Although the work-from-home routine has gotten comfortable for many of us, it is time to get back to the office—at least for part of the week. And this is vitally important for recent graduates and young pros trying to launch their careers.
Over the past few weeks, I have talked with more than a dozen Gen Z interns and entry-level PR pros who are chomping at the bit to begin a regular office routine. Due to the pandemic, some are on their second or third virtual jobs where they only “meet” with their supervisors and colleagues via Zoom or Google Meet. This is not the way to develop a corporate or agency culture that builds great teams or creates organization loyalty.
One 2021 graduate from the University of Illinois graduate is on his third internship and has yet to physically meet anyone in any of the three agencies. He said the last agency recently opened its offices for anyone who wanted to come in to work, but he was the only person to show up on that given day.
“I’m getting desperate and concerned about what I’m missing developmentally,” he explained. “I feel I’m doing OK work but not growing to the point I’d be a serious contender for full-time employment at any of these three firms.” (Since we talked, he interviewed – virtually — last Friday for a full-time, entry-level position. He was especially encouraged to learn the agency is operating on an in-office-two-days-a-week routine so he’s praying he lands this position).
Another intern didn’t think twice about switching to another agency after only 10 days at another firm where she had only interacted via Zoom with the onboarding HR manager and an account executive who sends assignments by email. In the case of this switch, she had another good reason to jump ship. Her new internship salary was bumped from $12 to $20 an hour. But that’s an important issue topic I’ve already covered this summer.
In addition to development and team building, a recent New York Times article points out the importance of business/work friendships as a way to engage, motivate and retain employees. The article cites Gallup’s 12 ways managers can motivate employees and increase productivity. All are made easier by in-person work experiences, especially: “I have a best friend at work.”
Paula Davis, chief communications officer at Colgate-Palmolive, called the Times story to my attention and reflected on her experience while working with me and others years ago at both Sara Lee Corporation and Sears.
“I hope people realize the power and privilege of in-office work experiences,” Paula said. “For me, it was worth the 90-minute agonizing commute from Chicago to Hoffman Estates for hours of learning, laughter, commiserating, bonding…my colleagues at Sears (and we were all at different points in our lives) have remained extended family all these years – still trading barbs, sharing experiences, and sending April Fools pranks. I was and remain so grateful to roam the long halls at Prairie Stone with so many fun and phenomenal people.”
For the future of our profession, let’s figure out ways to safely return to the office—even if only for a couple days a week.