The digitisation of the workplace and the loss of campus culture — what our generation is (silently) facing.
As the new year began, another lock-down seized Sydney. Since then, snap lockdowns around the country put capital cities at standstill. State borders have been opening and closing so fast, it’s hard to keep track. Amidst all the chaos and confusion, one thing remains certain — the future for those entering the workforce has changed indefinitely. As an approaching graduate who has spent her past three years involved in campus life, hustling through countless networking events and meeting a handful of mentors, there is still an unshakeable feeling of doom and despair whenever thoughts of what was and what could be, arise.
What has seemed to slip the minds of many who have already completed tertiary education, is that classrooms — the learning hubs that nurture the next generation — have changed dramatically. From my experience and observations, it appears that mass digitisation will cause major consequences that reshape campus and workplace culture. While working from home has strong benefits, including reduced commute time, potentially improving productivity, and schedule flexibility, the social settings that traditionally provided opportunities for upskilling and networking have been stymied. Long gone are the days where you could ask a classmate to join you at a study session after class, or grab drinks at The Underground after a successfully completed assignment, or even just having a heated debate in class over which version of The Office is superior.
These seemingly trivial interactions contribute to a bigger social network that is now under threat. The value of in-person social interaction cannot be virtually manufactured
no matter how many breakout rooms are used on Zoom and no matter how many Friday night drinks are held on Microsoft Teams. This problem is exacerbated in many workplaces where flexible work arrangements and remote working have already been introduced, with no plans to revert back to what it once was. A Gartner, Inc. survey conducted in March 2020 revealed that 74% of those that answered will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19. Disconnection between colleagues, especially those that are just getting their foot in the door (such as interns and grads), have had to face more barriers than usual, namely Zoom fatigue and the loss of conversations around the water cooler. Friends I know who are just starting out their internships have grappled with not only starting a new job in a new environment amid a pandemic, but also struggling to become friends with their colleagues.
I had the privilege of mentoring some first years from the 2020 Communications cohort last year. One of my first observations was that within the first semester of online classes, the students were already exhausted and lacking any motivation to continue their studies, which they had only just embarked on.
"Barely four months in, dissatisfaction was rife and many considered taking a gap year."
However, I’ve also since encountered a growing acceptance of this new lifestyle which notably, has afforded more opportunities and opened more doors for people who face barriers and stigma in the regular workplace. My mentor, who has diagnosed depression, has found the flexibility of deciding when she works has allowed her to successfully navigate her mental health whilst still executing award-winning work. Such empowerment is very telling of previous societies limitations, and should also be considered moving forward.
Long-term ramifications can be seen in how the loss (or gain) of opportunities will result in a pivotal change in workplace culture, and life, beyond university and COVID-19. What may seem to be innovative and progressive changes to workplace structures, need to be reconsidered or urged to take into account the students and young professionals of the now, who have otherwise been forgotten. How do we intend to revive what we lost, and keep what we gained for the next generation?