Researchers have identified three factors that are important to young people who work from home during the coronavirus pandemic: socialization, productivity, and meaningful work.

A team of researchers from the University of Waterloo’s Work-Learn Institute determined these factors are vital for young people in a remote work setting for them to be successful. As the organizations focus on their pandemic recovery plans, it is critical they understand how to engage the next generation of talent productively in remote work.

“It was important to undertake this research to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes of co-op students who made the transition to work from home,” said Judene Pretti, Director of the Work-Learn Institute and lead author on the study. “We wanted to see how their experiences as young professionals might differ from the general workforce.”

As a result of COVID-19, thousands of young people who were engaged with organizations around the globe transitioned to working from home, with little-to-no time to prepare.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted via video conference with 50 Waterloo co-op students to determine their perceptions on working remotely during the early stages of the pandemic. Attention was paid to the skills important to success for students in remote working, the challenges they faced, and recommendations they had for future WIL experiences. 

Through the study, students noted positives and negatives associated with working remotely. Though abrupt, many students reported a smooth transition to remote working, while its ease was motivated by initiative, support provided by employers and similarity to responsibilities in the office versus at home. 

Pretti said 87 per cent of students reported a positive transition to working from home and acknowledged the role their employers played in helping them make the transition. 

“We learned that students appreciated many of the aspects of remote working that other workers report: increased autonomy and flexibility,” Pretti said. “We also learned that they particularly missed the informal and social aspects of connecting with colleagues in a workplace setting, and in some cases felt that they could be more productive and could make a more meaningful contribution.” 

Flexibility in hours, a relaxed dress code, and an increased sense of independence were other positives shared by students regarding remote work. Challenges included missing out on collaborative opportunities in the workplace and technical difficulties, especially during initial set-up. 

In succeeding in their work term, students cited maintaining regular communication to provide a sense of connection (socialization), flexibility and adaptability (productivity), and value of their work (meaningful work) as important factors for remote WIL. 

The research paper, “Remote work-integrated learning experiences: Student Perceptions,” is presented in theInternational Journal for Work-Integrated Learning and can be accessed in full here.

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Waterloo News


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