As the pandemic upended the world of work as we know it, people in every sector struggled to adapt. It was a challenge for everyone, of course — seasoned workers who have reported to the office throughout their careers had to learn how to use new technologies, leaders had to create plans to accommodate diverse teams, and IT specialists worked around the clock to devise solutions.
That allowed companies to embrace technologies that let them work in distributed teams and keep their businesses going. However, that doesn’t mean that the challenges around that are over. While companies and their workforces are growing accustomed to working remotely by the minute, there’s one group of workers that are dealing with a unique set of obstacles: entry-level workers.
These individuals have little to no experience in a more traditional landscape and have immediately been thrust into largely remote jobs, often with no preparation. How do leaders help their new employees thrive in this demanding world? Here are some ways you can set workers up for success.
Understand the Inherent Challenges
First things first: you must recognize that while this situation is difficult for everyone, entry-level workers are arguably dealing with additional challenges because of the fact that they’re adjusting to their jobs in general, along with the COVID-19 crisis. There’s always a learning curve for new professionals — you’ve probably observed this in your junior staff before and hopefully, remember what it was like when you started your first entry-level job.
Couple that with the also inherently challenging remote work landscape, and you have some very confused, possibly unprepared workers. You very likely have observed even extremely competent, seasoned employees struggling to adapt to the pandemic landscape, so it should come as no surprise that junior employees are struggling even more.
Consider, for example, that these workers are lacking in-person interaction and supervision. Face-to-face training has been a staple of entry-level work in the past, and now these new employees must grapple with many challenges without being able to ask questions in real-time. They also lack the adjustment to the company culture that most of your longer-term employees have enjoyed.
Additionally, many younger workers may be living with their parents or roommates and are having to learn their new jobs while dealing with these distractions. These are just some of the reasons why it’s essential to consider what your employees are facing before passing judgment on their work.
Adjust Your Onboarding Process to Account for Remote Work
You may well have a well-honed onboarding process and thoroughly detailed employee handbook. But in these tumultuous times, you need to go a step further to account for the changes in the way most people work in a pandemic world.
For example, in addition to laying out procedures that have been in place for years, you’ll also need to include sections about using specific technologies like your videoconferencing and chat platforms, as well as expectations for the frequency of remote meetings. You should also establish ground rules for installing privacy and cybersecurity protections and note the IT assistance that is available to employees.
Clearly laying out concrete expectations from the beginning is an essential part of bringing new employees into your organization at any time. However, it’s absolutely pivotal now, when you can’t assist team members in person and there’s far more room for miscommunication.
Make sure you give new employees clearly defined expectations in writing and give them plenty of opportunities to ask questions on the phone or via a videoconferencing platform. Often, the inflection of a person’s voice and their body language can convey uncertainty that you may not be able to pick up over email, so confirming that they understand by having a conversation is an important step.
Establish Channels of Communication
Some businesses have been using platforms like Zoom and Slack for years, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, these tools have become must-haves. Make sure your employees know how they will be communicating with you and each other, and offer training to get them up to speed. Don’t assume that because your employees are young they’re well-versed on how to use these technologies.
You may find that existing platforms don’t meet your needs. Remember that you can always turn to a provider like BairesDev to customize your platform or build a new one from scratch. Work with your employees to understand what they need in these tools so you can accommodate them. You should also welcome their ongoing suggestions for improvements to your overall communication strategy and individual platforms.
Have Frequent, Established Check-ins
Once you’ve determined how you expect your employees to communicate, have regular check-ins. For example, this might be a weekly Zoom meeting that allows coworkers to connect and discuss how things are going. Establishing a rhythm and regularity for these meetings will give your employees, particularly newcomers, a chance to adjust and have some predictability during an uncertain time.
At the same time, don’t overwhelm people with too many check-ins — you’ve probably heard of Zoom fatigue, and this is a very real phenomenon that can stress out your employees.
Give Employees the Chance to Connect
In addition to having business meetings, you should also offer the opportunity to connect in a social, non-work context. Remember that many younger employees are probably coming off of an unusual college experience, where they were forced to return home and learn remotely last semester, and may well be feeling isolated.
Having Zoom happy hours or other virtual bonding rituals will not only help them feel more connected but also give them a taste of your company culture, something they’re less likely to fully experience working from home.
At the end of the day, it’s important for all managers to exercise compassion and empathy during this incredibly challenging time. New and seasoned workers alike are experiencing obstacles they’ve never faced before, and it’s normal for them to need a period of adjustment. Try not to be hard on entry-level workers who could very well need a little longer to catch up to speed than usual.
This is an opportunity to show your employees that you care about them and will work with them. While you may understandably be concerned about the direction of your business, the fact that you’re continuing to bring new talent into the organization means you believe they can contribute in a positive way. While this is an abrupt change, you can ease the transition by helping your employees adjust and giving them the tools they need to succeed.