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Developing junior talent in a hybrid work environment

Over the course of the last couple of months, more organisations have decided that there will be no return to the pre-covid, place-based working environment. Some of these have declared for full remote working, but the majority appear to be considering a hybrid work environment, combining remote and place-based work in a number of different ways.

For those organisations considering going remote or hybrid, one of the concerns which is raised consistently is how can junior talent be incorporated into the organisation and developed in such an environment?

Critics point to a range of benefits which they claim arise from place-based working and which would be lost or diminished in remote or hybrid working environments. The potential deficits cited include:

  • The inability to assimilate individuals into organisational culture
  • Inhibitors to competence development, poor communications
  • Limited exposure to senior leadership
  • Difficulty with monitoring performance, barriers to team-building
  • Lack of social contact and inability to build trust between employees and their supervisors.

There is no doubt that these issues are raised as genuine concerns, but there is an assumption behind the belief, that these points are handled immaculately in the place-based work environment. This is of course not the case.

Consistent survey results, both at organisational and national level, show significant numbers of employees declaring they do not get the competence development they need, that their skills are not fully utilised and that communications are poor. There is also evidence that the experienced reality for many new starters is social isolation, not feeling part of the culture and struggling to be authentic in the workplace.

Recognising this makes it easier for organisational leaders to embrace the challenge of ensuring hybrid and remote working environments deliver on these issues. The types of practical activities which can assist include mentoring, buddying, reverse mentoring, peer to peer networks and coaching. These can help with assimilation into an organisational culture, helping new talent understand ‘the way things are done around here’ and why. They can also help overcome social isolation and assist with competence development.

In terms of competence development alone, recognition that much learning actually takes place through on-the-job experiences and social experiences, is a good place to start. This can be achieved just as well, if not better, in a remote or hybrid world if attention is paid to it.

In fact, the risk in a place-based working world is that organisations tend to be much less proactive, relying on an expectation that competence development will somehow naturally happen through office osmosis. In a remote or hybrid world, managers will need to be much more proactive and have a clear sense of what learning gaps exist and how best to fill them. Thinking through what project teams new talent is deployed to, considering the nature of work given from a learning experience perspective, and instituting a reflection diary process after each major task achieved are all examples of approaches to support learning.

Of course, the online world enables individuals to access a vast source learning material. Establishing on-line learning communities, supporting new colleagues through on-line chat functions, employee created Wikis or SharePoints, and company webinars are all examples of the tech solutions that can support enhanced learning.

The issue of limited exposure to senior leaders can also be addressed in remote working environments. We need to remember first that for decades, many employees in global companies have only had access to their bosses on a remote basis, as the practicalities of executive travel have not allowed much else.

Virtual “Town Hall” meetings, and remote sessions such as ‘meet the CEO’ group calls are ways to give home or remote based talent access and exposure to senior leaders. Enabling this is only a question of scheduling the sessions, thinking through what they will cover and dedicating the time to it.

In many ways this direct virtual communication between senior leaders and new or young talent is better than place-based communications, which often have to go up and down through a hierarchy containing ‘layers of clay’, where messages can be accidentally distorted or deliberately changed. The use of instant messaging platforms can enhance communications; with modern technology there is no excuse for communications not being speedy and fulsome.

The social and team dimension point is an interesting one. In most place-based work environments, little is actually done to create great teams. It is assumed that there will be some sort of natural dynamic to this. In reality this does not happen and teams tend to form coincidentally.

A remote or hybrid work environment provides the opportunity for companies to focus on the team dynamics issue more, particularly when new joiners start. Again, in large international companies, internationally dispersed teams have had to work together virtually to deliver new products and services for years. Mapping the nature of internal organisational relationships and making connectivity building a performance objective becomes an essential part of the new environment.

There is also evidence that the experienced reality for many new starters is social isolation, not feeling part of the culture and struggling to be authentic in the workplace.

In terms of monitoring and trust, this again requires organisations to develop more robust policy deployment and performance monitoring techniques. These have not been developed in many place-based organisations, due to the assumption this happens automatically when people are in the same space. Many companies’ employee surveys tend to reveal otherwise.

There have been many companies which have been pursuing the approach of a results only work environment for several years now, but remote and hybrid working will probably accelerate its deployment. The focus for companies should not be worrying about what a new or junior employee may be spending every minute of their working day on, but just on what they are producing in terms of value-adding output. To achieve this, there needs to be clear objectives, which are agreed and followed up on regularly. By giving trust within clearly defined parameters, managers will in return gain trust from their employees who feel empowered, but also focussed.

In summary, remote or hybrid working does not have to mean that the new joiner or young trainee experience is sub-par. As technology continues to develop exponentially, remote and hybrid working will be the future and this will of course pose challenges for new recruits and their new organisations.

However, these challenges can easily be overcome by organisations changing their mindsets, thinking through the issues and developing a strategy to deliver the changes successfully. Ironically, remote and hybrid working will probably force organisations to introduce more sophisticated HR practices than they have been using historically.

Adoption of these practices will provide better outcomes for organisations and for trainee-level or new employees. The future revolves around people and technology. Creating environments which provide harmonious human/technology integration will be key to the survival and success of both the businesses and the careers of their new budding employees.

If organisations would like assistance with hybrid working and HR law contact the Clarkslegal employment lawyers.

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