The New Return to the Old Workplace
By Brett Steenbarger
I recently published an article for the Forbes business site that discusses the reopening of many workplaces in coming months. For example, several trading firms and hedge funds where I consult will be gradually reopening their offices this summer. That will be a big change for employees who have been working from home during the past year.
An important theme of the Forbes article is that the new office environment will be different from the old one. We are already finding that workplaces are integrating some of the best features of virtual work with working in-person. Going forward, most professionals will not be 100% virtual; nor will they be limited to rigid hours in the office. Teams will find themselves combining the online work environment with live collaboration. This is an important reason that students preparing for the future should be experienced in virtual as well as in-person work. The internship is a great opportunity to gain that experience.
Many students, tired of being locked down during the recent period of pandemic, are hungering to dive into the in-person workplace. To be sure, there are plenty of benefits from working face-to-face with colleagues and enjoying spontaneous interactions with them. What I’m finding, however, is that the virtual work mode has created many efficiencies for businesses and greater flexibility for employees. For instance, many people I work with feel they have greater control over their work hours and have less time wasted in meetings when they are working from home. As I mention in the Forbes article, it’s a lot easier to take a quick power nap working from the home office than in the company office!
It’s only natural for us to want to put this pandemic behind us. There are important learning lessons from this period, however, that businesses are incorporating to help individuals and teams work more effectively. For instance, in the virtual mode, I’ve observed much more spontaneous teamwork within teams, where people collaborate for specific projects. This creates fresh opportunities for learning and mentoring that didn’t happen when teamwork was more limited to formal, in-person team meetings. I’m also noticing far more collaboration across teams, as groups of professionals recognize that they can easily share documents online and tap into each other’s expertise.
A key to success for new professionals will be bringing the workstyle of the online mode to the in-person setting. Work is becoming more social, and the new grads who will be most successful will be those who approach their work as a team sport.