Life After Graduation – In a Pandemic
As a Jenkins Master of Accounting (MAC) student who enrolled before the pandemic, Lauren Bakke envisioned her future accounting office, equipped with supplies, technical support, maybe snacks — and coworkers beside her. She looked forward to the comradery of coffee breaks with colleagues and dressing for work.
As it turned out, her bedroom is now where she spends her day as an assurance associate with auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Meetings, coffee and lunch breaks, and occasional happy hours with coworkers are all virtual.
“It’s crazy. Your first year with your firm is already really challenging. Doing it virtually has just added a whole new level of complexity,” says Bakke, who lives in Raleigh. “I keep telling myself that it can only go up from here because I was so excited about going to the office and getting that real audit-office experience.”
For Bakke and other 2020 MAC graduates, starting a first job during the pandemic has meant adapting to a work situation much different from their expectations. But she and her peers have succeeded in navigating the challenges — and seeing the benefits — of working remotely.
“Working from home seemed daunting to me. But my company provided so many resources, technology and different programs, where they train you really well virtually and let you connect with coworkers. It helps you get adjusted,” says Randawnique Coakley, a 2020 MAC graduate, now an audit assistant with auditing company Deloitte.
For Bakke and Coakley, the steps their firms have taken to ease the remote-work transition have been key, from virtual onboarding and colleague introductions to work-life balance guidance and reimbursement to equip homes as offices.
To transform her bedroom into an office, Coakley bought a desk lamp and white board. She plans to pursue reimbursable wellness activities. Bakke purchased a standing desk and computer monitor for her bedroom-office.
It’s nice to be in a place where everyone completely understands and remembers how lost they were their first year.
“I’m definitely settled in more now. But especially in the beginning, when your colleagues can’t see your work process and just see the final result, it was more pressure,” Bakke says. “It was very intimidating at first to have to ask my questions through chat or video calls. It was something I just had to get over…It’s nice to be in a place where everyone completely understands and remembers how lost they were their first year.”
For Coakley, who lives in Atlanta, one challenge has been forming bonds with colleagues virtually.
“It’s hard to connect with coworkers on a personal level because you’re not seeing them face to face. That’s been an obstacle,” she says. “But using Zoom helps because you can at least see each other.”
She also uses the options of messaging, emails and phone calls.
Amid the drawbacks of virtual employment, Bakke and Coakley appreciate their firms’ focus on separating their work and personal lives.
Bakke and her coworkers use “flexibility calendars” to balance job duties with such responsibilities as childcare. “It has flowed down from the top that things are different now, and we should expect our work environment to be more flexible,” she says.
Coakley makes sure to take a lunch break each day to decompress, and her firm encourages employees to stretch their legs in their homes, ride a stationary bike or do other activities to disconnect.
Despite the untraditional start to their careers, the Jenkins MAC program prepared Coakley and Bakke well to excel in their field. Both cite MAC’s attentive, student-focused faculty and networking events that allow students to meet many professionals in the field as among the program’s biggest assets. And their former classmates have provided valuable support in their new careers.
“I would not have this job if it wasn’t for the program. The Jenkins MAC has an awesome recruiting process. They work very closely with the firms,” Bakke says.
The presentation skills she learned as a MAC student are crucial in her position. “We have to talk to important people, and we need to get our point across quickly, especially virtually, because days fill up so quickly with calls,” she notes.
Coakley credits MAC’s relevant courses, practicums and academic concentrations with equipping her for her career.
Both graduates expect to work remotely until at least September.
Coakley can compare in-office and remote jobs. “I have experience with working in an office and working virtually. With both, you’re still able to be productive, get the work done and connect with coworkers,” says Coakley, who was based in a Deloitte office for internships as an undergraduate accounting and economics student.
And working remotely in her first job hasn’t interfered with the important learning process that any new employee goes through.
“I’ve learned a lot more about how business operates and about different industries and business models. That’s the best part of learning so much,” Coakley says. “Being a sponge and absorbing all of this information is really rewarding.”