It was in August 2020 when Sanjay Baskaran joined his first job at a private company in Chennai as a design engineer. Being a fresher and a recent graduate, he was concerned with the new task at hand and had a lot of queries related to the job. But during his one-and-a-half years on the job, he hasn't seen any of his co-workers in-person yet, and all those doubts have to be solved only through online interaction, depending on the availability of his senior colleagues on call or text.
Since the onset of the pandemic, remote work has become the norm for most companies around the world. And while long-term employees are getting used to remote working somewhat easily, it is the freshers who are struggling to cope with the new environment, without any prior experience of office culture.
âI haven't seen or met any of them yet, personally. I found it a bit difficult when I started since I had so many doubts then. I had to ping them and wait for a reply for each and every step to be taken. It consumes so much time while doing new tasks. If I go to the office, I could ask them directly how to go about new things and it would be very useful,â says Sanjay.
Like Sanjay, Mukundh, who joined his first job in June 2021, also hasn't met any of his co-workers and has only seen their faces through the video calls that they have to make occasionally.
He adds that even after six months of working remotely, he still finds it difficult to learn on the job without in-person communication. âIt's very intrusive to keep pinging people with our doubts. So, I normally try to avoid it if possible, otherwise they might feel like it's annoying,â says Mukundh, who has never worked in an office environment before. He is also unsure of how each of their colleagues react to his constant queries since heâs never met any of them.
Freshers have also noted that the lack of in-person experience has meant they feel little connection to the work or company that has hired them.
âThe main challenge is to stay attached with the work. Sometimes you don't feel an emotional attachment and you don't take the work seriously,â says Somveer Singh from Haryana, who has been working as a senior analyst for a Chennai-based company for a year and a half. However, he added that the remote work environment has also given him scope to focus solely on learning and getting experience in his first job.
While some companies are noting these concerns and attempting to help freshers get acclimated to their work, itâs not always easy. Mahitha*, who works in product marketing for a Chennai-based company, says her bosses have taken steps to speak to new employees via video call and assign tasks that would allow them to get to know their colleagues. âMy company had a proper plan, and they gave the new joinees a month just to learn and get familiarised with the product.â
However, despite those efforts, there is a level of hesitation thatâs hard to overcome. âThere are small challenges such as having to battle with your thoughts and wondering what is an acceptable number of times one can call their boss for doubts in a day.â
Another challenge, she says: imposter syndrome. âSitting in a room by yourself as a fresher, you donât have much to do in the first few weeks. But everyone is busy enough to take hours to get back to your message. It makes me wonder, âAm I working enough? Am I just pretending to work?ââ
Video calls and technical glitches
Anyone working remotely can relate to the long hours spent on video calls or the multiple technical issues that can occur during the course of a day. As a first-time employee, those glitches can seem even more daunting.
Arora, from Kerala, who has been remotely working as a content editor for a year, said, âWhen I joined, there was a rigorous two-week training session which was completely online. The participants were on [video] calls throughout the working day, so there was communication on some level. But there was definitely some confusion and a few technical glitches as well.â
Workers have also struggled to get used to long office calls that have become a near requirement in remote work across industries. S Mohanâs day starts around 10 am with a company phone call that goes on until 4 pm.
âWe stay on the call, so as to get the vibe that we are all working together,â says Mohan.
The experience of working from home can not only feel isolating, but bring up new anxieties that workers in a different time and age have probably never had to consider. As Anan Ashraf started her career with remote working, the idea of going back to an office and working from there makes her anxious. âThinking about dressing appropriately for the office and speaking professionally in person suddenly sound like big challenges,â says Anan, who started working as a reporter for an online news portal in October 2020.
Without those in-person cues, it often becomes hard to figure out the magnitude of errors on the job. âAs freshers we tend to make a lot of mistakes. Remote working has made it incredibly difficult to gauge how big the mistake is. Reading the texts from home, I always end up imagining the worst outcomes or making a bigger deal out of my mistakes than they are and really, really freak out,â adds Darshana K, who started her career in a private organisation in the digital marketing team from Chennai.
Some, like Darshana, also feel the growth that happens outside one's role has been limited due to remote working.
âThere isnât a lot of difficulty when it comes to roles and responsibilities since companies are trying to make this process easier for employees and team leads are receptive to freshersâ needs. But I think the learning that happens outside of oneâs role in the company does not happen much,â says Darshana. âIf I were to work from the office, Iâd also try and understand how other teams function, learn more from colleagues, talk to fellow employees about their career progression. So, we end up feeling very isolated from the industry that we are part of.â