30 July 2020

What happens when shadows go virtual?

Job Shadowing is a tried and true development measure, but before COVID-19 it was typically done face-to-face. Now that many of us are working from home, we are adapting to the digital working world in many ways. As this Q&A shows, Virtual Job Shadowing is not only possible, it’s also a valuable and flexible way to learn on the job!

An interview with two colleagues who took on the virtual job shadowing challenge

What were your initial thoughts about moving job shadowing to a purely virtual format?

Ines van Neuß: People development is one of the key pillars of our communications strategy and job shadowing can play an important part in it. Moving it to a purely virtual format was a necessary step during COVID-19 times and reflects the conditions of the ‘New Normal.’ When Camila first approached me with the idea, I was immediately excited about it – you don’t often get the chance playing the lab rat AND have fun at the same time.

Camila Chaudron: As far as I know, we are some of the first people to do virtual job shadowing at Siemens. I asked some colleagues from HR and they were curious about how the format would work, so my initial feeling was a mix between tentative and enthusiastic. But digital is the way of the future, and my manager was very supportive, so I was happy to get the chance to pioneer this together with Ines.

It’s not only her job description that makes Ines an exicting person to shadow, personality counts in the digital world too! Being in the home office didn’t stop us from soaking up the content-rich environment.

Have you ever done job shadowing before in person? How was this different?

Ines: I shadowed a colleague from the DC Analytics team some years ago for a week. Comparing this experience with the virtual shadowing where you only take part in some selected meetings, I would assume that it’s harder to get a full-blown picture of the “real” day-to-day business (including all the boring stuff you do alone at your desk) through the latter one, but maybe a more focused view on the priority topics.

Camila: Yes, I was also lucky enough to shadow a real change-maker who was then an HR Business Partner. We started our day in Nuremberg, I followed her through meetings all day to Erlangen, so we also spent a lot of time just talking in transit or over lunch, learning about her perspectives.

This time with Ines was different because we unfortunately have not met in person before. At the same time, I was able to see Ines in many different contexts over the course of two weeks, so in some ways I also have a bigger picture of her work, and we still made time to connect over discussions and reflection sessions before and after the meetings.

What were your top takeaways from the job shadowing experience?

Ines: I was positively surprised how much you as the mentor can take away from those sessions, too. If you’re completely covered with your daily work, it’s hard to take one step back and reflect on your decisions and behavior. Having someone who’s not familiar with your tasks and team asking the important basic questions really helps to check on your direction and think outside the box.

Camila: I learned a lot from Ines in a short amount of time. It was thrilling to get an insight into the Stories world, and to learn about how to align many different business perspectives while also considering the audience, format, content and reach. I was really impressed. I also saw how she executed her role very strategically and calmly. Ines is great at keep the big picture in mind while also being detail oriented. One thing I will definitely try to incorporate into my work is to end meetings by recapping what was discussed. It takes just 30 seconds, and makes sure that everyone is on the same page. 

Even though my thumb got a little blurry, we both gave Virtual Job Shadowing two thumbs up!

What are some ideas for making virtual job shadowing a success?

Ines: Explain about your job and its daily tasks upfront to set the big picture. Have short introduction or wrap-up sessions around every virtual meeting to make sure that your shadow gets the chance to follow up on unclear points. And make sure to create a “protected” room where it’s ok to ask all kind of questions – not only about the What but also about the How.

Camila: Set the expectations upfront about what you want to get out of the session to have open and honest conversations with the person you are shadowing. We discussed at the beginning our desire to keep the details of the experience confidential, for instance, and I also told Ines about what I was looking for – in terms of leadership skills, procedural questions, and my curiosity about all the content! 

I highly recommend using the Virtual Job Shadowing Guide, as this can help you structure your preparation and reflect on the learnings.

Would you recommend virtual Job Shadowing to a colleague? If yes, why?

Ines: Yes – it gives colleagues the chance to sharpen their T-profile and get a broader understanding of the Siemens comms landscape, and it also gives you as a mentor the opportunity to reflect on your behavior, your decisions and your daily doing.

Camila: Absolutely. Of course, virtual is not the same as in-person, but it’s a great opportunity to learn something new in a way that bridges time and space – also from the comfort of home. Virtual job shadowing gave me the chance to step outside my daily tasks and learn about different parts of the business, different approaches to collaboration – and most important, a great connection with a new contact!

Ines van Neuß is a Content Marketing Manager at Siemens. Camila Chaudron is a Consultant in Communications People Development. Together, they participated in a Virtual Job Shadowing in July 2020.

Related Tags