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Starting a career in sustainability in times of corona

Recently we had the pleasure to welcome two new colleagues to our team: Brienne Wiersema and Vyshnavi Vipin Ullattil. Since they both started their career smack in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic, with everyone working from home, their first weeks at Ecomatters must have been quite peculiar. That’s why they will shortly share their thoughts and experiences with you on how it is to start a career in sustainability in times of corona.

Brienne’s experience

The past year, everything has been different from what we have been used to. For me, this year included writing my final thesis at university, graduating, job hunting, and setting the first steps in my professional career by working at Ecomatters. It has been very different than what I had ever expected from this period of time, but I definitely would not say that it has been a negative experience.

I studied Energy and Environmental Sciences in Groningen. Once I came close to graduation and started looking for a job, I was relieved to discover that despite the pandemic, there are still amazing sustainable job opportunities out there. I would have preferred a normal application process but there are also some positive aspects of applying for a job online. The comfort of being able to stay in your own house and not having to commute all the way from Groningen were aspects that I appreciated during the application process. It was only when I was finding my way to the office on my first day that I realized how unusual it is to see the office and meet your colleagues in real life after you have started working. Luckily there was plenty of room for all of my questions about the job, the company, and the team during the application procedure and therefore I still feel I got a good idea about what it would be like to work at Ecomatters. Even though I have not met the entire team in real life, I have experienced the onboarding as a fun time. Many coffee calls were planned and the weekly online drinks are a nice way to get to know the team in a less serious setting. I really enjoy playing online games, even though I found out to be pretty bad at Scribble.

I think one of the main drawbacks of starting your career from home is that it is a bit harder to ask for help or advice. Instead of just discussing the problems that you run into with people in the office, you have to prioritize the questions a bit more and schedule a call to discuss them. It helps that everyone is in the same situation and can relate to the troubles related to working from home. Nobody is surprised that many meetings start with ‘You are muted’ or ‘Can you hear me?’ anymore. In my experience, everybody has been super helpful, in answering in-depth questions as well as in making me feel like part of the team.

The main benefit that I have experienced is that there was no stress in finding a place to live and moving to Utrecht. I had plenty of time to look around for a nice place without feeling the pressure of finding something before my first day. In the meantime, I have settled on biking distance of the office and I am looking forward to going to the office on a regular basis. I am excited to meet the team in real life and experience what it is to actually go to work, instead of working from my kitchen table.

Vyshnavi’s experience

I started my career on 15th February 2021 as a Sustainability Consultant at Ecomatters. During the interview for the role, I was already given an overview of how the company is dealing with this special time (as we call it). On my first day, I went to the office with excitement and curiosity to experience the current working environment. I was welcomed by three of our colleagues and was wondering how I can get acquainted with the others. As I logged into my work laptop and opened my agenda, I was pleasantly surprised by all the “coffee call” invitations I received from the rest of the team. In a few days, I could happily say that I was introduced to every single colleague of mine at the company I am working for (a small team is definitely one of the perks!). Over the days I noticed that Ecomatters does not focus on hierarchy but believes in creating a friendly working environment where everyone is available to answer questions even if the questions are personal. This is indeed helpful especially when you are learning your new job, trying to find a house close to your work, and trying to find a comfort zone within the new work environment.

Since the day I joined, I have been largely working from home. I have managed to create a pleasant home office for myself. My typical day involves working on assigned projects and attending meetings. With respect to the projects assigned to me, I am happy to see that even though I am a starter, I am given chances to attend meetings with clients and was made to feel comfortable interacting and asking questions to them. In addition to being able to contribute in projects, I was able to learn more about myself through the StrengthsFinder test which is encouraged at Ecomatters. With respect to the meetings I attend, as the whole team is mostly always available, questions are easily answered and it seems more of the “online” version of me knocking on the door of the office room to say “Hey, I have a question about…”.

Even though during these times one is likely to feel a lack of social connection with their colleagues, I experience it quite differently. It is, of course, better to see each other face to face but through our weekly project updates and, “drinks with a theme” (online of course) where we chit-chat and, play games, I feel integrated into the team.

Learning more about sustainability consulting has always been an interest of mine but I was unsure of what to expect when starting a career in that field during these special times. It is interesting to see that there are various challenges to work on and Ecomatters as a company has taken a step back to see how the team can work on these challenges staying mindful of the restrictions yet without compromising the pleasant working environment required to work and engage.

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