Modern Life

First job field guide: What to expect from hybrid office life

Help for new graduates entering the world of office tech, corporate culture, and hybrid work.

By Stephanie Walden — May 11, 2023

With a proud flip of a tassel and toss of a mortarboard, millions of new college graduates are about to move on to the next life stage. For many, this means entering office life — either in person, virtually, or a mix of both — for the first their first professional job, with no syllabus to guide the way.

“During college, it feels like you’re singularly focused,” says Miles Simitz, a recent University of California, San Diego, graduate who is now in a full-time strategy and operations role at HP. “In the working world, there’s no more set path. It’s equally exciting and terrifying.”

In 2019, US college grads entered a workforce with just 5.7% (around nine million people) working remotely. Now, in 2023, that number has tripled to nearly 18%. Hybrid work is also trending up; globally, an estimated 39% of knowledge workers will work in a hybrid setting by the end of this year. 

For young adults on the precipice of the professional world, work itself can feel like uncharted territory, but the rapidly evolving nature of work makes this a particularly charged time. “A lot has changed in the past two years when it comes to work environments,” says Kaela Moore, a communications associate who is transitioning from an all-remote role to a hybrid position at HP. “It was a learning curve,” she says, of having to jump in remotely. “But now I’m very grateful to have that skill set.” 

As 2023 graduates get ready to take the leap into office life, here’s a look at what they can expect and how they can prepare.

 

RELATED: Create the perfect home office, in a tight corner or an entire room

 

Embracing the hybrid lifestyle

Hybrid work gives first-time employees more flexibility , but it also requires taking initiative in setting themselves up for success. 

A big part of this is establishing a home workspace where you can be focused and productive — an ergonomic chair or seat cushion, laptop stand, and adjustable desk that suits your working style are some of the basics. Noise-canceling devices can be helpful for working around family members or roommates, and having adequate lighting can minimize fatigue from all that screen time

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Hybrid work also means navigating different ways of working in the office and from home. Simitz says hybrid work allows him to accommodate both elements of his job — self-guided research and consulting with coworkers to align on goals or discuss findings. “It’s a lot easier to communicate and explain complicated things in person,” he says. “Sometimes, if you’re trying to do this on Zoom, it feels like there’s a barrier. In the office, you’re able to meet face to face and work things out.”

On the days he works from home, he cherishes the time to focus on the more heads-down elements of his role, and the flexibility to do “life stuff” like household chores. “There are no hard limits or set schedules, as long as I’m putting in roughly eight hours and getting my work done,” he says.

Mastering tech tools in the office and at home

As digital natives, Gen Z is decidedly more tech-savvy than previous generations — but they still may face hurdles getting used to office technology. A recent HP survey found that one in five young employees said they’d experienced a sense of “tech shame,” or a feeling of being judged or overwhelmed by unfamiliarity with office tech tools. It’s an ongoing challenge, as knowledge workers are often expected to juggle dozens of software tools, platforms, and devices to do their jobs.

Learning basic protocols of what’s expected when it comes to the technology you use for work can help combat any trepidation. For example, maybe you’ve never unjammed a photocopier, scanned a document to be emailed as an attachment, or learned how to use expense-report software.

In an office, there are norms and expectations around use of company equipment: conserving paper when printing, taking care of work-supplied laptops, being aware of cybersecurity threats and how to avoid them, and learning the sign-up process for reserving meeting rooms. Employee handbooks or onboarding materials sometimes cover these basics, but managers or coworkers are other valuable sources of intel. 

Moore notes that beyond the tools you’re required to use for work, finding software that enhances your own work style can help make your new job more manageable. She uses Excel for day-to-day task tracking and OneNote for staying organized. “You can set priorities throughout the day, and you can sync it through apps on your phone if you’re on the go or traveling,” she says.

Entering the working world as a remote or hybrid employee requires employees to take initiative in setting themselves up for success.

Connecting with new colleagues

The office-as-social-outlet is no longer guaranteed. For organizations that offer hybrid work, only a fraction of the workforce may show up in person on any given day, meaning there may be fewer and less-consistent opportunities for interaction — let alone after-work happy hours, watercooler banter, and team-building activities. 

Creating in-person connections can take more creativity, but is worth the extra effort. Attending company-wide events, participating in an employee resource group, and actively seeking out a mentor can be a place to start.

Investing some time and effort into mastering the art of online communication can pay dividends — especially if you’re working with team members across different generations. “It’s easy to misinterpret tone on text or email,” says Moore. There are a number of online resources available for honing these skills, ranging from MasterClasses to short YouTube videos to countless articles offering tips.

For Madeline Song, a personal systems demo specialist and briefing coordinator at HP, the process of making friends with coworkers has been easier due to the nature of her fully in-person role. “It’s helped me integrate more seamlessly into the corporate world, but it does have its own set of challenges,” she says. “You don’t have a screen in front of you to hide behind.”

Taking an active role in your well-being

During the college years, it’s relatively easy to get in exercise by walking around campus or hitting the gym in between classes — but a 9-to-5 job makes it notoriously more difficult to prioritize physical activity, whether in an office or at home. 

Being intentional about wellness is key. An under-desk treadmill can let you take “walking meetings” or get your steps in while parsing emails, and a fitness tracker can prompt you to get up, move, and hydrate. You can also use apps like Yes.Fit to gamify daily activity. 

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There’s also the adjustment to staring at a screen for 40 or more hours a week — as well as pressures like deadlines or working in a “fast-paced environment”. Apps like Headspace or Exhale and devices like blue-light-blocking glasses can help by combatting anxiety, easing eye strain, and facilitating better sleep at night.

Making proactive moves can have a real difference not only in your mental and physical well-being, but also when it comes to productivity and working effectively with your team. Some companies even sponsor employee wellness challenges, provide incentives, and reward for employees who take steps to stay active and prioritize their health.

“In college, you were the only one who would suffer from unhealthy habits,” says Simitz. “In the professional world, the way you take care of yourself affects others.”

How managers can help

Having a manager that will go to bat for you is one of the secret weapons of success in any job, but especially in entry-level positions. In fact, 70% of the variance in team engagement levels is determined exclusively by managers and how effectively they communicate.

There are a few steps managers might take to open lines of communication with younger hires, including creating “how to work with me” one-sheeters that outline best practices or assigning their entry-level workers a go-to “work buddy” to lean on during the first few months.

Managing a remote or hybrid workforce also requires being proactive  about checking in and being available. Song, for example, stays connected with her manager through one-on-one video meetings. “Even though she’s remote, she makes an effort to have constant communication with me,” Song says. “She also has a lot of grace for the pace that I need to learn.”

With nearly a year of “real-world” experience under her belt, Song stresses the importance of this kind of supportive environment for other entry-level employees looking for their first role. 

“It’s so important to have people that uplift you and believe in you and make you feel like you’re a valuable part of the team,” she says. “That breeds confidence and allows you to be your true self.”

 

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