The perils of ‘engaging’ in a mixed work world

The writer is a columnist contributing columnist, based in Chicago

When I “joined” at the Financial Times in 1980, the word didn’t exist.

Or if it happened, no one has bad taste to mention it. But again, no one mentioned anything else – like what the newspaper believed, or what I was expected to write. This is because I am in Ghana, and the FT is in London. We don’t have too many modest landlines to connect us.

I love that it makes me an expert at “remote engagement,” a mixed blessing of a work-from-home world. Going off-site has its pros and cons too – for many years, I really knew nothing about FT’s corporate mission, or what anyone who worked there looked like.

Communicating with my new employer meant hanging around all day at the dingy Accra post office (with toilets but only intermittent running water) in the hopes of getting an open telex line to London. I have my articles ready for submission, when rolls of yellow tape are punched out on a punch machine, the puncher pokes holes in a pattern that corresponds to the words.

If I’m lucky, after I run the tape through the only working telex machine, the FT operator in London will run to the foreign desk and find me someone to talk to. And so, I absorbed – a few words hastily misspelled – the culture of the company that I lived in for more than four decades.

At the time, new hires were all about informal mentoring: the FT hired decent people who were expected to treat their subordinates kindly. They helped accelerate new hires – but even that happened in my case, after one of my first articles sent the global cocoa market reeling.

Now, in this historic time high worker turnovergetting new hires on board quickly is even more important.

“Poor engagement is costly,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America, a multinational staffing company based in Chicago.

“If it doesn’t make a new person feel welcome and understand their role as part of the culture, then people will vote on their skills and take on new offers.”

Kristin Barry, director of hiring analytics at Gallup, says employees still have the same needs, whether online or offline. “What’s different about the pandemic is the way it’s experienced.”

New hires are always trying to figure out “what we believe in here,” says Barry, adding that “before they can do some of that work on their own, they get to see how people interact. , when they gather and what happens , and can infer answers to a number of questions . Now, companies have to be more “purposeful” about how they convey such messages, she said.

Michele Nelson, Americas Director of Introductory and Transition at EY, wrote about LinkedIn In the midst of a pandemic, it’s important to get to know new employees and “have fun,” even virtual. Her recommendations include that employees share “pictures of their views from their workstations” or photos of pets. Since my work station in Accra has no electricity or running water, not to mention a large resident rat, I’m glad FT never asked me about wildlife portraits at work.

“Reboarding” is another word that did not appear when I was last posted overseas in 2008 in China. But now the HR industry is buzzing with advice on how to shed current employees, post-pandemic, into new offices or jobs.

“There’s nothing worse than showing up for a new job and feeling like no one knew you were coming,” says Gallup.

Like everything else in life, there are pros and cons to building a company remotely. Frankiewicz says virtual participation saves time — and while it’s harder to build human connections over long distances, there are some workarounds.

“The insight that all squares are the same size (on Zoom) is very insightful,” she said. Somehow, even looking down the hazy telex line, I figured it out about the FT: that all the squares are the same size. Maybe that’s all I really need to know.

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