Danielle Sukharenko, a recent BCom graduate from McGill University, and Stephanie Ricci, a journalism student at Concordia University, contributed to this story.
Over half of the global workforce packed up their office spaces and transitioned to the digital workplace in March 2020. While seasoned employees relied on their wits and expertise to navigate the shift to work remotely, new young professionals grappling with the newfound uncertainty surrounding their personal and professional futures found themselves at times lost in transition. As the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a loneliness epidemic, particularly among young adults, an increasingly disconnected workforce poses an entirely new challenge for Generation Z introverts and extroverts — How to succeed in the digital workplace?
Navigating the physical workplace already presents a significant challenge for those new to the workforce, making the uncharted territory of the digital workplace an even greater hurdle for young professionals. What seemed more obvious in the physical workplace through social cues and body language, has become increasingly difficult to relay digitally. Now, over a year into the pandemic, introverts and extroverts continue to spread themselves thin to succeed in the digital workplace, with over half of U.S. employees experiencing burn-out and 61% of young professionals reporting feelings of “serious loneliness.”
To better understand these challenges, we interviewed over 20 recent university graduates aged 21 to 27 who work at some of the most prominent tech firms in North America. Candidates were sourced via McGill’s alumni network, LinkedIn network, and candidate referrals, targeting a sample of young professionals working on the leading edge of the latest technologies. Interviews followed a detailed protocol that explored topics such as candidate background, their self-proclaimed individual and work team personality types, strategies to manage upward, and best practices for introverts/extroverts in the digital workplace. Through their experiences, we discerned what matters for Gen Z professionals and identified a few best practices helping them succeed in the digital workplace.
1. Seek mentorship and learning opportunities outside your current role
The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the importance of workplace support and personal relationships from the top down in organizations. Exhibiting consideration for individuals’ goals can make all the difference in the digital workplace, especially as young professionals work toward making their mark in organizations.
This was certainly the case for an extroverted Sales Development Representative at Yelp! who left the company a few months into the pandemic due to a lack of career growth and learning opportunities. Before WFH, the sales representative had ample opportunity to voice her interests and seek out career opportunities by being physically present in the office. However, when Yelp! shifted to working remotely, she felt less comfortable reaching out to volunteer for new projects, found it more difficult to communicate with other teams, and had fewer learning opportunities outside her role. Ultimately, she left the company one month into the pandemic because of how disconnected she felt from the team. Sentiments such as lack of recognition and stymied career progress in the digital workplace are commonplace. Nearly half (48%) of employees feel a greater need to communicate their value to higher-ups and 36% say it is more difficult for them to make an impact in the digital workplace.
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Mentorship opportunities are another key contributor to career progress and a sense of belonging for young professionals in the digital workplace. A Software Engineer at Google stressed the importance of having a mentor to learn and grow. Especially at Google, where employees compare the amount of new material they manage to drinking from a firehose, it can be difficult and daunting to navigate the organization — digitally – on your own. Mentors are a great way to ensure you have consistent support, gain familiarity with the company, and succeed in the workplace.
Organizations that exhibit personal stake and check-ins for employees show greater sentiments of workplace engagement. A Business Development Analyst at SSENSE credits her high sense of workplace belonging to her manager’s consideration for her personal career goals. By allowing her to present at team meetings, encouraging her to speak up, supporting her ideas, and taking the time to coach her, her manager shows he values her personal stake, boosting her sense of belonging within the company.
Pro Tip: Lean into both your extroverted and introverted skills to find a mentor in the digital workplace. First, find an experienced colleague that you admire and respect, build a relationship with that person, express your interest to learn and grow, and try to set up regular meetings. Then, rely on your introverted skills to listen carefully, take notes, and apply those learnings to your own work.
2. Prioritize workplace comfort just as much as workplace belonging
Many interview candidates distinguished workplace belonging from workplace comfort, citing that pitfalls in one or the other can have severe effects on their workplace engagement. An extroverted Operations Manager at Yelp! says that he feels a high sense of workplace belonging, but a low sense of workplace comfort in the digital workplace. Although he feels like a valued team member at Yelp!, as an extrovert, he misses the energy of the office and feels less confident in the way he shows up at work. Nevertheless, he attributes Yelp’s informal digital workplace culture, characterized by constant check-ins, extroverted breaks, and open conversations, as key to maintaining his sense of workplace comfort. By knowing his manager does not expect him to be perfect during a pandemic, he feels more comfortable than expected in the digital workplace.
Digital communication tools can also make or break employees’ sense of comfort. An extroverted Business Development Representative from Salesforce notes the positive impact Salesforce’s “digital-first” mindset has had on his sense of workplace comfort in the WFH environment. Although he still misses spontaneous in-person interactions with his colleagues, having access to an open line of communication with his team has enhanced his digital workplace experience.
Even employees who do not align with their organization’s digital communication tools try to make the most of the platforms’ functions, recognizing its importance in boosting workplace comfort. For instance, an extroverted Software Engineer at Facebook introduced communication norms that align with his team’s preferences after noting some pitfalls of Facebook’s internal communication tool. By interacting mainly through chat functions and engaging in informal discussions over video chat, he struck a balance between effective digital collaboration and his colleagues’ communication preferences, boosting team engagement.
An introverted Google Software Engineer uses similar digital communication strategies to stay connected with his colleagues. His team favors chat platforms over email to mimic Google’s informal workplace culture online, and even started a “social chat” to promote spontaneous conversations with colleagues. He says that friendly chats promote Google’s informal workplace culture, encourage colleagues to make personal connections, and fosters a sense of comfort in the digital workplace.
Pro Tip: Integrate your workplace preferences into company and team norms. Voicing your needs is an important step to achieving workplace comfort. Ask for introvert/extrovert breaks when needed, detail your communication preferences, and reach out to colleagues for coffee chats to re-engage with your team.
Tips 3 and 4 for succeeding in today’s digital workplace are about asking for support in balancing work and personal commitments and favoring an informal digital workplace culture. Find out more about these additional suggestions for success in the digital workspace in Part 2 of this Gen Z-focused series, to be released on September 16, 2021.