Starting Your Career Virtually: Tips for Gen Z in the Workplace
Updated 21 November 2022
If you are part of Generation Z or born after 1997, then you may be in the midst of starting your career or internship during a time when work life has been impacted by COVID-19. Gen Zs now make up an estimated 20% of the workforce and, even under normal circumstances, the transition from school to the professional world can feel challenging. The strained job market, economy and newly virtual or socially distanced workplace may present even more unique obstacles.
We interviewed Whitney Headen, CEO of 19th and Park and The Life Currency – a website dedicated to helping young professionals navigate life through their 20s – to explore challenges you might face in the workplace and ways you can navigate work environments affected by COVID-19. This article provides generation Z in the workplace with tips for their interests and needs, to find success at work and includes advice from two business leaders.
Related: How to Start a New Job Virtually
Tips to succeed in the workplace
According to Headen, 'It’s now more important than ever for everyone to take control over their careers and futures but particularly for Generation Z. This generation is entering a workforce that is in the midst of disruption with no true vision of how it's going to end. The good news is with technology, social media and a societal shift in focusing on personal and professional development, the resources are available to them.'
Gain transferable skills
If you started looking for a job or an internship in recent months, you likely saw a limited number of opportunities as companies slowed or paused hiring due to the spread of COVID-19. Almost every industry has been affected by the pandemic, per Indeed Hiring Lab data. As of June 2020, Singapore's unemployment levels are also high. Needless to say, the current job market is competitive.
As a result, you may have accepted a job opportunity that wasn’t your dream role. While it can feel frustrating to deviate from your desired path, it might help to know that general work experience, even if it seems unrelated to your ideal job, can provide valuable transferable skills to help you succeed in any career. In the meantime, you can also focus on developing skills and building qualifications for your dream job.
Perform a self-evaluation
Start by assessing which skills would be most valuable in your career. If you do not have a defined 'ideal role', that’s okay. You might take note of the parts of your job that motivate you most. For example, you may enjoy training and mentoring others, working directly with customers and clients or analysing data. Such interests can indicate good potential career paths for you and give you a better idea of the right skills to build.
Find practical ways to build the right skills
You can search for opportunities to upskill outside of your job, but you might also consider finding ways to upskill at work and gain experience in areas that appeal to you. For example, if you are interested in management and you have a job in retail sales, you might ask your manager if you can take on more responsibilities to gain leadership experience. You might also ask to shadow a colleague who works in a position that you might like to grow into.
Seek the support of managers, mentors and peers
Positive communication with your manager is key. Discuss what motivates you and your long-term goals so they can connect you with projects, people and responsibilities that develop the appropriate skills. If, after some time, you decide you’d like to find a new role that is more aligned with your career goal, consider companies hiring on an urgent basis.
If your new role is temporarily remote or in a socially-distanced office, you might find it challenging to navigate the communication barriers associated with a lack of in-person interactions. Asking plenty of questions and feeling confident doing so, can help ease potential frustration.
For example, onboarding may feel especially overwhelming right now. Many companies are still developing best practices for a virtual or COVID-19-compliant workplace, so your onboarding programme might seem clunky or difficult to follow. First, try to be patient with yourself and with your employer. It’s possible that the orientation programme hasn’t yet been adapted to meet the needs of new employees in this environment. Then, consider asking your manager for more comprehensive information, resources or training to help you understand company policies or expectations about your role.
It can be jarring to lose the efficiency of simply asking the person who sits next to you for help and the opportunity for organic communication. While they aren’t direct substitutes for in-person interactions, consider using online chat tools like Slack, Google Chat or Microsoft Teams in a way that resembles how you would regularly communicate with your colleagues if you were sitting next to each other in an office. In other words, rather than feeling timid about sending messages through virtual chat, think of it as the new casual way to ask a quick question.
Another challenge of working remotely could be the feeling that you lack access to team leadership or management and their guidance. It may be standard practice to have weekly 1-on-1 meetings with your manager, but in a fully remote or distanced office, you might benefit from meeting more frequently. If possible and appropriate for your needs, take advantage of your leadership’s 'office hours or other designated times when your manager is available to talk. On the other hand, if you have in-depth questions or personal concerns that you’d like to discuss, consider requesting additional meetings with your manager.
Gen Z typically strives for change with volunteering being a rewarding experience.
If it’s important for you to incorporate activism into your daily life, reach out to your manager or human resources department to ask if your company offers volunteer opportunities or other ways to get involved with advocacy groups. While options may be limited right now, there could still be virtual opportunities to support communities within or outside of your organisation.
Some examples of ways to be an agent of change at work might include:
Joining volunteer employee-led resource groups (ERGs) or councils. An ERG is an organised group that represents a specific community within a company. Members of the group often collaborate on projects that celebrate diversity and foster an inclusive environment at work. This could include panel discussions, educational training, mentorship or events. If your company doesn’t currently have ERGs, consider asking your human resources representative if you can start one.
Leading a 'lunch and learn' or presenting to colleagues on a topic you're passionate about. For example, if you foster animals from a local rescue centre and some of your colleagues have expressed similar interests, then you might set up a lunchtime presentation to talk about your experience, offer tips and encourage your colleagues to get involved. You could even invite a representative from the centre to join the meeting so they can provide more background on the organisation’s mission and answer questions from attendees.
Asking your office manager or human resource department if your company has any eco-friendly initiatives you can contribute to. There may be a sustainability team that you could join. If not, you might consider creating a task force with other colleagues to promote environmental responsibility among company employees.
Build relationships with co-workers
Workplace friendships have been found to improve productivity and morale, but it can be particularly difficult to establish relationships in a remote or distanced office environment. However, there are still ways you can create and foster strong relationships with your co-workers.
If you are starting a new job, consider asking your manager if you can send an introductory email or chat to your team. Include a photo of yourself and a few personal details that are work-appropriate in your introduction to help establish a human connection. For example, you might share a photo of a recent hike you took, if you have a pet and what city you were born in. This allows your team to learn about you and find commonalities with you. You could even encourage them to get in touch with you about any shared interests. For example, 'If anyone knows of a good hiking trail in the area, I’d love to hear about it!'
You might also consider using online communication tools to mimic common in-person workplace interactions. For example, request one-on-one video chat meetings with your manager or invite co-workers to virtual lunches, organise after-work video hangouts, happy hours or trivia to learn more about each other. You could also try setting the tone of conversations by sharing your hobbies and interests with colleagues in an effort to encourage them to do the same.
Headen says, 'Relationship building is one of the key ingredients to success, yet most shy away from understanding what it means to continue to foster and grow relationships and the importance of creating relationships intergenerationally, cross-departmentally and cross-culturally. Generation Z needs to be open to learning the tactics of the traditional workplace while also being confident and assertive enough to express their ideas for change. Communication is key for all parties to be able to learn and grow with one another.'
Create a schedule that works for you
If you are transitioning to working from home, make an effort to create clear boundaries for your work hours. It was recently reported that many in the US have been extending their workdays by 40%, or roughly 3 hours a day. While it can feel like you’re being more productive, regularly increased work hours can lead to burnout. Instead, try to identify your most productive hours and work with your manager to create a schedule that aligns with them.
For example, if you notice that you feel most creative and get more work done in the morning, use that time for tasks that require greater concentration or request to work early morning shifts. If it’s harder for you to focus in the afternoon, fill that time with more administrative tasks like sending emails, filling out reports or restocking inventory.
Here are some additional ways you might optimise productivity:
Start your week and each day by reviewing the tasks you must complete in order to meet goals or deadlines.
Prioritise your tasks by evaluating the time investment, complexity and impact of each.
Provide key status updates to your manager and other team members at an agreed-upon cadence.
Take regularly scheduled breaks to stretch, get outside and rest.
COVID-19 has impacted the way both new and established professionals work and many people are still finding what works for them. Your teammates may be experiencing the same struggles as you. If possible, try to participate in open discussions with co-workers about the trials and errors they have encountered and share tips for how to address them.
Seek opportunities for mentorship
Working with a mentor can provide benefits like personal and career development and a line of support to answer work or other career-related questions. Having a mentor in a senior-level role may also help you identify clear steps and opportunities to advance in your career. The value of mentorship can also be mutual. You may have knowledge or experience that your mentor might find helpful or inspiring.
Here are a few steps you can take to seek out a mentor:
Contact your manager or human resources department to find out if your company has a mentorship programme that you can get involved in. If one hasn’t been established, ask your manager how to find a mentor within your company.
When searching for a mentor at work, it might make sense to find someone who is in your field, has had success in their career and exhibits a desire to share their knowledge and experience with you.
Once you have identified a potential mentor, schedule an introductory meeting with them. It’s best to let them know in advance that you're interested in discussing mentorship opportunities so they can consider their availability and willingness prior to your meeting.
During your meeting, clearly explain your needs and what you hope to gain from mentorship so they can properly assess whether they are the right fit. You should also explain why you selected them and how much you value their expertise. You are more likely to receive a positive response when you can make a clear case for what you want from a mentor relationship and why you are asking this individual to become your mentor.
Being away from teammates in a remote or socially distanced workplace might make you feel isolated, less productive or unsure of your performance. During times of stress, consider taking a break for a walk or exercise, connecting with friends and family or scheduling time for fun or relaxing activities. You might also consider practising breathing exercises or meditation. Remember that the current state of work-life will require some extra patience and kindness toward yourself and others.
Headen suggests learning to focus on your overall goal versus setting timelines for when you think you should have things accomplished. 'Your career journey is fluid and it will continue to change and evolve over time, in some ways that are better than you could have even imagined.'
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article is affiliated with Indeed.
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