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Dear Early Professionals, “See you at work”

Remote work delays development for early professionals

July 2024

by Hunter Snyder

The remote work model looks amazing at first glance. Since COVID-19 began, there have been thousands of articles and LinkedIn posts singing the praises of remote work, and there is no doubt it comes with perks. A shift in the elusive ‘work-life balance,’ avoidance of the dreadful commute, and even cost savings for employees and employers are all compelling reasons to consider remote work. 

It’s certainly an enticing work situation for early professionals. However, early professionals who seek to realize their full potential should be careful about opting into remote work environments. 

It has become clear that many of today’s early professionals (and even senior professionals) lack the interpersonal and social/emotional skills employers seek. Remote work has increased this skills gap and limited individuals’ ability to close it.  

Early professionals are not ready for the business world 

Hiring an early professional today is a gamble. Today’s 25 to 29-year-olds are more educated than previous generations [4], creating a larger candidate pool that can be difficult for employers to narrow down. By definition, early professionals often have little to no relevant work experience to evaluate, and training and skill development are costly investments. That leaves employers in a position to make a judgment call when deciding to hire an early professional—that judgment call is a bet based on forward-looking potential. 

Potential is difficult to ascertain. In an attempt to apply science to an artful practice, companies employ AI to evaluate resumes, ask canned questions to uncover intangible characteristics, and have candidates complete technical evaluations to prove their skills. For decades, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees have also been relied upon to reveal aspects of potential, such as IQ, critical thinking, work ethic, collaboration, problem-solving, etc. 

But even college degrees are no longer a good indicator of career readiness and potential. According to a study performed by NACE, there is a wide gap between the importance of career readiness competencies rated by employers and the proficiency of early professionals. Despite the overwhelming majority of employers (98.5%) recognizing critical thinking and communication as crucial skills for recent graduates, only 55.8% and 54.3%, respectively, demonstrate proficiency in these areas, indicating a significant gap between desired and actual skill levels. [1] 

Figure 1:  Importance of vs. proficiency in career readiness competencies, by percent of   respondents

The growing skills gap is driving companies to upskill their employees. According to a 2020 McKinsey study, 69% of companies are doing more skill-building than they 

were pre-COVID. Interestingly, the two categories receiving the most upskilling investment are social/emotional skills and advanced cognitive skills [2].

These findings are not surprising. Today’s early professionals have grown up in the digital age, where computers and phones are commonplace at younger ages compared to previous generations. This early exposure to increased technology use has impacted their formal education, relationships, and the development of the skills needed to succeed in the workplace. 

Couple that with companies more frequently pushing remote work environments, and early professionals have an uphill battle to develop these skills that will help them realize their full potential. 

So, how do early professionals overcome this skills gap? 

Being present unlocks learning and opportunities for growth 

According to the National Library of Medicine, social interaction is a catalyst for learning in adults [3]. Remote work inherently removes this catalyst, limiting opportunities for learning and professional development, especially when early professionals need to be in a high-learning mode.

Being in the office creates more opportunities for social interaction and informal learning, which are crucial for workers’ human capital development compared to formal training courses [3]. Informal learning is particularly meaningful for early professionals' performance, as it enables creative thinking and problem-solving opportunities that are more applicable to daily problems faced in the business world. While formal training courses are beneficial, whether remote or in person, they pale in comparison to informal learning opportunities as it relates to developing skills for early professionals. Informal learning opportunities are simply not readily available in a remote environment. 

Social interactions and informal learning also play a pivotal role in shaping an early professional’s integration into an organization's culture. Office settings allow for spontaneous interactions and learning opportunities that virtual meetings or video conferences cannot fully replicate. These interactions are essential for early professionals to understand the organization's culture, including its values, norms, and behaviors, ultimately impacting their ability to perform effectively in their roles. Remote workers miss the chance to observe and learn from more experienced colleagues, ask questions, and receive immediate feedback, which hinders their professional development and makes it challenging to adapt to the organization's culture and expectations.

Participating in social interactions and informal learning then leads to visibility for the early professional. Being present and visible in the office helps avoid the "out of sight, out of mind" effect, which reduces learning opportunities and ultimately makes an employee more replaceable. Some of the most valuable learning experiences, especially early in one’s career, come from being in the right place at the right time, which requires being willing, able, and present at the workplace. 

Take the road less traveled 

Humans naturally seek the path of least resistance, which in this case is remote work. This is our nature, and it’s led to countless innovations and provided the abundance Americans live in today. But taking the path of least resistance kills personal progress and growth, especially for ambitious early professionals. 

It’s harder to put on real pants and take a shower. It’s harder to force yourself to make the commute. It’s harder to have conversations you’d rather avoid in the office. It all takes some level of sacrifice.

But seeking out the more difficult path will enable you to hone the skills employers desire more quickly. You’ll have more opportunities to learn by observation and participate in informal learning, opening the door to mentors. You’ll learn how to operate more effectively in your company’s culture and be a part of a team rather than a remote robot completing tasks.  

For the ambitious few who seek a path that leads to realizing your potential - choose the harder road. Avoid ease. Embrace the suck. Your future self will be grateful you took the road less traveled. 

“Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. Keep moving, keep growing, keep learning. See you at work."  Denzel Washington

About us: mXa, on the 20+ year foundation of Method360, was founded to intentionally serve fast-growth companies and the unique challenges they face. We understand that inorganic and organic growth provokes change, ambiguity, and uncertainty that can deeply burden the organizations involved. By seeking to understand the human element in M&A and fast growth environments, mXa embraces a unique, contrarian approach in advising clients that seeks to realize maximum value for them in alignment with business objectives.

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[1] “Competencies: Employers Weigh Importance Versus New Grad Poficiency” NACE.

[2] “Building workforce skills at scale to thrive during—and after—the COVID-19 crisis.” McKinsey & Co. 

[3] “Learning from others is good, with others is better: the role of social interaction in human acquisition of new knowledge.” National Library of Medicine. 

[4] ​​National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Digest of Education Statistics 2022 (Table 104.20). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

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