Engagement and growth in a pandemic

Nov 29, 2020

Through collaboration, mentoring, and continued professional development, we can continue to grow and support each other, no matter what the pandemic throws at us.

As a manager, are you struggling to maintain collaboration and engagement with your staff? Or as a young professional are you feeling disengaged and left behind in your career? If so, keep reading. (If not, you might still learn something anyway.)

As a young professional, I can speak on behalf of how many of us are feeling. Many of us are beginning our careers trapped in cramped apartments with a few roommates. Or we are balancing parenting and working in the same small spaces. All the while having to adapt to a way of working that is essentially foreign to our industry.

With an understanding that the pandemic will be with us for the long-term, we are all adjusting to the new reality, including the work from home environment and dealing with Zoom fatigue. So, what have we learned thus far? We’ve learned that employees’ wants and needs are not different than they were before the pandemic. Young professionals are still seeking support and development in their careers. But now, we have added a virtual and remote twist to the “office life.”

It is crucial that managers understand that these recent changes are not just affecting companies, but employees as well, and perhaps especially young professionals. At the end of the day, we are humans going through a lot of unexpected life changes.

In this article, I’m suggesting three things I think are critical for the continued success and well-being of our firms, and in particular, of our young professionals. They are collaboration, engagement, and professional development. If nothing else, I hope this article will prompt you to think about the young people in your firm and how their needs may be met.

  1. Scheduling routine meetings to allow feedback and collaboration is critical for alignment around project goals. We may have gotten away with managing projects by the seat of our pants prior to the pandemic, but this remote work environment makes it extremely difficult to be successful using the same approach. Scheduling routine team meetings is important in establishing, well, a routine. Some teams and projects may need more or less communication depending upon the project and necessary deliverables. More frequent meetings can ensure that the team remains on the same page regarding progress and the project goals. A routine meeting schedule should be decided on by the project manager. But the important thing is to make them routine. It is worthwhile to hold video calls whenever possible as they are more personable and the closest we can get to meeting in person.
  2. Engaging frequently with peers and/or finding a mentor to connect you within the company will help you feel supported and connected. As a manager, it is important to touch base with staff frequently with one-on-one calls. This allows the conversation to be exclusive and private. In this setting, employees feel more engaged and comfortable discussing topics and feelings beyond project work. It is also worthwhile to call other coworkers from your office who may not be directly involved in projects; those who you used to engage with around the water cooler. In the age of the pandemic, a lot of water cooler talk has been lost, causing employees to be more disengaged than ever. It is a small ask, but it’s a great way to let someone know you are thinking of them and that they are appreciated. As an employee, never be afraid to speak up. Find a mentor you can trust and be honest with them. If you have questions, reach out. If they do not know the answer, allow them to connect you with someone else. A mentor or trusted advisor can guide you through project issues, assist you with the feeling of disengagement, or other related items. Since we work with many of our colleagues on project related items, we should also be able to engage with each other on items not related to projects. Speak to your supervisor or manager and be honest. Your company will put in the effort to find a solution for you as long as you put in the effort, ask questions, and make your feelings known.
  3. Taking advantage of the technical and professional webinars that industries are offering will help you continue to grow, even while you are remote. If you are feeling a lack of professional development in your career, there are more virtual webinars and resources available than ever. Search for a course that interests you and set aside some time to participate. Many companies have reduced overhead due to reduced BD spending, so they can likely afford the price of a virtual conference or webinar. Also, do not be afraid to reach out to your manager and see if they have feedback or ideas on how you can continue to develop professionally. Find time on their calendar to talk, ask questions, and be honest! They will likely support you or get you involved with projects to help with your professional development.

While technology remains an invaluable tool we can use to help connect us with others in the company, we are still human beings. The technology itself won’t collaborate for us or mentor us. We need to continue to use the tools available and define our work environment in this new reality. Through collaboration, mentoring, and continued professional development, we can continue to grow and support each other, no matter what the pandemic throws at us.

Alex Mandeville, P.E., is a civil engineer at SCS Engineers. Contact him at amandeville@scsengineers.com.

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