In my first year at university, I remember envisaging the concept of working from home as rather appealing. Intrigued by the idea of flexible hours, the opportunity to work from any part of the world and a feeling of global interconnectivity, I could easily imagine pursuing such an arrangement at some point in my career. However, little did I know that my first taste of corporate life would come directly from my kitchen table.
On-boarding & Communication
The month of May hid behind a mask of uncertainty. Ricoh’s co-op program had always been highly recognized at my university, yet, I couldn’t help feeling apprehensive about embarking on this work term journey remotely. The greatest part of my doubt rested on communication and virtual meetings- would I be alienated from my manager, coworkers and other co-op students?
From the very first day, I was pleasantly surprised at how included I felt. My calendar was soon filled with check-up calls and introductions and I was quickly able to put a face to the name of many of my peers.
HR co-op Jadyn Williams remarks that remote working conditions led to a strong “need to stay present online and to be intentional,” resulting in more frequent interactions throughout the day. Kevin Wywijas, who has completed multiple in-office work terms, confirms that remote work sets different expectations for communication. He notes that dropping by the person’s desk was often simpler and faster than reaching out to them remotely. Naturally, online interactions came easier to some than to others, but the experience taught us all the importance of being flexible in our approach to both communication and collaboration.
Moreover, remote working conditions did not limit how we conducted our work and those we worked with. My peers and I were able to collaborate seamlessly on a joint project with Ricoh USA which allowed us to broaden our understanding of Ricoh’s marketing strategy across North America.
Working within the Marketing department, I learnt a considerable amount about Ricoh’s company culture through my involvement in the brand’s online presence. As I crafted social media posts on corporate accomplishments, I was celebrating them and able to obtain a flavour of Ricoh Canada’s culture at large.
Admittedly, there are aspects to the corporate culture that I did miss out on. While the co-op students had a dedicated video chat every Friday afternoon, the virtual bonds we have formed are not as strong as face-to-face. HR co-op Nadia Hartono, who has worked at Ricoh since January and still remembers in-office times, confirms there is “something special about creating connections offline”. Nadia also sees the value in forming relationships outside of her department, and she is not alone. According to HBR, peripheral relationships or “weak ties”, which are often difficult to create online, can stimulate idea generation and improve organizational performance.
Workspace, Work-Life Balance & Productivity
Without having to undergo a lengthy commute to the office, I initially thought I would benefit from having more free time. The reality was a little different. As a first-time co-op eager to impress, I found maintaining a work-life balance with my work computer at my disposal 24/7 somewhat challenging.
HR co-op Joyce Guo illustrates another core aspect of working from home – the workspace itself. Joyce needed to create “an office desk out of the kitchen table”. While this might be an acceptable temporary solution, ergonomic improvements need to be made to the makeshift home office to avoid potential health issues and this is not always possible. At the same time, however, some students reported finding that the comfort of their home environment was conducive to their productivity and helped them manage project deadlines.
Redefining the Co-op Experience
This year has been a huge catalyst for most – we have been physically placed in the comfort zone of our homes, yet mentally challenged in almost every possible way. The remote working experience at Ricoh has taught my peers and me to value result over labour hours and to become more open communicators.
This fresh approach will be advantageous to us in the new world of work – whatever that may be. Likewise, we have understood the important role the office plays in providing a comfortable workspace and facilitating connections between coworkers.
Given the pressing need for workplace flexibility, we (the summer term of co-op students) almost unanimously agree that a hybrid business model would help our successors make the most out of the Ricoh co-op experience. We encourage other organizations to consider hybrid co-op programs as well. After all, this is the prime time for developing an agile workforce – one that is better equipped to deal with any uncertainties the future may hold.
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