“Collaboration and Inclusion – how we and our trainees make the most of hybrid working” 

Celine Floyd, Co-Director of Cappfinity’s Talent Practice, recently chaired the closing session of the ISE Student Development Conference, to discuss early careers talent and hybrid working.  She was joined on the panel by Bob Athwal, Culture and Belonging Lead at Skyscanner; Paul Dilley, Early Careers Manager at Mott MacDonald and Martha May Jones, a graduate on the HSBC Commercial Graduate Scheme. 

What have been the successes of hybrid working for early talent? 

Hybrid working has allowed for greater flexibility and autonomy for employees in general, but the impact for early career talent may be very different. 

Martha shared that from the perspective of a new graduate entering the workplace, hybrid working has allowed for better connectivity across geographical locations and that companies have become much better at doing things digitally, like networking and social events.  Greater connectivity has allowed graduates to form relationships with other employees in offices around the world. 

It’s also a success from a wellbeing perspective, as working from home some of the time makes it easier to view work as a part of your day and not all your day, as you have more control over time management.  This means you have more opportunity to factor in a walk before work or at lunchtime and to use your break times to do something for yourself. 

What have been the challenges? 

Everyone’s idea of hybrid working is different, so it can be difficult for graduates to learn from others if the majority of their team works from home most or all the time. 

This resonates with what employers are seeing too.  The difficulty is knowing how to immerse graduates in the brand and culture of an organisation when less than 20% of the workforce is present in the office at any one time. 

Ensuring consistency of experience is the most important thing, bearing in mind that not everyone will have the same access to a reliable internet connection or the tech tools for the job.  A graduate in the Birmingham office should be able to have the same experience and access as a graduate in the London office. 

Time in the office needs to really count.  So, if you’re physically in the office, you should try to have in-person meetings, take time to collaborate and accept that sometimes office days will not be as productive for outputs as when working from home. 

How can employers prioritise wellness and mental health for early career professionals? 

All our panellists agreed that the importance of wellness and mental health needed to be communicated from the very first day.  This can be done by setting designated breaks during training days so that new graduates know that taking breaks is expected and they can build them into the structure of every day.  Graduates should be encouraged to do something for themselves during this time, to take a proper break from the workday. 

It’s important to see senior leaders role modelling this behaviour.  At Mott MacDonald, the CEO will take a moment to reflect on their own wellbeing when introducing themselves to graduates, explaining how the past two years have affected them.  Role modelling behaviour like this, is important to help graduates realise they too should be prioritising their wellbeing. 

When meetings take place in person, try changing the format by going for a walking meeting or a coffee rather than sitting in a room around a table. 

Bob recommends having a check in at the start of every call or conversation to just ask- ‘how are you?’  Wellness should be built into an organisation’s culture, not through posters and campaigns, but by leading by example.  Be authentic and listen to each other. 

Ultimately, wellness and how we work is personal to the individual.  One size won’t fit all, so graduates should be able to be flexible about what works for them. 

How can we integrate collaboration into hybrid ways of working? 

Hybrid working has meant collaboration has needed to be much more deliberate than if it were a natural ‘water cooler moment’ in an office. 

At Mott MacDonald, Paul shared how graduates are set simple tasks to do based around their strengths and developing them. Graduates are then put into action learning groups and given year long challenges around one of the core organisational themes, like diversity and inclusion or sustainability. 

Many of the new deliberate methods of collaboration have been created using feedback from the 2020 intake, as the group who were originally first hit by the pandemic.  So, there’s been lots of sessions around how they have learnt and worked remotely. 

There is also an argument for a train less, learn more approach.  Prior to the pandemic, every graduate may have had large group training days and activities, but not everything within these sessions was directly applicable to anything they could use.  Organisations should be ensuring that training is always relevant and applicable to the collaboration a graduate is involved in. 

Time in the office needs to be about spending time together to collaborate and finding out about the projects other people have got going on.  Again, one size will not fit all, so there will always need to be some flexibility built into any way of working and managers should ask graduates what works for them. 

If early career talent cannot see the benefit of working on a hybrid basis, which allows for their personal ways of working and learning, they will leave.  The important thing is to keep asking what works for them and remember that a single approach will not suit everyone. 

If you’d like to explore ways to help your early careers professionals (and their managers) harness their strengths to collaborate effectively, boost wellbeing and feel included in a hybrid world, please contact development@cappfinity.com