Younger team members need help with remote work (WFH)
Even when they don’t think they do
In my very early twenties, I worked at a tech startup and then at Microsoft. Fresh out of grad school, my life was a shell of what it is now. New city, no friends except one from ‘back in the day’ who didn’t work with me. The things that would eventually fill my life — work friends that became personal friends, work rivals, new hobbies, girlfriends, community, church etc. were nascent. A lot of it was catalyzed by the work environment I was in. Southern California startup life was very different from suburban Seattle/Redmond life, but it all coalesced from work encounters.
At Microsoft, I had a plethora of amenities that shaped my social life — an enclosed office with privacy and a couch for napping in btw work sessions, on campus food (yes, Microsoft had a work campus), basketball courts, all the Ping-Pong and foosball I could handle. Hiking trips, Kayaking trips, etc. were all organized off work email accounts. My core social community came from Blacks@Microsoft, African@Microsoft and Nigerians@Microsoft. My weekends were lit, hanging out with different people from work and these affinity communities. It was heaven.
Fast forward to 2020/2021 and imagine how much all of that is lost by working remote for a young person. My life would have been very different if I had to work remote at that stage. I would have had fewer friends, fewer relationships I could take into the non-work world. I was an immigrant so I couldn’t really live with my parents in my adopted country. However, WFH will affect people born here differently — for example, some may opt to stay at home longer to WFH, and this will slow the separation that is full adulthood, and parents can still inject themselves into crucial decisions unbidden. To be blunt I didn’t know how to have a full personal life without bootstrapping it from work relationships.
I’m mostly comfortable with remote work now. My life is full in different ways and I have built the space and room where this fits my lifestyle better. However, I don’t want to lose the empathy for that other stage — the more larval one. All managers should not lose the empathy for that stage!
I don’t think we can put the WFH genie back in the bottle. There are too many real benefits from it. As a result, I think leaders and managers should lean forward and help our younger team members and employees with the rungs to climb to have a full life outside work. This means giving them access to outside community and community resources. More handholding through personal issues that they may not know how to deal with in isolation. Friend-making tips and recommendations on where to hang out. Organizing local events when there is a critical mass of co-workers in a specific location. Self-help resources that spell out even more possibilities. And way more. These resources will go a long way in developing well-rounded and healthy team members.
We tend to think that it’s the parent’s and to some extent, college’s job; to grow the young adult. And when they come to us, we just put them to work. But that’s not true. Work is not an abrupt edge in the development process. It continues. As we subtract the crucial in-person part of work socialization that we have built in the last 50 years for information workers (especially in tech companies), we have to add stuff than can more intentionally help them close the gap of what is lost; which they don’t even see! We must be mindful about what replaces it and how the individuals can stay even better off. Some may find this paternalistic. But I think it’s just a different menu of support for a changing world so we can all contribute to healthy and well-rounded adults.
Work isn’t everything, being a good ‘neighbor’ and helping the next generation is.