Conor Sen column: Future remote workers need to network more – in college | Columnists

By Conor Sen

Tens of millions of workers had to adapt to working remotely at the start of the pandemic. More than two years later, we continue to debate the right balance between in-person and virtual work.

Workers and their employers are still experimenting to see what works best. They make the most of an environment where we are not likely to be physically present with as many of our colleagues as we were in the past.

This begs the question of how teenagers considering careers in business, finance, technology and media should prepare for their own future in the workplace – when they will never have the experience of before 2020 when most people walked into the office most of the time. time.

And while a tight job market may make it easier than ever to land a job without going to college, for industries where the people you know and the strength of your network is a key asset, we’re going to find that the university is even more valuable than before the pandemic.

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That’s the result of new research published in Nature, showing where people in different income brackets make friends. Low-income people tend to make most of their friends in their neighborhood, while high-income people tend to make most of their friends at college.

Future doctors and lawyers do not need to be convinced of the merits of going to university – they do several years of higher education in addition to the undergraduate. But for other high-paying professions, there is hope that by skipping college and going straight to the workplace, one can climb the ladder over time via networking in the office and demonstrate one’s ability to bosses and managers.

This path was already difficult, but it has become even more uncertain as white-collar industries adapt to a new norm of hybrid and remote work. Maybe your 20s will be eager to show up at offices every day to network and learn skills.

But if older, more senior employees are working from home some or most of the time, those young people won’t have access to the same amount of connections as workers who reached adulthood before 2020. If building a network and making friends at work will become more difficult in the future, this increases the relative value of places that have demonstrated effectiveness in doing so, such as the university.

It also suggests that some students should think differently about their priorities when choosing a college. I went to Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. I was drawn to its reputation in engineering and computer science, the small campus and student body (my class was about 150 students), and an academic reputation comparable to that of MIT and the California Institute of Technology.

What I didn’t think much of at the time was that the flip side of a small student body means a very small alumni network. And while MIT and Caltech are well known nationally, Harvey Mudd is not well known outside of the tech fields or beyond California. As my career migrated from California and the tech industry to, over time, Atlanta and the financial and media industries, I was not able to leverage my time at Mudd as I could have. in another school with a larger number of students and network of graduates.

That’s not to say people shouldn’t go to smaller colleges. It’s just that maximizing network versus skill development is more valuable today than it was three years ago.

And, as someone who went to public schools through high school, I cringe when I write this, but it also argues that, if they can afford it, people should pay more attention in private school than they otherwise would.

The same reasoning applies here as well: while it will be harder to network from scratch in the workplace, then connecting with elite students and families in high school is one way to ensure you’ll have the network even if the future of work shifts from remote to remote work through job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed.

As an optimist, I hope we resolve the issues with remote work over time and people can still network and make friends at work. But I also think back to my own career and doubt that I would have some of the relationships that I have if the workplace was very remote or even hybrid when I was in my twenties.

It is logical that young people who are thinking about their future invest more time in their networks in high school and college. We just don’t know what the workplace will be like when they build their own careers.

Conor Sen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is the founder of Peachtree Creek Investments and may have an interest in the areas he writes about.

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