I run a small charity, The Marketing Academy Foundation, that helps people from disadvantaged backgrounds start a career in marketing. I am becoming increasingly concerned about the negative impact work from home policies are having on entry-level talent in any industry. Everyone, not just people with tougher starts.
The founder of a successful media agency recently told me that their new recruits are being mandated to be in the office 5 days a week for their first months. Furthermore, managers are instructed to be there to look after them. This is not some “Do-The-Boys-Hall” investment banking dinosaur. This is a company in The Times Top 100 Places to Work.
I think this company has got a lot right and I am at the epicentre of this matter every day. My feeling is that many policy-setters have families, enjoy working from their comfortable homes and appear to be blind to the challenges of those at the start of their careers.
I know that young people working mostly from home are missing out on the development they need. Unfortunately, they don’t know what they are missing, so don’t push back or even seem to prefer it.
One CEO I know wants his junior talent in the office more, but says they won’t come in. I believe that company leaders need to show more insight and lead.
Ten things we have learned about what it’s like to start a career in the WFH age:
1. Interviewing on Zoom does nothing for your employer brand. Coming into a lovely shiny office will differentiate you from a low rent organisation that looks identical on a screen in a young person’s bedroom.
2. Work feels surreal to new starters if they spend most of their time at home. It may feel real to those with the muscle memory of the organisation or type of work, but not to individuals at the entry-level.
3. You learn a lot from osmosis at work. How others engage with each other; how matters are broached; what language people use. Formal virtual meetings don’t teach communication skills and develop EQ half as well. This is crucial for those who come from a background where neither parent has ever had a white-collar job.
4. A manager can spot by your body language if you need help, don’t have enough to do or seem unhappy. This simply doesn’t happen in a virtual world, where time is often lost waiting for the more formal interactions.
5. Informal networks that help you get things done, or offer you opportunities to join in with things, will never form if you never bump into anyone in the lift, kitchen or loo. A young person will not trip over those bonus experiences on zoom.
6. Not everyone’s home situation is nice or even suitable for work. This is true for young people from tougher backgrounds but also for affluent individuals who’ve moved to the city and share a flat.
Rented bedrooms may not be big enough to accommodate a desk, nor will there necessarily be a quiet space to work from in a council flat. Lousy internet connections result in cameras being switched off, making new starters less present to colleagues… not a good way to make their mark.
Entry level talent is often not existing in a suburban idyll, selecting which spare bedroom to pimp as their WFH space, with daddy paying for top notch connectivity.
7. We seemed highly conscious of the mental health impact of lockdown in the pandemic. Coming in to work for just one day a week on “team days” and being chained to a laptop for the remaining 28 hours feels like a partial lockdown to me. Do we want a lonely workforce?
8. Young people are very attracted to saving on fares. Even more so if they are from a poor background.
9. Work friends are important as you build out from education and find people with similar interests and aspirations to form your future social set. I worry for our youngsters being denied this social development.
10. Many people meet their future life partner at work. Do we want to relegate a generation to Tinder?
You’ll find the right solutions for your organisation, but I’d suggest it helps to interview and have all onboarding in the office and make coming in feel normal instead of weird. And recommend mandating attendance for at least three days a week for entry level talent and make looking after new recruits a privilege that comes with a duty of care.
Lastly, let’s not forget that our young career starters have sucked up quite a lot over the last few years, navigating education during the pandemic and tolerating restrictions to save older generations. I believe they deserve a lot better from the work-from-home-loving managerial generation.
Daryl Fielding is the CEO of The Marketing Academy
Image by MT's David Robinson and Getty Images.