A recent GradTouch.com poll found that 59% of university students do not want to work remotely when they graduate.

Wondering why these digital natives, comfortable with remote working technology, aren’t excited by the prospect of a commute-free workday and home-brewed coffee?

The answer may lie with one of the key problems posed by remote working: team cohesion.

While remote working provides a heap of proven benefits for both employees and employers, it has the potential to affect team interaction. When we’re communicating over email, phone, or video calls, we’re missing out on in-person, face-to-face contact.

This makes small talk and unscheduled work chats less likely. It also makes it more challenging to pick up on all the things that aren’t being said — the information you’d gain by reading body language and gestures and getting a non-pixelated peek at facial expressions.  

This problem is often more manageable for experienced workers who are familiar with their roles and with office norms. They already know how to build and maintain office relationships and are confident enough to apply these skills remotely.

For graduate trainees, however, working in an office environment for the very first time, team interaction and cohesion can feel particularly tricky.  

The problem of team cohesion for graduate trainees

At least two-thirds of UK companies have developed or are developing a hybrid work model, where people switch their time between home and office.

Remote working is here to stay. So, it’s important to understand and address the issues remote working raises.

Despite the upheaval caused by COVID-19, 57% of UK companies have hired graduates since March 2020.  But according to the graduate jobs website, Milkround, among graduates who started work remotely:

  • 32% did not receive formal onboarding training
  • 53% have struggled to make friends in the workplace
  • 53% had never met their colleagues in person
  • 54% say remote working has negatively affected their mental health

Remote-working graduate trainees miss opportunities to engage with new ideas and information. They’re struggling to build relationships and to gain workplace knowledge.

They’re also worried about how remote working will affect their career prospects. How can they prove themselves worthy of responsibility and promotion when they’re simply a face on a screen?

Ultimately, becoming an integrated part of a new team is a big challenge for remote or hybrid working graduate trainees. But there are lots of things employers can do to ease the transition.

How to build team cohesion with graduate trainees

Workplace interaction helps create a common culture and purpose, shared trust and a sense of belonging, promoting team cohesion.

Traditionally, there were plenty of opportunities for informal interaction throughout a working day. Employees could catch up over coffee or before the start of a meeting or while passing by each other’s desks.

When your team is remote or hybrid, they don’t have the same opportunities for interaction — so it’s up to you to engineer them.

Good interaction helps graduate trainees to feel part of the team. It also improves their performance, which is excellent for them and the wider organisation.

So what can you do to integrate graduate trainees into your team? Here are a few ideas for both remote and hybrid workforces.

Give them access to your communication channels

Ensure that your graduate trainees have access to all company communication channels as soon as possible.

You might like to get them involved in online conversations before their first day on the job to hit the ground running.

Inform them how the team they’re joining likes to use each channel, for example, which channel they can use for informal chats and how to put forth their thoughts or questions in video conference meetings.  

Schedule a day when everyone comes into the office

While introducing everyone to trainee graduates via video conference is a good idea, getting the whole team into the office on a specified day every so often can really speed up the team-building process.

An in-person office day is an opportunity for graduate trainees to meet their teammates face-to-face, get to know people a little better, and gain knowledge of workplace norms.

It’s also a great opportunity to do any training that would be difficult to do online and reaffirm your company culture.

By introducing your graduate trainees to the company’s vision and ethos and realigning existing team members around these ideas, you can help create a common purpose and the sense that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Introduce graduate trainees to their peers

If you have a group of graduate trainees starting simultaneously, ensure they get to meet each other and establish a messaging group for remote communication.

This peer group can act as a support network. All graduate trainees are in the same boat, experiencing many of the same challenges.

By opening up communication within this peer group, you can help them share concerns, problems, and successes together.

Operate a buddy system 

Graduate trainees are on a steep learning curve. But they may find it hard to speak up, ask questions, or ask for help when they’re part of a big video conference.

It’s important they have someone they know they can turn to with in-the-moment questions without scheduling a call.

So give every new starter a buddy. This buddy should be an experienced team member who can take responsibility for supporting their graduate trainee as they adjust to their job and the organisation.

They should make themselves available for questions and catch-ups and provide a supportive, non-judgemental space where trainees can learn more about the role.

Ensure your training program is fit for a remote working world

Graduate trainees feel a part of a team when they know they are contributing to it in a meaningful way.

That means getting up to speed as quickly as possible with their role and tasks. So consider how you will onboard and train new starters.

As well as setting up remote access to training materials, make sure both managers and graduate trainees are familiar with the technology and tools they’ll need to learn effectively.

It’s also essential that graduate trainees can access all of the information they’ll need. Check that process documents are stored in the right places and are easily accessible to new starters.

Up your communication

Regular and effective communication is really important for both remote and hybrid teams. It’s crucial for graduate trainees.

Conduct regular morning check-ins to keep your team connected and to get an update on team priorities. And schedule some smaller meetings, so everyone (including your graduate trainees) has a chance to speak and to contribute.

Finally, meet with graduate trainees on a one-to-one basis, once or twice every two weeks. You could treat these meet-ups as a shared coffee break. Ask them about their progress, any problems, and check-in with how they’re feeling.

Transitioning from university to work, particularly when that work involves spending a lot of time isolated at home, can be a challenge. Acknowledge this and ensure your graduates know where to turn when they need support.

Treat everyone the same

Teams work best when everyone feels valued and fairly treated.

As a manager of a hybrid team, you may end up having more face-to-face interaction with some employees and less with others. It’s important to be conscious of how this can affect team cohesion.

There’s a risk that you will communicate more freely with your office-based team members because they’re right there beside you. But it’s essential to make sure all team members — regardless of location or level of experience — feel equally involved in team interaction.

So avoid impromptu meetings. If there’s a significant development, send out an email or schedule a call with all team members. And ensure that graduate trainees are always part of the conversation.

Find remote ways to socialise

Pre-pandemic, many of us failed to recognise the importance of office chitchat. But those water-cooler moments really do help to strengthen team bonds.

Finding out what a colleague got up to over the weekend or simply knowing the name of their partner, child, or pet’s name helps people feel closer and more connected. This then feeds into their communication and performance within the team.

While a regular schedule of online or hybrid meetings will help foster this interaction, there are many other ways to encourage non-work-related conversation.

You might like to set up a fantasy football league or an office book club, arrange online fitness classes or a wine-tasting evening — just make sure you involve existing employees and new graduate trainees too.

Want to read more about finding, hiring, and onboarding the best talent? Check out the crooton blog for the latest recruitment industry insights. And get in touch with the expert crooton team for help recruiting the best graduate trainees!