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ORAU’s Early Career Professionals use tech to combat COVID-19

Since COVID-19 hit the U.S. and social distancing has become the new norm, Millennials and Gen Zs have been called out for their irresponsible response to this global pandemic.

People in both Millennial, anyone born from 1981 to 1996, and Generation Z, anyone born from ’97 to 2012, age groups have been targeted by the media and politicians for neglecting to stay home and ignoring the severity of this situation. And, in some cases, the media and politicians aren’t wrong.

For two of the most technologically experienced generations, social distancing shouldn’t be a stretch. From texting to FaceTime to the vast selection of social media to choose from, we know how to stay in touch.

While the world is figuring out how to navigate this unprecedented situation, early career professionals at ORAU are taking their new work-from-home status in stride. Between their natural tech savvy and newfound opportunities to take naps, these up-and-coming leaders are on the forefront of what could very well become a new, digital corporate culture.

So, we asked them how they’re coping with COVID-19, and this is what they said.

When it comes to staying in touch with family, friends and co-workers, our early career professionals have a system. At work, virtual tools such as Zoom, Go-To Meeting and Lync are helping them remain connected with colleagues, in addition to texts and calls.

“Lync has been great for replacing those ‘hallway’ conversations that help you work through data issues or sound-off ideas on people,” said ORAU Research Associate Sara Howard, MPH.

“My team and I have created a group text. It’s actually fun and a more casual way to communicate,” added Isaac Clark, ORAU program specialist.

And talking to customers hasn’t been an issue thanks to ORAU’s conference call capabilities and email. Jennifer Burnette, ORAU project manager for research participation programs, has enjoyed her virtual interactions with customers.

“I’ve done some impromptu Go-To Meetings with sponsors, and we were all working at home with all those work-from-home noises in the background. So, that was a fun experience for us and actually helped me bond with our sponsor over some common ground,” Burnette said.

Other ORAU early career professionals agree that they’ve felt closer to their colleagues during this time, with some even maintaining daily lunch conversations via video platforms.

“I think working from home has actually brought us closer together because we’re forced to take a few minutes and talk to each other every day! We try to keep these moments a mix of work discussion and also make sure we’re all coping with the situation,” said Casey Thomas, PMP, project manager in ORAU’s University Partnerships Office.

Meanwhile, Clark said he’s managed to be more productive from his home office.

“I’m coping well with working from home actually!” said Clark. “Due to the lack of commute I’m getting more work done every day.”

For personal balance, our early career professionals are taking advantage of social media platforms with video and companies that offer online workouts and entertainment services. Howard says she’s been dependent on online tools to do everything from talking with loved ones to teaching Sunday school virtually. Meanwhile, Thomas and her friends have found new, creative ways to spend quality time together.

“My friends and I do virtual Wine Wednesdays, and our book club met via Zoom last week,” said Thomas. “Streaming services are also helping quite a bit, and I’ve enjoyed a couple of livestreamed concerts from some of my favorite musicians.”

And, difficult as it may be, these young professionals know the benefits of social distancing outweigh the risks of COVID-19.

“As an epidemiologist, of course I think social distancing is important right now,” emphasized Howard. “I think the tech advantage is helping us to continue to work at a high level while supporting the public health initiative to flatten the curve.”

Along with Howard and other colleagues, ORAU Research Associate Lindsey Talley believes it is part of younger professionals’ responsibility to lead the way in supporting an online corporate culture.

“As the future of the workforce, we need to set the example. We are of the generation that was raised with technology and this is the easiest transition for us, so we need to do our part in helping those who may be having trouble,” said Talley.

Beyond advancing the digital capacity of the workforce, they’re hoping this experience shifts in corporate culture as a whole, specifically moving to more flexible work schedules and regular teleworking from home.

“We’re seeing so many industries embracing technology to do things they never thought about, and I think the culture is shifting to accept that people can be just as productive at home as they can in the office,” said Thomas.

“We are already clearly showing this is possible on a large scale,” Burnette agreed.

In the meantime, ORAU’s early career professionals will continue to do their part and stay home. And their pets couldn’t be more excited.

About ORAU

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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