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Gleb Tsipursky

Management

How to Integrate Junior Staff Without an Office Culture

There are ways to make hybrid work a win-win proposition

Published: Monday, February 20, 2023 - 12:03

Shortly before the layoffs at Salesforce, Marc Benioff, co-founder and co-CEO of Salesforce, sent a companywide Slack message complaining about the low productivity of recent hires made during the pandemic and asked, “Are we not building tribal knowledge with new employees without an office culture?”

Salesforce permits a high degree of flexibility for employees: Teams and their leaders make the choice about what kind of work arrangements suit their needs best. But does such flexibility threaten the development and integration of recently hired junior staff?

That’s a concern raised by many companies I advise on transitioning to permanent hybrid work arrangements. They recognize that research shows staff are more productive working remotely, but worry this may not apply to junior staff, who haven’t yet learned the company’s systems, processes, and practices. They also worry about the professional growth and cultural integration of junior staff; after all, the future of any organization depends on developing its junior staff into future leaders.

Thus, many leaders join Beinoff in expressing serious reservations about a flexible hybrid model. Instead, they advocate for a return to the office as a means of addressing such concerns and reinvigorating what Beinoff termed an “office culture.”

I tell such leaders that their concerns are real and need to be addressed. Yet there’s no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Flexibility helps improve productivity and retention while cutting costs. It’s important and viable to find a win-win approach that retains these benefits while also facilitating the development of junior staff.

In fact, a full-time office return is likely to have a negative effect on junior staff, not a positive one. According to the ADP Research Institute report, “People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View,” Gen Z are the most likely age group to say that “if my employer insisted on me returning to my workplace full-time, I would consider looking for another job,” at 71 percent. By contrast, 56 percent of those 45 to 54 years old said they would consider looking for another job.

Instead, the solutions I work on with clients involve a more targeted approach—one that is customized to the needs of junior staff. It does involve newer staff coming into the office more often, but not randomly. They’re not going to pick up the company’s culture and work habits by osmosis, especially given that more experienced staff won’t be coming in as often as junior staff.

What’s needed is a deliberate, intentional, and structured program to facilitate their development and integration into company culture while maintaining flexible hybrid-work arrangements. This policy is distinct from a company’s onboarding program, but should build on and plug into it so junior staff transition seamlessly from the onboarding program during their first several weeks into the development and integration program for the first couple of years.

On-the-job training

A key component of a hybrid development and integration program involves on-the-job training. Such training comes primarily in the form of senior staff responding immediately to questions and concerns raised by recent hires—showing them how to do the tasks associated with the role, guiding them into best practices and unwritten rules and norms, and introducing them to important internal and external stakeholders. Likewise, such training involves senior staff observing the performance of junior staff and proactively providing them with feedback and suggestions for improvements.

Fortunately, such on-the-job training can easily be done in a small-group style, with one senior staff member helping train six to eight junior employees. Senior staff members must coordinate schedules with junior staff to come to the office on the same days, and then work in the same open office space.

All of the employees will work on their individual tasks. When a recent hire has a question, they ask it, and the experienced employee answers and explains the context; doing so ensures that the whole group gets the benefit of the explanation, without the senior staffer having to repeat it for each person in a one-on-one training setting. Additionally, the senior staff member will occasionally walk around and check on the tasks of junior staff members, providing them with guidance and coaching as needed. Again, this helps the whole group learn how to do this task.

This kind of activity does impede senior staffers’ efficiency and should be considered in their performance evaluations as a service to the company. But this impediment is relatively small because of the one-to-many dynamic of teaching many recent hires at once. No one person should be overburdened with training; this task should be distributed among a number of senior staffers known as good on-the-job trainers. It’s helpful for junior staff to get on-the-job training from a variety of senior staff members rather than from just a single individual. Recent hires get multiple perspectives and tactics for accomplishing work outcomes while also learning about and connecting with different networks and stakeholders within a company.

Mentoring

As part of the development and integration program, it’s also helpful to provide formal mentoring for newer employees. Most of the mentoring should take place in the office because it’s easier to have conversations where recent hires can feel comfortable admiting lack of confidence face-to-face, rather than by videoconference.

Make sure to have one senior staff member from the junior colleague’s immediate team. The goal of the senior person within their own team is to help the person with on-the-job learning specific to the team’s tasks and within the context of team dynamics. Also include two from outside the team. One should be from the junior staff members’ business unit, and another one should be from a different unit. At least one should be located in a different geographical area, if the company is large enough. These two mentors will be needed to overcome one of the key problems uncovered by research on company culture in hybrid work: the decrease in cross-functional connections across staff.

Having three mentors decreases the burden on each, allowing meetings of once or twice a month with each. As a result, such formal mentoring is easily manageable for experienced employees.

Digital co-working

What about the days when recent hires work remotely? To facilitate on-the-job learning through virtual settings, as well as to promote effective team collaboration, employ digital co-working. It involves team members spending an hour or two per day working on their own tasks while on a videoconference call with their teammates.
 
To start a digital co-working session, team members should first join a videoconference call. During this call, each team member should share their plans to work on their own tasks for the session and then turn off their microphone while keeping their speakers on (video optional). Then, team members work independently on their own tasks while still being able to communicate with each other by turning on their microphone if they have a question or comment. More-experienced team members would then respond to the question, including using screensharing or a virtual whiteboard to demonstrate how to complete a task. Digital co-working helps to replicate the experience of working alongside co-workers in a shared office space, which is helpful in on-the-job training for junior staffers.

Benioff isn’t wrong to call out the challenges of developing junior staff in a hybrid setting. Yet the solution doesn’t involve returning everyone to the office to ensure an “office culture.” Instead of a broad-brush approach that sacrifices flexibility and its benefits for retention, productivity, and cost savings, my clients find it helps to have a narrow, targeted approach that addresses the problem. The solution is a structured program that transitions recent hires smoothly from onboarding in the first several weeks into integration and development for the first couple of years, with in-office, on-the-job training and mentoring, along with digital co-working.

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About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps quality professionals make the wisest decisions on the future of work as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. A proud Ukrainian American, he is the best-selling author of seven books, including Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in more than 650 articles in prominent publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and more than 15 years in academia as a cognitive scientist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipurskyLinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course