For young workers hoping to move up, hybrid work model creates unique challenges

By Adena Ali
THE CANADIAN PRESS

After working remotely since starting a new job at the beginning of the year, Madison Rogers was excited to get into the office in March and spend time collaborating with her co-workers at Toronto-based Fuse Create. 

“I felt energized meeting my co-workers in person – I’m even more motivated to do good work,” she said in an interview.

As someone early in her career, she said she’s looking forward to more opportunities to catch the attention of her bosses, to make a positive impression with her colleagues in person and the other career benefits that come with being in the office. 

Like many companies, Fuse has embraced a hybrid model of working remotely and in the office, which means junior employees looking to reap those in-person benefits have new challenges to navigate.

Early-career employees have typically had the benefit of an in-person work environment as they look to develop their skills, understand workplace norms and progress professionally. 

That’s why communication matters more than ever, said Johnathan Nightingale, co-founder of management training company Raw Signal Group. A lack of clarity from leadership about expectations for early-career employees is a problem that could arise, he said.

“When you’re ambiguous, you’re asking the most junior employees on the team to do the math every day in terms of, ‘Is it a safe day for me to work from home, is this day a good day for me to get face time with my boss?'”

To make the most of their time in office, junior employees should make sure to ask their colleagues and managers lots of questions around how things work and what success looks like, Nightingale said. 

Meanwhile, he advises senior colleagues and managers to be transparent with the junior members of their team, and point to successful colleagues and what they do right.

Nightingale said taking advantage of time in the office is important to progress on the main variables of success: the chance to learn and master one’s craft, exposure to opportunities and the development of strong relationships. 

“Those are things that an office environment oftentimes gives you for free and can super-charge your career,” he said. 

When young people are not working in the office, they will have to take more initiative and put more effort into standing out among their peers, Nightingale adds.

“You’re going to have to take more ownership when it comes to where you’re getting skills, make sure you’re in consideration for opportunities and ensure that you’re out there building relationships and networks,” he said.

Even though the hybrid work model is being applied for the first time at a lot of companies, many younger employees find the approach attractive despite not knowing exactly what to expect. 

An Angus Reid Institute poll from March found that 45 per cent of Canadians 18 to 34 years old prefer a mix of in-office and remote work arrangements, with a greater share of that mix favouring working from home. Twenty-nine per cent say they’d quit their jobs immediately if asked to return to the office full time.

In addition to the opportunities working in the office provides, Rogers said she’s also looking forward to the out-of-the-office activities that she can participate in on the days she’s working in person, including scheduled events, after-work drinks, lunches, and the chance to meet people beyond those she works with, something the hybrid work model allows for without her having to be in the office all the time. 

With employees holding more power in the labour market today, many simply won’t put up with a lack of flexibility, including junior members of a company.

“I would find it difficult to adjust to the Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in-office lifestyle,” Rogers said. “If I had the choice, I wouldn’t want to work that way.”