Zoe Kaplan
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Staff Writer & Content Strategist @ Fairygodboss

Most of my friends and I are in the generation to do everything virtually, including graduating from college and starting our careers. A year and a half into the remote professional world, some of us have found our stride, but others are still feeling frustrated, stuck and behind—and they’re blaming their older colleagues.

As I caught up with a friend who started working her current job in July, she mentioned she still felt like she wasn’t fully assimilated into her company—and she even goes into the office once or twice a week. When she commutes, none of the mid-level employees are there; it’s all her younger coworkers, desperate to get out of their bedroom work-from-home setups and socialize. Their millennial managers, she says, remain in their big apartments or country homes, online and barely reachable.

“I feel like my career is stunted,” she said. “I have no one to mentor me.”

Her sentiment isn’t isolated; Gen Z workers get a lot of flack for their work habits—including demands for more time off or the casual way they approach work—but the older coworkers who critique them aren’t excused; in fact, they could be contributing to the very work problems Gen Z’ers are having.

It’s not that “geriatric millennials”—a term used to describe people born from 1980 to 1985—and other older generations are refusing to mentor their younger employees. It’s that the system of remote onboarding has removed the informal mentorship opportunities that so often come with learning a new job on-site. Gone are the days of learning by observing your older coworkers; by picking up small habits or soft work skills by watching how our managers do things. There’s been nothing to replace these moments of knowledge transfer, and only time will tell what consequences that will have for younger employees down the line.

Gen Z’ers who have never worked professionally are left to pick up not only how to do their jobs, but also how to navigate the workforce, from a series of disjointed Zoom sessions and Slack messages. The onboarding process becomes lengthier and more taxing on the new hire—and more frustrating for those managing them. 

It’s not that Gen Z needs someone to hold their hand when they start a new job or manage the beginning of their careers. It’s that while we’ve figured out ways to work remotely, we haven’t cracked how to onboard and mentor remotely in a way that actually supports new coworkers in their careers. How do we manufacture and structure the knowledge transfers that happen in hallways, by the watercooler or by observation, when everyone is working in different places, isolated to their home offices?

How every generation can make remote onboarding—and the remote professional experience—better.

1. Overcommunicate.

Working remotely can make it easier to do independent work or projects, but no one works in a silo. Members of every generation can help bridge the gap by overcommunicating at work—whether by giving regular status updates, having more frequent check-ins or recapping progress at the end of each workday. This will keep every team member up to speed with what's going on and make sure everyone's on the same page, even if they can't physically see what the other members of their team are doing.

2. Get to know one another.

Introductions, although sometimes awkward over Zoom, can be a great way to get assimilated into a company's culture and get to know its key players. Managers can help facilitate these introductions by setting up time between their direct reports and their other team members; new hires can be proactive and add short 15-min invites to their coworkers' calendars. Even a few minutes of time with someone can be a great first step toward building a productive working relationship—and will make everyone feel a bit less isolated.

3. Write everything down.

As a new hire, onboarding can feel like a race to get everything noted before you're left to do the job on your own. As a manager, help your new hires out by documenting everything—even if it's a small tip that helps make you more efficient. Writing everything down will give your new hire something to look back on when they get stuck, which will make it easier for both of you to navigate questions as they arise.

4. Welcome questions.

When onboarding remotely, it can feel pesky or bothersome to keep asking questions over Slack or email—to the point where a new hire might be afraid to ask at all! As a manager, be explicitly open about welcoming new questions. You can even set up regular meetings for a "question free-for-all" so your new hire feels as if they have a designated space to ask the questions they need answered, without bothering you.

5. Check-in.

Onboarding virtually is hard, regardless of what generation you're in. As a manager, check in with your new hire every so often without an agenda—the only purpose being to see how they're faring socially and emotionally at work. Having empathy and checking in periodically will make your new hire feel supported and ensure that their onboarding process isn't just a slew of information—it's also a welcome to an empowering, exciting place to work.

The answer isn’t a reversion to the physical office we once had. It’s learning how to adapt, as we have before, to an online workforce. If we can learn how to collaborate and innovate without in-person brainstorming sessions, we can learn how to mentor and support young employees virtually—so that workers of all generations can work better together, even when physically apart.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for onboarding coworkers virtually? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.

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