Originally published in the Fall 2008 edition of the Communication Co-op Newsletter: Communiqué
Let us begin with an obvious but forgotten fact: Co-op is an extraordinary opportunity for undergraduates to gain experience and knowledge of the working world and for many, learn what specific career path they would like to follow. However, I believe that some of the knowledge that one gains in a Co-op position can be prematurely learned through some friendly advice, which is why I am writing this article, to give you, a possible first time or inexperienced co-op student, some advice as to what is required of you to not only survive, but flourish in an office environment. Welcome to Office Life 101.
One of the most basic, yet most important pieces of advice is: get plenty of sleep the night before a day of work. A Co-op job allows you to experience working in an environment where each worker receives plenty of privacy and individual responsibilities. In my initial Co-op experience, I was thrilled that there would be enough freedom for me to create my own "job-completion schedule" and not have people constantly checking up on me to see if I was working. However, this freedom comes with a price for the person who lacks sleep. A tired individual will have trouble keeping on schedule and will find privacy and freedom to be adversaries. Since it was strictly my responsibility to ensure that certain projects would be accomplished, I had to pay the price for avoiding tasks due to tiredness. I ended up having to complete these assignments in haste due to a fast approaching deadline. It didn't take me long to learn the essential benefits of a good night's rest. I was able to work diligently and with focus throughout the day and enjoy the perks of a job that allows some freedom and privacy.
Privacy comes in the form of an office or a cubicle, in which you will have to spend long periods of time. After discussing working experiences with other Co-op students, I discovered that a large majority of Co-op jobs, including mine, provide the student with the benefits of a large enough workload to keep them busy. I found this to be a major advantage in my experience because it made me feel like I was a strong and important contributor to the team. However, it also meant long periods of time in my cubicle.
My second piece of advice is aimed at those who are susceptible to spending long hours working in an office or cubicle. First, I would advise you to drink plenty of water. Research has repeatedly shown that staying hydrated is necessary for the human brain to function at an optimal level. Water will help you stay energized and alert. Second, make sure to get out of your seat and stretch every once in a while to avoid writer's cramp and also leg cramps. Third, if you feel that your schedule allows it, take a quick break just to recharge. Taking a minute to breathe will keep you relaxed, recharged, and focused.
Finding creative ways to relax and avoid stress is my third piece of advice: space out your workload. As university students, we are used to completing assignments at the last minute, and I am sure a lot of us have had to pull "all-nighters." However, I highly advise that you teach yourself to divide your office workload into smaller portions, and attempt to finish a certain piece of the assignment each day until the deadline. This way I would not experience a stressful last minute battle to finish the assignment on time and it also resulted in a better finished product.
Co-workers and supervisors play a crucial role in the Co-op student's experience, not only as mentors and figures of guidance, but also as teammates. My last piece of advice is to take the time to befriend and get to know your colleagues during your Co-op term. Being friendly and making sure I was on good terms with the workers and supervisors in my office was one of the best decisions I made during my Co-op semester.
Co-op is an excellent opportunity to apply your university-gained knowledge into the working world. However, what is not necessarily taught is what to expect in an office environment. It took me several months to learn and practice these methods to excel in an office environment, and it is my hope that what I have learned can benefit you, as you master the art of working in an office.