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What experiences are young people missing in remote work?

Corporate image of hands typing on a laptop keyboard in an outdoor environment, perhaps a balcony, a garden or a rooftop terrace.
Corporate image of hands typing on a laptop keyboard in an outdoor environment, perhaps a balcony, a garden or a rooftop terrace.

Abby Vidrin graduated from college in May 2022. She started her first job one week later.

Like many who launched their careers in the pandemic, Abby started working remotely and still does.

“In the beginning, I quite enjoyed it. I found it comfortable. I didn’t have to worry about a long commute or what to wear every day, simple things like that,” she says. “But over time, now that it’s been about a year and a half, I think it actually stunted my personal and professional development.”

After the pandemic normalized remote work, how are young people today getting that professional coming-of-age experience?

Today, On Point: Why working from home may not be working for your career.

Guests

Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of the Flex Strategy Group. Her company has helped organizations reimagine how and where work is done for more than 20 years.

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, senior research scholar and professor in the department of psychology at Clark University. Author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties.

Also Featured

Abby Vidrin, operations associate at a New York-based startup. She began her work career in 2022 and has worked fully remote since.

Christina Alvarez, communications and development coordinator at Riley’s Way Foundation.

Transcript

Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Imagine you are 22 years old. A newly minted college grad. Prepared to thrust yourself into the exciting next phase of your life. The exciting independence and somewhat scary total responsibility of becoming a working adult. And you’re more excited still, because you’d spent the previous few years pent up in a pandemic.

ABBY VIDRIN: So at that point in time, a lot of the restrictions had already lifted. Most people had been vaccinated. So I took on this remote role, because I thought it would give me flexibility with exploring different places, maybe even attempting some domestic travel. So that was really my expectation, that sort of flexibility.

CHAKRABARTI: Abby Vidrin is 24 years old now. She works as an operations associate at a New York based startup. Abby graduated from college in May 2022, and you can in her voice the excitement and expectations she remembers having when she was 22.

So the plan went something like this. Her partner was in New York. Her family was in Boston. Working remotely, she could bounce between the two. And most of her friends were also starting their work lives in a fully remote or at least hybrid setting.

VIDRIN: In the beginning, I personally actually quite enjoyed it. I found it really comfortable. I didn’t have to worry about a long commute or worrying about what to wear every day, simple things like that. But over time now that it’s been a year and a half, I’ve really started to notice that I’m not developing in the same way that my peers who work in person are. When you’re really early on in your career, or just, you know, a young adult in general, a lot of people make their friends from work. But I just don’t feel like I have strong social connections with the people that I’m in theory interacting with.

All of the communication across the entire company was over the phone or via text. There are pieces missing when most of the communication is via instant messaging. You definitely miss out on the tone, those opportunities for things like small talk, and just the connection building process in general. I did have the opportunity to meet a few of my coworkers in person once or twice, and the connection that I had just from meeting them once completely changed how I had imagined them in my head.

I think in terms of training, let’s say, for a specific task or skill, I would say it’s actually relatively the same with the technology that we have, but in terms of mentorship, I think when you don’t have that connection to begin with, there isn’t as compelling of a reason to go out of your way to help someone who is either your direct report or vice versa to seek someone out.

There was, you know, a moment where I was working remotely, and my work life balance was getting kind of fuzzy. It hit me that I didn’t have this alternative place to go to if I did want a different space. I started feeling trapped in my own home. So I actually started going out to coffee shops or libraries just to get out of the house. But there was one day where my partner had a happy hour with his colleagues. And he came back and was telling me about how he had this totally new experience with one of his managers that he had never anticipated. And they were able to build such a strong relationship that that manager ended up really advocating for his promotion.

And I just realized how much I was missing out on without all these social events and without really having a space where I can just even bump into my colleagues, even if it’s not going to lead to necessarily a meaningful conversation.

If I did have small children at home or a health condition or disability or something like that, essentially if I had a compelling reason why remote work was really beneficial, I think I would feel differently. But as a typical 20-something year old, I would say remote work has really not lived up to what I would have expected, and I think it’s actually pretty detrimental.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Abby Vidrin, operations associate at a New York based startup.

This is On Point, I’m Meghna Chakrabarti.

That first job. It’s a critical growth phase in life. It’s not just about doing and earning — it’s about learning how to be, how to evolve, how to shape yourself as a working adult.

Now, let me stop here for a second and tell my fellow Gen Xers, elder Boomers, etc. I can hear you roll your eyes. Those fragile Millennials and Gen Zers. Ugh. Back in our day, we just sucked it up and went to work, self-actualization just wasn’t a thing.

Of course, I’m sympathetic to that. Really, I am … to a certain degree. But we elders also went to work in person. Didn’t have a choice, of course. So we never really had to think about all we were learning and experiencing just by being around our more seasoned colleagues.

Now, the pandemic has normalized remote and hybrid work for many. And I think that’s a positive step forward, actually. But it’s also brought into sharp relief everything that’s missing when you’re not around the people you work with. Especially for young workers just starting out – what’s missing is that, let’s call it, osmotic learning that’s historically been essential for people on the first steps of their career paths.

Cali Williams Yost is with us. She’s CEO and founder of the Flex Strategy Group. Her company has helped organizations reimagine how and where work is done for more than 20 years. Cali, welcome back to On Point.

CALI WILLIAMS YOST: Hi Meghna. It’s great to be here.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. I actually first wanna start with a couple of stories, both yours and mine as a means of comparison from what we just heard from Abby there, the 24-year-old in New York. So tell me, Cali, your first, let’s say professional job, whatever it was it in person, in a place?

YOST: It was in New York City at a bank, in a training program. And yes, every day I showed up in the office to do my work.

CHAKRABARTI: And what was that like? And before that, were you just, were you a relatively newly minted college grad?

YOST: Oh, it was right outta college. It was the week after I graduated. Yeah.

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, wow.

Okay. And so first of all, tell me what were those first few months like for you? Like just as being in that space and having to absorb all the new knowledge of how to work in the bank?

YOST: It’s funny when I look back on it and I was, and what a wise analysis of what’s going on by Abby by the way.

But I didn’t know any other way. That’s all I thought work was. I had no way of judging whether it was what I needed to do or didn’t need to do. It just is what it was. And looking back now, I will say, showing up. I did have some of that osmotic learning. But I also know that even back then there could have been more intentionality to making sure I was being developed.

I see some positives in this situation where it may force us to now say, okay, so now how do we really have to intentionally develop people? I think it just had to happen when we were showing up. So it was just a very different reality back then. Yeah.

CHAKRABARTI: But tell me a little bit more, let me define what I mean by osmotic learning.

It’s the, I think it’s the things that you observe from the more seasoned colleagues around you.

YOST: Yes. I will say that definitely was important.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. And that is, tell me more.

YOST: Yeah. You’d be sitting there, and they’d invite you into a meeting. And even though you’re not really contributing much beyond taking notes, let’s say you’re watching how a more senior person engages with a client and gets to know what their needs are.

And if something isn’t quite aligning, you get to see how they step back and engage the customer in a different way. I think those are the types of learning that you miss. And the other thing that was interesting, I did two years of credit training in the same room with 40 people just sitting there analyzing company’s financial statements.

And in that situation, my peers and I were able to exchange information and ask questions of each other, I think in a way that is more difficult in today’s more remote environment. The way it’s set up right now. Yeah.

CHAKRABARTI: So we’re gonna get to the intentionality part obviously in depth a little bit later.

But it’s so interesting to hear you say that you did observe things even while other sort of, let’s say, developmental programs might have been lacking, right? Yeah. Because it’s just again, to have another data point here, I’ll just quickly share my first work experience in journalism.

I walked in on my first day as a freelancer on this marvelous show, by the way, on On Point in a previous iteration of it. And there was only one open seat and it happened to be between our masterful technical director who’s still with us, and the former host, Tom Ashbrook, of this show.

And no one else wanted to sit there (LAUGHS), but I didn’t have a place to sit. So I sat there, and it turned out to be the most magical thing, Cali. So when I think about osmotic learning, in this case, it happened to be exactly like learning really how to think through content on my left side and learning how to master the technical aspects of the job, on the other side, on my right side.

And more importantly, watching people so I could understand what are the skills that I should learn beyond what was expected of me. I don’t think I could have ever had that working remotely because I wouldn’t even have known what I was missing.

YOST: That’s right. Yep.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m just wondering if you, if this is something, we’re gonna take a break here in just 30 seconds or so, but is this something that employers that you are working with are thinking about?

YOST: Absolutely. They are.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay.

YOST: Yes, there has absolutely been an impact on the experience and development of young people. That’s one of the things that we’re beginning to grapple with on the other side of all of it.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: Cali, first of all I actually just wanna fact check ourselves here because I’m seeing that actually recent data shows, at least from last summer, that a lot of workers, the majority of them now are actually doing most of their work on site. Whereas about a third are doing most of their work from a remote location.

Does that sort of–

YOST: Yes.

CHAKRABARTI: Jive with what you’re seeing?

YOST: Yes. Most, but they have more flexibility.

CHAKRABARTI: Correct.

YOST: Within those different dimensions. Yes.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So that flexibility is a very important and welcome change here. I wanna note, but I just needed to put those numbers out there to say that we’re not talking about a massive crisis across the lives of young American workers.

Because most of them are face-to-face, but there’s still quite a, there’s still a few people who are doing most of their work from a remote location. So with that in mind Cali, hang on here for a second. Because I wanna bring Jeffrey Jensen Arnett into the conversation. He’s a senior research scholar and professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University.

Professor Arnett, welcome to you.

JEFFREY JENSEN ARNETT: Hello.

CHAKRABARTI: We wanted to hear from you because before we get into the nitty-gritty details about like how should work change, workplaces be changing, there’s a deeper question here of the life stage that young workers in their first jobs are in. Now you’ve done a lot of research of what has been called for a while, emerging adulthood, which is what the age is between 18 and roughly 22, 25, Professor Arnett. There’s no definite age at the end of it, but it is a stage in between adolescence and a more settled adulthood. And 18 to 25, or sometimes through the twenties. It varies among people.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. And what are the hallmarks now that psychologists understand as emerging adulthood?

ARNETT: There a couple of things that are especially relevant here. One is identity explorations. We used to think of identity as something that mainly is constructed in adolescence, but actually it’s much more going on in emerging adulthood, and that means deciding who you are and how you fit into the society around you, and work is a big part of that.

So they’re very much in the process of deciding what kind of work they want to do. And as a consequence, during the twenties, it’s the decade of life when people change jobs the most. Typically, people change jobs eight times during their twenties, so that is important for this topic of mentoring, because they’re often not around long enough in a job to get mentored much, and they often aren’t looking at their current job as something that’s going to be long term.

They’re still looking for something better. They’re looking for identity-based work, and that means they’re often going to be changing jobs and not around to get much mentoring.

CHAKRABARTI: So you’re saying this from the point of view of the young worker who’s looking for identity-based work, but I wonder if that’s even possible.

If not all, but so much of that work is being done remotely, in the absence of the physical presence of their colleagues, can young workers get a good sense as to actually what the experience of that career is under those circumstances?

ARNETT: I think that’s an excellent question, and I’m not sure we know yet. Because this transition to remote work is so recent that there’s not a lot of good research on it yet.

But I would say it’s possible, you’re still having interactions with people even though you’re not on site, and they are digital natives. They’re so used to electronic connections. I would say there’s at least the possibility that you can still have meaningful connections with people, including mentoring through remote work.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So there’s identity exploration. What are the other hallmarks of this emerging adulthood period of life?

ARNETT: Another big one is instability. And so that’s the job changes are part of that. They’re also changing residences more in their twenties than in any other decade. They’re changing love partners.

It’s a decade that’s very much in flux. Because it’s driven by these identity explorations. It’s driven by trying to find a place in the adult world that’s satisfying and rewarding.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m hearing you say that basically this is a period of life now where the self kind of coalesces, right? Like the kind of person that the young adult wants to be, has extra time, in comparison to previous generations, to a person has a time to really shape herself.

ARNETT: It’s a self-focused time. That’s a third feature of it that I’ve emphasized. It’s the most self-focused time of life because when you’re younger, you are part of a family of origin. You have a lot of people to answer to in that family, and eventually almost everybody has a stable job and a family of their own. And they have obligations to them, but this is the time of life when people have the fewest obligations, and that’s why they’re able to change jobs so much. In part is because they’re not yet responsible for anybody but themselves.

CHAKRABARTI: So this is a big change from two, three generations ago.

Because in my reading this let’s say decade-ish of time to coalesce, the self just didn’t exist, that most people’s adult lives were fairly,like the shape of their adult lives were fairly settled by the time they were in their early twenties.

ARNETT: Yeah, definitely. A statistic that really reveals that is the median marriage age, which in 1970 was 21 for women and 23 for men.

Now it’s 29 for women and 30 for men. So that whole space of the twenties has been opened up, where you don’t necessarily have obligations to a spouse or to children, or really to anybody else. That’s a huge change. That’s why I think it’s useful to think of it as a new life stage of emerging adulthood in between adolescence.

And a more established adulthood.

CHAKRABARTI: Cali, let me turn back to you because how are you hearing this, this sort of psychological aspect of the age group of workers we’re talking about? How are you hearing that through your experience as consulting with employers who are also trying to manage these new workers?

YOST: I think we’re in a state of flux right now to try to figure out and reconcile what the new reality on the other side of COVID is gonna be in terms of work and developing talent. And creating those experiences that the young people need to be their best, both on and off the job. And I think it’s important to first understand why they were having the experience they’ve had the last four years.

What was the cause of that impact? And then how do all the generations come together and begin to reimagine and build what is going to be a high-performing flexible workplace? And I think first and foremost, we have to keep three things in mind. What has happened the last four years is not indicative of a well-executed flexible work strategy.

CHAKRABARTI: (LAUGHS)

YOST: Okay. This was a historic disruption of a traditional work model we worked within for decades, and it was crisis driven. There was no time to plan. There was no time to think about how we coordinate. I thought Abby’s story about she works in an organization that communicates by instant message.

That really probably wasn’t well thought out, it’s just how it happened. Interestingly enough, our research finds that a solid majority of full-time U.S. workers across all generations actually believe they performed pretty well, if not better than they did before COVID. With quite a bit more flexibility on a number of different fronts.

CHAKRABARTI: Did their employers agree that they performed pretty well?

YOST: Here we go. Okay this is what we’re starting to reconcile with, right? So what does that performance really look like? How do we measure it? And that does include the onboarding, the training, the development, and the teaming that younger employees need.

But to do that, and to get on the same page, all the generations, to come up with that new reality. We have to understand that the pandemic work experience affected each one of those generations differently. For that younger worker from 18 to 26, that Gen Z. It’s really all they know. They don’t know any other thing.

And I thought Abby was really insightful to say I recognize that I’m missing something. She doesn’t exactly know what that looks like and what that means. And then you have to look at their managers, who would be the millennials, the sort of 27- to 42-year-olds. And they too valued the ability to work flexibly and it’s a bigger portion of their career than say the Gen Xers or the Boomers.

But they had enough of that in-person interaction and development before COVID hit that they’re aware of what they need and how that matters. And then you get to the leaders, the people who are my age, those are Gen Xers, baby boomers. And interestingly, they adapted during COVID, but it really wasn’t a major portion of their career.

So it didn’t fundamentally change the way they think of work. They do still see development and performance happening mostly within that traditional nine to five. So all of those different generations are coming at this from very different perspectives at the moment. So to get on the same page and really think about how to optimize the way we work, we are ultimately going to be solving for a workplace that probably looks something like this.

About 50% of people will be on site to do their jobs, but about 50% will have remote capable jobs. And of that 50%, about a quarter will be fully remote, and more than about 50% will work on site and remotely across those different dimensions, probably about two to three days a week. So it’s within that reality that we now have to solve for, okay, how do we communicate, coordinate, and perform at a high level across all those different dimensions that includes younger workers, and how do we make those interactions meaningful and ultimately productive.

CHAKRABARTI: So Professor Arnett, let me ask you this. One thing which I’ve been kicking around in my mind as we think of emerging adulthood and the workplace, is that the word emerging, obviously hints that we’re not talking about what might be considered fully formed adult. Okay. Not a bad thing.

The reason why I highlight that is I was thinking, you know what? In every life stage prior to that, a kind of structure was de facto built in terms of knowledge that could be transferred from elders to younger people. Obviously, when you’re a child, there are your family members who are teaching you.

Constantly, whether they know it or not, just by existing on how to, what kind of younger person you may want to be later, what your values might be, etc. Then when a young person enters school, there’s an obvious structure there and whether you want to call it mentorship or whatnot. Learning how to be is a major part of what happens in school, beyond academics and teachers are there to be your guides.

Same thing in college, I’d say. So I’d always considered work as that next phase, where by virtue of having other older adults in place, that structure continues. And I wonder if in the absence of that structure, full-time, thinking of the percentage of workers being hybrid or not, that Cali just went through, in the absence of that structure being there full time, Jeffrey, is there any kind of psychological impact? Is the only thing I can way to describe it, but I’m not even sure that’s the right way to describe it.

ARNETT: Yeah, I think so. They are still emerging. They’re still deciding who they are and how they fit into the world, and it very much feels like an in-between state. For them, when I ask them if they feel like they’ve reached adulthood, most don’t say yes.

And most don’t say no. They say they’re adults in some ways, but not others. So I think that indicates they’re open to mentoring. They’re looking for models of adult life to learn from. So I think they’re open for that. It does depend on them being in a job that they see as being a possible long-term commitment.

And a lot of jobs they have, especially in their early to mid-twenties, they’re not really looking for it like that. They’re looking for something that’s better, and they have their current job until they find something that’s better. But I think for a lot of them, there is an openness to mentoring, especially once they find something they think has long-term promise.

CHAKRABARTI: Huh. I’m just wondering, so this is where I question why there isn’t a perceived opportunity to learn as much as possible whether or not you think you’re gonna stay in the job for a long time. Why does having to search until you find that perfect job that you wanna do for the rest of your life?

Why do you think young people feel like they have to wait until then in order to try to, I don’t know, glean as much as they can from whatever workplace they happened to be in at that time?

ARNETT: Because they don’t care that much, frankly, about a job that they don’t see leading to anything long term.

They want to be responsible enough to do reasonably well good, get a good recommendation, not get fired. But often they’re not really thinking of it as much more than that.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. We just got about a couple of minutes left with you, Professor Arnett. Let me ask you this, because I asked Cali to share her early work stories.

What were the circumstances of your first job, Professor Arnett?

ARNETT: I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and had no idea what I was going to do, and I’d learned to play guitar in college. So for two years I played guitar, I played in pubs and bars and restaurants, and tried to figure out my identity. Tried to figure out how I fit into the world. And then I did go to grad school and now here I am. But I was an emerging adult before it was cool. That was a long time ago. And a lot of my peers were settling down earlier than I did.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So what, how did you end up, when did you, what made you feel that you had discovered your identity or learned what you wanted to be or how you wanted to be in this world?

ARNETT: To be honest, it took a lot longer than I think it does for most people. I did go to grad school. I entered when I was 25. But I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do. And I bet a lot of people feel this way through their twenties and even through their thirties and maybe beyond. Is this what I really want to do?

And so it wasn’t until I discovered this period of emerging adulthood in the 1990s and started really researching that age period like no one had done before that I felt yeah, I had finally found it.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay.

ARNETT: But Meghna, if I could just mention one more thing that I think is really relevant to this.

There’s a lot of data showing now that the impact of COVID on mental health has been huge across age groups, but especially for emerging adults, and it’s still going on. A lot of studies that have been following this since pre-COVID are finding that there are really elevated levels of depression and anxiety in the twenties.

That really got aggravated during COVID and have not gone down yet. So I wonder if this could be part of the picture here. Maybe it’s being made worse by remote work. Maybe they have needs from the workplace that are not being responded to, but I think it’s something that’s relevant to this that we should all be concerned about.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: We’re talking about Gen Z workers in particular, or workers in their first job in this post-pandemic world of ours. People want flexibility. They’ve got it more than ever. But the question is, for those who work remote a lot, are these young workers missing out on something that could only be had physically in the workplace?

Now, earlier in the show, we heard from Abby Vidrin, she’s only ever worked fully remote, and she says that experience has been detrimental to her professional growth. That’s just one story. There are many, many others. Here’s Christina Alvarez. She’s 22, and a communications and development coordinator for a Brooklyn-based, non-profit called the Riley’s Way Foundation.

She began as a college intern at the company, and after graduation, they offered her a full-time job.

CHRISTINA ALVAREZ: I really wanted to continue with them because I’m passionate about the mission and I’ve been given such a creative outlet through them, and really the creative freedom I always wanted from a job. And of course, the perk of working remote was always one that I wouldn’t turn down.

CHAKRABARTI: And for Christina, the flexibility of remote work really paid off exactly in the ways she’d imagined.

ALVAREZ: So I actually a few days ago, just got back from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and then before that my boyfriend, he’s up at law school at Cornell. So I’ve been visiting Ithaca a few times. And before that, while still working remote for my company I was in Portugal and Montenegro.

So just really traveling a lot all over.

CHAKRABARTI: And Christina says she’s never experienced any pitfalls from working remotely, including in her relationships with her colleagues.

ALVAREZ: I feel like I’ve already known them and meeting them in person for the first time didn’t really affect our relationship whatsoever.

And then the mentoring aspect of it, I’ve been able to meet such amazing leaders who have guided me and supported me, and I don’t think working in a remote environment inhibited that. It’s just sending someone a message and being like, “Hey, I’m struggling with this,” or some more advice on it.

And I’d really appreciate your support, and everyone is so willing to meet with you and chat with you. My supervisor, her name’s Laura. She’s been really good at making sure that if she explains something to me or if there’s a task that I’m not used to doing, she’s, “Please always let me know if you need that support.”

Sometimes I’m like, “I got it, Laura. I can take it from here.” And other times it’s, “Yeah, can you show me the ropes on it?”

CHAKRABARTI: Christina understands that there are certain interactions that you simply can’t do when you’re remote, like popping into someone’s office to ask for help or having a quick conversation.

But she says that she’s been able to receive the same types of support even in her remote setting.

ALVAREZ: Remote work. While it isn’t for everyone, it is a great opportunity to really have the freedom that, especially someone like me, in their early twenties might need to explore not only the world, but the jobs that are offered through remote work as well.

CHAKRABARTI: So that’s Christina Alvarez, communications and development coordinator for a Brooklyn-based, non-profit called Riley’s Way Foundation. So Cali, one of the things that I hear in Christina’s story is a young woman who’s a real go-getter that if she feels like she’s not getting the support she needs, she said, “I go out and ask for it, I ask my colleagues.” Even through remote technology, “Hey, I’m struggling with something. Help me out here.” First of all, what do you think about that? Does there not rest some responsibility with the young workers themselves to reach out for things when they feel like they need the support?

YOST: Absolutely. You have to play a role in your own development. And it sounds to me like Riley’s Way has executed their flexible work model pretty effectively. You have a manager who knows obviously how to lead a flexible team that includes Christina, but Christina is playing her role. She is reaching out when she needs to.

And that seems to be working in the structure that they have put together. Which is great.

CHAKRABARTI: So again, in this story I hear a combination of a very driven young woman, hats off to you, Christina, but also a workplace culture at Riley’s Way, that’s what you were talking about.

YOST: Yeah.

CHAKRABARTI: That seems to have really pivoted quite successfully, at least in this case, to supporting remote, young, remote workers. How does one, how does a company go about fostering that kind of culture where providing the mentorship or support or bridging the gaps that can emerge with remote work, or naturally, organically without there having to be like a program in place to do that.

YOST: So I think there is a great opportunity, and I want to go back to something Jeffrey said, which I think is really true, is this generation is so energized. And open and willing to seek out possibilities. And if you engage them in figuring out, based on the work that you need to do, how and where that work happens best, you will see them become engaged and invested in not only their own development and their own opportunities, but also in moving forward the mission of the organization.

You heard that in Christina’s story. She’s very dedicated to the mission of their work. I do think that you have to have leadership that opens that process up to everybody. And instead of asking the question, how do we get everybody back into the office? They’re asking the question, how do we perform at a high level working across these different dimensions?

What does that look like? And then have managers sit down with their people and determine, what, how do they have to coordinate with each other? When are they meeting in person? And if they are meeting in person, how do we make those moments meaningful? What’s the work that’s going to get done when we’re sitting side by side?

But then how are we still coordinating effectively when we are not in the same place and what work can maybe even done better that way? Then the individual has to say, okay, so what do I need to do and how and where do I do it best with their manager? Based on what they need to accomplish day to day, but also more broadly in their career development.

And I will tell you we’re doing that right now with clients and it’s really magical. There’s one young manager who shared this story with me. He’s a leader actually, and he tasked a team, a number of teams to walk through this process. And he was telling me the story about a group of managers who actually handed the initial sort of thinking through what that structure looks like to the staff level, and this team of staff, so the young, this would be a Gen Z group, sat down and they’ve mapped out this whole structure, this whole time schedule where there are certain days they’re in the office and what they’re doing and how they’re interacting with each other, and who are the leaders that need to be present. And he said it really is great to see them take ownership of this.

And he’s very open to what they come up with. They’re gonna experiment with it. He’s now gonna involve their manager and their more senior leaders in thinking through what their role has to be in terms of executing it. But again, I do think there is a great opportunity here to engage these younger workers in helping the organization think through what this flexible work reality is gonna look like on the other side.

And I think there is not only, and I do think Jeffrey’s right, there is some mental health issues here. In terms of employees feeling stressed and anxious, but get them involved in it, and it gives them a level of control and it helps them make those relationships that perhaps right now they’re feeling aren’t as strong.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. There is some evidence that for, again, young, for young people. That now doing a lot of remote work, many of them do report that actually contributes to their sense of being unmoored a little bit. And that anxiety that both you and Jeffrey talked about.

But what I hear you say is that there are a lot of different ways depending on, company culture and leadership goals, to, I don’t wanna say replicate, because it’s not exactly the same as being face-to-face with someone all the time.

But to build a new way of working and a new company culture.

YOST: Correct. Exactly.

CHAKRABARTI: That embraces this sort of flexible reality and yet provides support. I wonder, the word mentorship has popped up a lot in this conversation and I think a lot of mentoring in places where there weren’t, maybe, let’s say, formal programs in place. Just happened in the way I described it earlier with my experience. Like you just watch people, and you ask them like, “Hey, what are you doing? That’s amazing.” Is there a time now where formalizing mentoring programs may be something that more workplaces should consider?

YOST: Formalizing, perhaps, but I think it’s more around this intentionality, right? It’s training managers to manage. Honestly, I got to tell you, Meghna. Before Covid, managers were too often just managing by presence. You’re sitting there, I’m managing you. You can’t do that anymore.

You have to have managers who truly understand what it takes to develop and support the people who report to them, and that’s mentorship. I also think that the younger employees need to be trained and encouraged to reach out for the mentorship that they would like. If they see something they’re interested in, feel free to reach out to that person and say, “Hey, I’d love to learn from you and make sure all of the levels of leadership in the organization understand that’s part of their role in their job.”

So in terms of formalizing, I think sure there are aspects of formal mentorship programs that are meaningful and important, but more importantly, I think it’s to say to leaders and managers, this is part of your job. You have to be much more thoughtful about what that looks like. And to the employee to say, feel free to take the lead and chart the path you’re also interested in.

CHAKRABARTI: What about developing workplace? Just like colleague relationships. And the reason why I ask this is that I still remember what Abby said. About that she went out with some friends, and I think it was her partner, and found out that because he was actually working in person, he had been able to develop a relationship with one of his superiors or managers that allowed that superior slash manager to want to advocate for him.

Are we seeing the lack of that relationship building playing out in things, as important as promotions? And is that, can you overcome that by building different ways of handling remote work?

YOST: Again, I think let’s say you’re talking about somebody who’s basically fully remote.

The situations I’ve seen work are the ones where there are still moments or periods of intentional getting together in person that are happening, whether that’s quarterly, monthly, and when those moments happen, there is a lot of in-person interaction, whether it’s social, whether it’s focused on a particular business project, so that those relationships can actually happen.

I am seeing when, let’s say there is more of a hybrid, you’re sometimes on-site, you’re sometimes remote. Those on-site days or those on-site moments, there are periods of social interaction that are built in, let’s say everybody has lunch together or you bring in a speaker or there is a happy hour that happens.

And so again, all of this just needs to be much more thoughtful and intentional. We can’t just rely on it happening by osmosis, which you and I have both experienced when we first got into the workplace. There has to be more thought put into it, but when it does happen, it does have that impact.

And I believe it was Christina who said that. Maybe she met somebody once and that relationship sustained itself even though she’s mostly remote. And that’s an important point, is you can’t just rely on the in-person to do all of this.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah.

YOST: You do have to be thinking as well, okay, how do we sustain this when we’re not in the same place together?

And that’s where the technology can come in. Again, this was a crisis-driven execution. We are not optimizing the use of technology consistently across an organization, and that’s part of what has to happen next. Like I had one team, they were great, this young team of professionals get together.

They’re doing this work together in person, but their manager is in another state. So what they did is they opened up a Teams channel and as they worked in the room together, their manager who’s in this other state is just there and doing their work. And so what they do is go off mute and they would ask this manager the question and the manager would check in, but they’re still working together.

They’re having that interaction in real time. It’s just they’re using technology to support it. So it’s that type of creative thinking that we have to also be putting in place.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. So in the show that we had you on last about return to work, the bumps in the road on that, you said something which I thought was so important, which is, and this was from the point of view of employers and managers, that on the days that you’re asking people to come back to work, have there be a specific reason for it.

YOST: Yep.

CHAKRABARTI: The things that can be best achieved in the workplace. I wonder if this also works. It’s an attitude that young workers should have about the days that they do come into the office. Like maybe there ought to be some goals that they have about —

YOST: Yep.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m gonna spend quite a bit of my time actually making that person-to-person contact with my manager or this other person that I wanted to learn with. And actually maximize on that face-to-face time to build those relationships.

YOST: Absolutely, and this is where the training comes in. We have got to train people to be successful, flexible professionals, and we have to, that’s part of the skill that they need, is to be intentional when there is the structure or the parameters that have been put in place. About when you’re going to be on site and what you’re going to be doing.

You as an individual has to be then intentional about what you’re going to get done in those in-person moments that you’ve collectively agreed happens better face to face. And make the most of that time. And that could include social. So be thoughtful about what that looks like. See, this is where you and I, Meghna, had a different situation, a different experience.

We just went to work. We just showed up at work, in my office and you were lucky. You were sitting next to a very knowledgeable person, but you didn’t have to think about you were having a conversation with him.

CHAKRABARTI: Exactly.

YOST: That may be something that they’ll have to do.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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