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Virtual, virtual, hybrid: Arriving in the world of work mid-pandemic  

As a business that has been growing steadily year on year, JFG Comms moved into uncharted territory earlier this year, when we took on two graduates in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Having never physically met either candidate, we interviewed, inducted and immersed our two new recruits into working life all through video calls. Read on, as almost a year later, our PR and Public Affairs Executive, Joe Goodman, tells his story.....

The onset of Covid-19 upended long-established working practices, transforming the working world while rendering our day-to-day lives virtually unrecognisable, and while the UK is gently shifting back to former plains of ‘normality’ there are some things that will never quite be the same...

Or so I’ve been told. In fact, virtual – and now hybrid – working is the only type of long-term, full-time work I’ve ever known. Graduating university in the summer of 2020, not only was my ceremonious ‘goodbye’ to university a virtual graduation, my rite-of-passage ‘hello’ to the working world was a virtual induction. 

As we’ve grappled with the transition from education to work, my cohort of Covid-era graduates have simultaneously had to grapple with having two-dimensional colleagues and a whole new world of work whose walls look awfully familiar.

Joining JFG Comms 

Thankfully, joining JFG Communications, an agency that was proudly virtual before anyone had heard of Zoom, meant I have been tremendously well-supported from the off by colleagues that understand the great possibilities of remote working, but are also well-versed in how to overcome its shortfalls.

Particularly at the start of a new job, a common fear around virtual working is the feeling of being cut adrift from colleagues in both a social and professional sense. If you have a question about a task, it’s not simply a case of chatting across the desk to the nearest colleague, it’s the decision of whether to email, message or call a colleague, or deciding to brave it alone. 

While this develops your independence, and encourages your independent problem-solving rather than being too quick to rely on others, I can imagine it going too far the other way, and making someone feel isolated. Thankfully, structured support meant I was able to find a balance between these two poles. Brief, twice-daily catch-ups with my manager meant if I was unsure about something that wasn’t immediately urgent, I always knew when the next time would be to raise it.

Having regular time in the calendar, rather than organising calls ad hoc, meant I could discuss pieces of work and draw on the expertise of senior colleagues without feeling burdensome. When there was nothing specific to raise, it was an opportunity to informally ask questions around a particular topic, pick up on things other people were working on, or just have a catch up about how we had each spent the previous evening, aiding my professional development and building bonds with colleagues. Similarly, scheduled virtual socials were a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend Thursday afternoons while we were all shut away, finding out about everyone’s life outside work to bond with my new colleagues.

The give and take of virtual events 

There have also been great benefits of the virtual shift, not least the ability to attend many more events than I would have been able to attend in-person. From industry conferences to All-Party Parliamentary Group meetings, attending an hour-long event is no strenuous task when travel time doesn’t have to be considered – all things that helped my professional development. 

Nonetheless, the re-opening of offices and re-adoption of hybrid working at JFG Comms has opened my eyes to the benefits that come with doing things in-person. 

Networking is one such example. No matter how much effort goes into to replicating networking settings virtually, it never quite provides a suitable substitute to doing it in-person. Monitoring fringe events at the Labour Party Conference and networking with people gave me my first taste of the ‘real thing’, and it no doubt would have been a far inferior experience had the conference been virtual again this year. 

Switching to hybrid working 

Being in the office with colleagues for a couple of days a week has been similarly valuable. Not just the spontaneous asking of questions, but the informal chatting and tuning into conversations around me on anything from upcoming pieces of work to people’s past experiences has been a great way to gain a more holistic understanding of the company and accelerate my wider learning. 

The other joy of hybrid working is the frequent changing of my working environment; it is great to work alongside colleagues on days in the office, and days working at home are similarly welcome when they come round. 

While I arrived in the working world after the pandemic began, I have realised how virtual working blurred the lines between people’s home and work lives, and demanded everyone have a heightened respect and understanding of their colleagues’ lives outside work. For hybrid working to survive, those sentiments must persist voluntarily and, if they do, companies will be rewarded with employees who are more content, more productive and more committed. For a Covid-era graduate, all I can think is: I can’t believe it was ever done differently.