that person graduated in the spring of 2020 and was hired right out of school as an intern or entry-level worker. Maybe they’ve never even been to the office. Odds are their job interview(s) were done over webcam. Their first job likely entails more working from home than not.
Telling that person, “It’s like when we were in the office but you need to be on webcam more,” isn’t really helpful.
Don’t assume new workers know all these
Here are some of the things we’re hearing from our clients about these newest additions to the workforce. Bear in mind, this isn’t meant to be a “these darned kids don’t know how to work,” diatribe. It’s not a moral failing if you literally don’t know certain expected behaviors.
Among the challenges we’re hearing are:
- Dressing and acting professionally. Most of us are used to dressing down when we work remotely, but know to put on “grownup clothes” (at least from the waist up!) when dealing with customers or senior leadership. Who’s going to tell young Rajesh that the Korn t-shirt he normally wears isn’t appropriate for being on camera with the VP?
- Not knowing when it’s okay to go directly to someone, and when they should follow the “chain of command.” There are two, opposing, behaviors we see with new remote employees. Either they are afraid of bothering their teammates and manager and so don’t reach out proactively, or they aren’t aware of the organization dynamics about when to go to someone in another department or when to follow procedures.
- Imprinting on the manager or their mentor. Because they aren’t in proximity with other teammates, and can’t just look around to see who’s on the phone or doesn’t look too pre-occupied to answer a question, new hires are often reluctant to reach out to those they don’t know well. As a result they take up a lot of the manager’s time. If they have a mentor assigned to them, that person will have a hard time getting their work done.
- Using informal or inappropriate language in communication. New workers have been raised in an era of instant, informal communication. Texting is often the default form of communication ( they actually talk on the phone as a last resort) and they are unused to speaking in an appropriately formal level. This can lead to some faux pas and embarrassing situations. But without guidance and clear expectations, you can’t expect them to just KNOW not to send the winky-face emoji to the CEO.
- Just because they are computer literate doesn’t mean they know the software or protocols. There is often an assumption that because newer workers are digital natives, they are born knowing how to do anything involving technology. It’s not true. In fact, many of them will have never owned a laptop before, having used school technology and their phones almost exclusively. Security protocols and VPNs will have to be clearly spelled out and coached, and if you use certain software packages, make sure there is coaching, training, and access. In the office they can look over someone’s shoulder, or get help just by asking. Online it’s more difficult, and if they’re reluctant to speak up you might find they are in deeper weeds than they would be in the office.
- Don’t assume your version of “office hours” is theirs. The normal 9-5 is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t norms around when work starts and ends, how much flexibility there is in the schedule, the expectations around response times and availability and even dealing with time zones.
A surprising amount of expected workplace behavior is modeled, taught, and absorbed unconsciously. We learn it by being in the environment. Working remotely, or in a hybrid environment, is sometimes a matter of adjusting the way you worked before, but for a whole new generation of workers it will be their first real job, and there’s no database of experience on which to draw.
One of our clients has simply refused to hire anyone straight out of school, citing the difficulty in helping them adjust to work without being physically present. That’s probably not a long-term solution to the problem.
New workers will be just fine if they have the guidance, mentoring, and clear expectations and support they need to use their talents to the maximum.
Your remote or hybrid team is no doubt comprised of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Long-Distance Teammate is the guidebook that can help you find common ground and come together to pursue goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.