Over a year ago, when the UK first went into national lockdown, ways of working changed radically. This change may last indefinitely.
Initially, adjusting to working from home was challenging. The sheer fist-clenching frustration of staring at one screen when you are accustomed to three and dealing with an unpredictable VPN connection from the ‘comfort’ of a chair not quite designed for 10-hour sittings at a time was often disheartening. Yet, as the days rolled into weeks and the weeks into months, we all adjusted to our new way of work and even enjoyed aspects of it.
Predominantly, the real apprehension for trainees is best exemplified by the expression ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’, and if you did not feel the weight of your greenness as a graduate outside a national lockdown, you sure do during one. Rotating through a firm on a graduate scheme and learning new things out of the office and via a shared screen on Teams is, regrettably, as torturous as one might imagine for both student and teacher. Covid-19 vaccine or not, the challenges of being away from your team and out of the office are not going away.
The professional that a graduate evolves into is heavily shaped by their initial interactions and experiences. For perhaps the first time in their lives, they begin to evolve into businesspeople. Working from home for the past year may not have stunted such growth, but it has perhaps taken away some of the professional and personal confidence that could have been gained from in-person interaction with colleagues and managers, fellow graduates and clients.
Striking a balance
Still, we had to make it work this past year, and we did. I have worked with colleagues and participated on projects that I probably would not have had it not been virtually. I have also had exposure to major clients and been able to build relationships with them when I otherwise would not have been invited to attend an in-person meeting or had the chance to interact with them myself.
One topic that continues to crop up in conversation as we grapple with our new normal is: ‘Just what is the perfect flexi-working balance?’ Where is the equilibrium when the benefits of WFH and the drawbacks of being out-of-office are perfectly balanced, and when do the scales topple? Of course, this is subjective and dependent on many external variables, but graduates are surely among those who feel the shortcomings of being out of the office the most.
Looking forward, the training of juniors must be given high importance during flexi-working discussions. A graduate’s professional progression might well suffer due to being away from the office five days a week, but luckily – hopefully – that need not happen again. Following the past year, we should emphasise the importance of human interaction for social and career development.
Moving past this pandemic, companies must continue to acknowledge the importance of a junior’s prominent first few years in the office despite new working trends. It is my hope that senior associates remember with fondness their first years and just how influential this period truly is.
When new graduates flexi-work, picking up some skills might take a little longer than expected. However, with the right attitude, a good WFH set-up and much appreciated patience and perseverance from team members, graduates still have the opportunity to learn a great deal.
Bethany Bennett is a graduate surveyor at Montagu Evans