Proximity key to getting ahead in your career

Published 27 June 2023 | 2 min read

The workplace can lead to better opportunities, deeper relationships, and valuable mentorship for young professionals.

Having two young sons who are beginning their journey in the workforce, I’ve been thinking lately about the best ways for young people to make an impression and secure themselves the best possible vocational future.

My personal experience in the workforce was as far from optimal as possible. After leaving high school, I undertook an electrical apprenticeship. If I wasn’t the worst electrician to come through Dave Billington Electrical Contracting, I wasn’t far off it. While I could do the job (albeit with very little joy) my real failing was in not learning how to get along with workmates and thus failing in the “hearts and minds” test.

I’ve been thinking about the best way for young people, in this dynamic and turbulent time, to approach their vocational endeavours. In particular, I’ve been considering the impacts of the huge uptake in work-from-home that has been an ongoing side effect of the Covid pandemic. While there is much to be said for the flexibility it brings, the ability to wear pyjamas (or less) all day, and the reduced carbon footprint of all those commuters, there’s a flipside in my view.

I'm well aware that the arm-waving tech futurists among us will tell me there is no need for physical presence in the workplace any more. They will gush about working in the metaverse and the fact that augmented reality and virtual reality virtual locations do a fantastic job of providing all the benefits of a physical workplace with none of the negative impacts.

At the risk of sounding like an angry old man, stuck in a dominant paradigm and unable to see the freight train of change bearing down on me, I say bunkum to that techno-optimism and PT Barnumesque snake oil selling. I'm a huge user of Zoom, Slack and other virtual meeting, collaboration and communication platforms, but I’m also utterly aware that face-to-face contact, collaboration and communication are, in some contexts and situations, irreplaceable.

I realise this view goes against the utopian ideals being sold (via subscription to their thinkfluencer podcasts and other offerings) by those futurist hustlers. I also note it is an opinion at odds with one of the more revered management thinkers from the last century, Peter Drucker.

When commenting on the future of office work, he likened office buildings to a modern-day version of the Pyramids: something people will come and gaze upon, but with no real purpose.

And there is much to justify Drucker’s viewpoint. Commuting to work takes time, comes with an environmental footprint and is a not-insignificant drag on company profits with all that high-priced office real estate. For organisations, doing away with great swatches of their office expenses and essentially outsourcing physical space to their employees is highly attractive - that extra cash accrues directly to their shareholders.

But what of the workers, in particular those just beginning their journey on the corporate ladder? What are the impacts on those individuals of working entirely from home? And what does that mean for their own career prospects? What is the key to getting ahead in the workplace?

It seems to me proximity is the key. It's also a perspective espoused by a modern-day version of Peter Drucker, Professor Scott Galloway. He has mastered modern social media to gain a following for his Prof G podcast. And while it’s more infotainment than deep analysis, he raises some useful points.

Galloway, like myself, recognises that the best way for young people to get noticed in the workplace is to be close to those who make the decisions on who soars and who merely glides. While it might be considered unfair, the reality is that if a manager has two equal candidates for a promotion, it is highly likely the one chosen is the one who has built a deeper relationship within the workplace. Yes, it raises questions about equity, access and institutionalised bias, but it's also the reality.

As we get older, we have the luxury of established networks we can leverage. We have already codified the patterns of behaviour and, to strike an analogy, are rolling down a railway whose tracks are already well laid. For young people that isn’t the case. They need the guidance of others, the wisdom of mentors and the deeper relationships that come from spending real time with others. And that is something largely predicated on proximity.

As Galloway says (to howls of protest from those who claim his view is no longer relevant): if you’re young and single, get into the office. It’s where you'll most likely get the promotion, build work (and potentially personal) relationships and gain the mentorship that will stand you in good stead for your career.

Click here to read the article by Stuff NZ

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