My first corporate job was fully remote — here’s what I learned.
First and foremost, I am now going to the office three out of five days, so I’m in a pretty good position to look back at my sloppy (and fully internet-driven) corporate beginnings and reflect.
With hundreds and hundreds of people praising remote work — the pandemic seems to have brought something people have sought after for years: a flexible work environment!
But what about the thousands of graduates that started their jobs fully remotely, from the comfort of their homes and far away from any physical interaction? How does one learn the ropes of corporate life online while still a student? Or a recent graduate? Is it easy? Is it better?
Let me take that.
In June 2020 no one was even daring to suggest a trip to the office. It was almost a taboo topic.
I had just started my internship and all I knew was that my workday was a continuous switch between Outlook and Teams (we even had Skype at the time, so I’d also look at that every now and then). I would take introductory meetings from my backyard, in the sun. And I’d run around the house, looking for the charger or the headphones or the notebook full of abbreviations, my hair messy and my clothes extremely un-corporate-like. I knew nothing better and that felt great but then…
Are the virtual drinks enough to bond over?
To be fair, my first impression of my colleagues was fully based on their round profile icons. How intimidated I felt by them, or how approachable they seemed… was fully dictated by that icon. Their entire persona in my mind was built around that icon. And I had only seen them talk (and move, and frown, and laugh) from their tiny spots on the video grid of the virtual meeting room. Those tiny, lifeless avatars on my screen were my colleagues for 32 hours a week, the whole year round!
And I felt disengaged.
While, of course, we had a virtual Christmas celebration, or virtual Friday drinks every now and then, I never fully connected with any of them. At one point I started having coffee chats with the other interns but even those were a nice add-on for a mere feeling of relatedness, though not necessarily a meaningful connection. I didn’t feel understood. And it was my first corporate role, a pretty big deal!
It’s hard to learn work ethics when your sole example is yourself!
Product marketing is very task-centric and stakeholder-management heavy. You are boomed with requests from people all day long simply because you, with your position, are at the intersection of a thousand different teams. You’re the middleman between functions. And that requires a good work ethic i.e., being organised, knowing how to prioritise and when to pick up what.
Unfortunately, even with my strong academic work ethic, I found it difficult to fully manage expectations. To have clear overviews of tasks. And that’s because I simply didn’t know how to act like a normal employee.
I would take prolonged lunch breaks and then work overtime. I didn’t know how long certain actions would take, so I’d spend hours trying to figure out solutions since the nearest colleague was still an anxious click away. I wasn’t sure how to speak in meetings, what to challenge, and at what moment.
All of that improves with experience but comes much more naturally in an office environment, when you learn to mimic the behaviours of your more senior colleagues. You learn confidence and replicate their attitudes towards certain stakeholders, you learn the office politics and feel much more inclined to ask a question. Knowledge comes easier.
I don’t want to dismiss the advantages of working from home in any way. I love my home office (though I definitely need a change every now and then), but I definitely love the energy you get at the office, the possibility of actually bonding with your colleagues, the easier collaboration and brainstorming…
I don’t know if I could’ve been further along the learning curve had I started working in a real office in June 2020. And you can totally learn the office ropes later on (11 months later, to be precise). But I’d definitely vouch for a mixed home-office experience for the starters. Yes, I’m that person.