A first work term can be an anxiety-inducing experience during a “normal” semester, but starting your first job during a global pandemic where everything takes place online adds an additional layer of uncertainty. I have experienced unforeseen challenges brought on by COVID-19 in every step of the process from finding a job, to beginning my work term, to building a routine that keeps me on track.
My seeking semester began in-person, as a typical semester would. I assumed that I would find a job and begin my summer co-op in-person at the beginning of May. I had a very clear idea of the industry that I wanted to work in, so I was extremely picky with the jobs that I applied for. When the pandemic hit Canada and nearly everything transitioned to be remote, I had applied for 2 jobs and not heard back from either of the employers. Fewer jobs were posted as I’m sure many companies were trying to navigate what their summer would look like. At the beginning of the semester, I expected to have a job secured by March, but it wasn’t until the end of April that my current employer contacted me for an interview. I had basically ruled out the chance of interviewing for the job, as I had applied in February, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear back from them months later, once they had determined what a remote co-op position would look like.
I was lucky that our office had been sanitized and prepared for socially-distanced training by my first day. I got to meet my supervisor, pick up my laptop, and go over enough training to get me started. Since my job is in an industry with very strict regulations, my first two weeks consisted of self-directed training. The organization that I am working for has a platform with training videos and modules for new hires to review, and I anxiously worked through the modules with the other new student. The first project that I was assigned was in my third week of work. Although my supervisor made it very clear that she was available for support, I felt bad asking for help. It took me a couple of weeks to feel comfortable reaching out for help since I had trouble getting to know my supervisor virtually. My supervisor initially set up daily calls to go over projects and any questions that I had, which really helped us build rapport.
Now that I am two months into my eight-month term, I have settled into a routine. It took me a while to navigate remote work, but I have been enjoying the time at home with my family and dogs. As much as working remotely isn’t my ideal circumstance, it definitely has its benefits.
My Advice for Remote Co-op Students:
1. Don’t settle for a job that you’re not excited for.
Working remotely is hard. Some days, the only thing that keeps me motivated is my excitement for the projects that I am working on. Although your first co-op may not be your dream job, it should be something that you are excited about. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to motivate myself to work 8 hour days in a job that I don’t enjoy, especially when there are so many other distractions at home.
2. Block off “do not disturb” time in your calendar.
I have found that my calendar can fill up quickly with meetings and check-ins. Although the company that I am working for is great at keeping meetings productive, it can be difficult for me to work on projects in half-hour intervals between meetings. It has helped me to block off work time in my calendar every day so that I can dive into projects without being interrupted. I have found a time that works best for me, and I generally won’t check my emails or book meetings during that time. My team knows that they can message me on teams for urgent requests, but emails can sit for an hour or two. This may not work for everyone, but I have found it to be the best way for me to refocus on projects and get stuff done.
3. Set up a designated workspace.
In the past, I have considered my home a place to relax. I always studied or worked on assignments on campus, and reserved my home time as downtime. Since working remotely, it has been difficult for me to feel productive at home. The only thing that helped me overcome this was creating a designated workspace away from distractions. It can be easy to migrate to the couch throughout the day, and I have definitely been guilty of starting off my workday in bed, but having a workspace that I treat like an office has helped me stay productive at home.
4. Don’t limit social interactions to discussions about work.
When you’re not walking by people’s desks every day, it’s easy to lose the social aspect of work. As an extrovert, I have found that I can feel drained after a long week of work with limited social interaction. One thing that has really helped me, is getting to know my co-workers outside of project meetings. It can be difficult to start “water cooler talk” with supervisors or more senior employees, so a great way to start is with other co-op students or junior employees. If I have a meeting with the other co-op students that runs under-time, we will often take the rest of the scheduled time to chat and get to know each other.
5. Take breaks throughout the day.
It’s easy to burn out from sitting alone at a desk all day. From my first day, my supervisor encouraged me to take breaks and get away from screens. I usually take a mid-afternoon break to walk my dogs, which helps me clear my head and refocus to be productive for the remainder of the day.
Elena is a third-year student at the Beedie School of Business, concentrating her studies in Marketing and Strategic Analysis. She is currently in an 8-month co-op position as a Marketing Associate at LifeScan Canada. After graduation, Elena would like to work in healthcare marketing.