With so many millennials entering the workforce and ranking work-life balance as a driving force fueling their employment decisions, it will be interesting to see how many opt for virtual positions as opposed to more traditional office positions.
As a professor teaching within the communications major (with core curriculum including interpersonal communication and technical communication, which focus on in-person dialogue and new forms of collaboration) I think about the skills I am teaching and how they will transfer. And, being someone who abandoned the corporate world at one point for a more entrepreneurial-focused career, I find myself caught in the middle when students ask for my advice.
On one hand, I completely understand and appreciate the flexible lifestyle and being away from the corporate cubicles and constraints. I like working from anywhere and at any time (I’ve learned how to manage my energy and creativity to be incredibly productive), but I also miss the corporate culture that requires team learning and in-person collaboration – something I often wish I had when I sit in my quiet office.
But, I also think back to when I did have a corporate position. While I found the walls of my cubicle, that stared me in the face day after day, stifling and crippling, I see new workspaces that are a part of the open floor plan concept, and I watch colleagues quickly share ideas and problem-solve using free flowing communication – that’s something I would appreciate and it carries a lot of value.
What I try to tell my students is that the corporate world isn’t dead – it really isn’t, not even one little bit. The companies that rule the world are corporations that still have some sort of corporate structure because they need a corporate environment – they need rules, face-to-face communication, and employees to physically be in the same room. Take for instance, Best Buy and Yahoo! – two companies that both rescinded their work-from-home rule after reevaluating productivity and innovation rates. So there is a lot of room to learn and understand the corporate culture.
And on that note, maybe thanks to my communications background, I also believe that our soft skills are what make us thrive in society as productive human beings. As we all know – or have learned – skills aren’t what wins and keeps a job – its’ relationships and interactions. Just because you are the smartest on the team, if you can’t communicate with others, you might be toast.
So, while it is can be awesome to have flexibility and work from anywhere and a virtual job can be enticing, I absolutely think that students who take their first job as a virtual position could be costing themselves a very valuable experience in learning and navigating a corporate culture.
Now, what about a hybrid work environment with a great mobility strategy? Now that’s another story and maybe that is the beautiful compromise.