The rise of the hybrid and remote office is a trend that is set to affect employees of all levels of seniority; including college graduates. Young professionals and new hires face a steep learning curve made more difficult with the removal of the office environment, where one can more easily observe not only the formal and informal norms of communication but also the business power structure.
In a recent study of over 2,000 American office workers I conducted with market research company Quester, 53% of Gen Z workers report high anxiety due to poor digital communication in the workplace. I empathize with younger workers and more recent hires, including at my company, who are being thrown into the fire. They are forced to learn their roles and meet their new colleagues in a completely unprecedented setting.
While there is endless advice available on how to make a great first impression at work, unfortunately, it’s nearly all outdated as it’s based in the traditional office. Here are five pieces of advice modernized for the new hybrid workplace.
Demonstrate your dedication
In the traditional office: arriving first and leave last.
The most common advice and most visible way to make a great first impression used to be to show up early and to stay late. While the physical office may have disappeared, that action and intention has not—it’s become digital.
In the hybrid office: attend a morning digital check-in and evening roundup.
Simply showing up to the morning huddle on Zoom early won’t earn you any bonus points. If you’re too early, instead of chatting with colleagues as you would in the office, you’ll just be in the waiting room. The best way to stand out is to send an email (or Slack message) to your team outlining your plan of action for the day and asking if there’s anything you can to help senior team members by taking work off their plate. Towards the end of your work day, reply to that message with an update on your projects and ask if there’s anything else you can help with before the morning.
Network with teammates
In the traditional office: hanging around the watercooler.
Research shows that people who have friends at work are more likely to be happier, healthier, and engaged in their job. Unfortunately, as a recent graduate and new hire, you’re likely not going to have a lot of friends at work right at the start.
In the hybrid office: channel surf.
Making new friends can be a challenge or even scary for some people, and it’s significantly more difficult digitally. While the spontaneity of being in the office is nearly impossible to recreate in the hybrid setting, utilize different platforms to connect with team members. Many organizations have created channels for non-work-related communication. For example some teams may have different channels on Slack for interest groups or hobbies such as #Music or #Running, or a thread in the company Facebook group for pictures of pets. The more actively you engage with other teammates, the sooner you’ll be making work friends.
In the traditional office: putting on a smile.
Smiling is contagious. Our smiles light up the areas of the brain linked to happiness, which is why the people we smile at tend to smile back and/or feel a stronger sense of connection with us. One of the best ways to make a great first impression is simply to smile when you’re meeting your new team members
In the hybrid office: punctuate properly.
Obviously, you should be sure to smile and authentically laugh during video meetings. However, with the increased reliance on digital and written communication punctuation has become the key determinant of tone. You can “smile” in an email by using exclamation points and emojis (within reason). One of my favorite strategies is to always end my emails with a nice and simple phrase like “looking forward to connecting on our call tomorrow” or “have a great weekend.”
Build a relationship with your manager
In the traditional office: bringing your boss coffee.
One of the easiest ways to get on your boss’s good side, especially if there is a long day ahead, used to be bringing your boss a cup of coffee in the morning. That cup of coffee would be the starting point of a conversation that could lead to you learning more about potential projects and opportunities.
In the hybrid office: leverage digital tools to provide value.
While you could order your boss coffee on UberEats or DoorDash, the best way to build a relationship with them is to actually provide value. One example is that as a new hire you might not be invited to an important Zoom meeting with a client, however, you can ask to watch the recording and take detailed notes to share with your manager and the team. Hopefully, the next time there is an important meeting with that client, you’ll get invited.
In the traditional office: going to the annual industry conference.
Learning and career development used to be relatively limited to company events and industry expos.
In the hybrid office: teach your boss new technology.
Not only can you continue to expand your own knowledge and skill set through endless online courses, but also you can help your manager and more senior employees. One of the biggest assets of being young is having a fresh perspective. Whether it’s explaining how Clubhouse works or what the latest TikTok viral challenge is (or maybe in six months there will be a new platform we haven’t even heard of yet taking the world by storm), one of the best ways to provide value is to share new trends and current information with your leaders, which will ultimately help them make better decisions.
While I know that this graduation is a far cry from the one you had envisioned, I can promise you that great opportunities are on the horizon. Communication, and specifically communicating via digital mediums, is no longer a “soft skill;” it is the new power skill that will define this decade. You have the ability to use your digital body language to stand out from the start of your career.
Erica Dhawan is a leading expert on 21st century teamwork and communication. She is an award-winning keynote speaker and the author of the new book Digital Body Language. Download her free guide to end digital burnout here and follow her on Linkedin.