In the U.S., more than 6 million graduates entered the job market at the end of the 2020 academic school year, but were faced with what became an exclusively digital process because of widespread remote work due to COVID-19. Many of these graduates are also competing for jobs with others in the workforce who either lost their jobs or are looking for new opportunities. This convergence of a new generation entering the workforce and experienced professionals seeking new positions has created an emphasis on digital skills and remote collaboration.
Digitally native Generation Z has never lived in a world without tech. The ability to use technology to problem-solve and innovate is the defining characteristic of this generation, and they consider themselves to be more creative than generations past. It is these types of skills and experiences that we should lean into to help career-starters get out of the gates. Recent grads have a lot to learn — but so do existing employees and leaders. Here’s how we, together, can contend with the new realities of work and create a cohesive and productive culture for all.
No such thing as over-communication
Think about your very first job: you probably had a lot of “stupid questions” you might have been afraid to ask. We often forget how foreign a task like enrolling in a benefits program or completing a timesheet might seem to an entry-level employee or a new hire who comes from a different industry or background. This is why I believe there no such thing as over-communication within teams, especially when working in completely digital environments.
Communication instills trust, and trust is paramount for productive and engaged employees. A great way that I’ve found to implement clearer and closer communication is through a buddy system, where new hires are paired with an employee other than their direct manager as a resource. The “buddy” shouldn’t necessarily be a mentor, but someone who the new employee can come to with any and all questions—be it explaining an acronym, how best to craft a client email or tips for making that first sales call.
This system isn’t just a nice-to-have; it carries tangible business benefits. Research by Gallup shows that people who have a close friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged in their roles. Poor onboarding also leads to preventable turnover, which can ultimately cost between six to nine months of an employee’s annual salary, according to the Society of Human Resource Management. This is why we must ask teams to stay closely engaged with new employees and build trust through consistent communication—it’s for the benefit of all.
Cascading culture from the C-suite down
It might sound cliché, but I cannot overstate how important culture is in the digital workplace. We’re no longer overhearing conversations in the hall, taking coffee breaks with colleagues, or grabbing lunch with one another. These small things matter immensely for new employees trying to settle into an organization. Every company has some thread woven throughout their business that represents their values, their relationship with employees, and what they stand for. Some cultures are stronger than others, but every culture must be cascaded from the C-suite down.
To people just starting their careers or joining a new company, executives can often seem like figureheads. We need to make ourselves present and accessible to all employees, no matter what level. In the same way we regularly meet with our executive leadership team, we should prioritize time that is exclusive to each level and gives everyone an opportunity to connect with leaders, whether that is through town halls, virtual lunches or happy hours. We’ve seen this go a long way. Our leaders have held virtual meetings with our new class of interns to introduce ourselves and understand what’s important to them as they enter our organization. During this time, it’s incumbent upon executives to not just lead, but just as importantly, to listen.
Using Gen Z’s strengths to your advantage
Why is listening so critical? Because young people have a lot to teach us.
We choose to celebrate the strengths of our Gen Z employees. After all, we’re an organization that designs technology — so who better to keep us honest than the digital natives? This comes to life in how we commercialize our products and even how we structure or own internal operations.
In the digital workplace, employers should take a page from Gen Z’s book. Even prior to the pandemic, this generation was already driving a flexible working revolution. They’re skilled at toggling between multiple devices in a single day and accomplishing their work on time, but during the hours that work for them. Going on a mid-day run or even squeezing in a surfing lesson might not be out of the question. And as we all adjust to this new digital normal, we have a lot to learn about flexibility from the generation most adept at it. The lesson for leaders is to proactively extend opportunities for new hires to convey what they know to us.
The last step is simple, and it applies to all employees: Show you care. This could be as significant as covering for your colleague dealing with a family emergency or as easy as sending a congratulatory note following a successful meeting. We’ve all assumed a new level of intimacy with our colleagues as we’ve invited one another into our homes, virtually. Empathy continues to be the bedrock of a lasting culture. It’s a quality we should commit to retain for all employees — no matter what our future holds.
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