Working remotely has affected us all over the past 18 months. Some more than others.
Those with experience of working in a company’s office pre-COVID – even for just a few weeks –would have had support networks in place, and at least some idea of how everything operationally fits together.
That is not the case with new employees, career movers new to our industry or interns. For these groups, the F5 experience to date has been almost entirely virtual.
Speaking from my EMEA vantage point, I think we’ve managed the situation well. But we’ve certainly learned some valuable lessons along the way to help us with the next steps of office reintegration – whether it’s a hybrid approach or something closer to how things used to be.
In particular, our current cohort of EMEA interns have proven an insightful source of constructive feedback.
Despite their time at F5 being parcelled up into video meetings, e-learning modules, and virtual mentoring sessions, they’ve all excelled. Everyone that didn’t go back to university for further postgraduate studies was offered a full-time job.
So, who better to ask about the pitfalls of virtual working and how we can optimise our hybrid plans?
For many, remote working and virtual meetings were often a diluted, and sometimes limiting, experience.
“I’ve enjoyed it, but there is a hole in my experience that is hard to articulate given I wasn’t able to learn spontaneously and informally,” one intern reflected. “Impromptu questions or discussions are hard to replicate via a digital platform and, obviously, shadowing is almost impossible,” another offered.
Everyone agreed that interactions via email or instant messaging frequently felt more intrusive than approaching people in an office. They also missed the opportunity for immediate in-person meeting debriefs with senior colleagues. And they worried that the feedback they received was sometimes more ‘mechanical’ in a virtual environment.
All this resonates strongly with me. My early career was undeniably accelerated by learning about a business from the inside: getting to know different people, collaborating with teams or simply being in the room with good people and seeing how they operate.
When everything is virtual, you get to know a small team and your own role in it, but the bigger picture is harder to decipher. The opportunity for informal learning – through observation and serendipitous conversation – is significantly reduced. Not to mention the sociability that traditionally comes with being part of an intern or graduate cohort.
We are taking all these factors into account as we design the next stage of our hybrid working strategy, which is a process that was already underway even before the pandemic. We definitely don’t want to lose the many advantages of remote working, but these need to be adapted more for those at the formative learning stages of their career.
Making intelligent use of our offices will be central to that. We are redesigning many spaces to facilitate meetings and collaborative working – the real benefit of having everyone together in one space. And we want to optimise the working environment where possible for new joiners, ensuring they feel connected to the wider company in a way that isn’t sustainable with 100% remote working.
There are no hard-and-fast rules, but timing plays a big role. It’s not about a fixed number of days per week but ensuring that time in the office is always well spent. There is no point having a classroom with no teachers, and new joiners need to have access to the right colleagues, meetings, and support when they are working on site.
Inevitably, it will take time to acclimatise to hybrid working, just as it did for the fully remote arrangements of the last 18 months. To make it work, we will do everything possible to marry the flexibility of remote working with the cultural and developmental benefits of being on-site. It is a challenge, but one we are 100% committed to. To quote one of our interns again, “choice is important. It’s not binary. It’s all about flexibility”. Here’s to the best of both worlds!