Gen Z: What does the new generation think about remote work?
Crowned as digital natives, Gen Z-ers (those born in 1997 or later) are often classified as tech-savvy and ‘comfortable with computers’. Unlike their immediate predecessors, millennials, or any other generation before them, Gen Z has never seen a time without the internet. With the new age of hybrid work systems being set to be the future of work, it’s only natural to assume that this generation would be best suited to adapt to such a change.
Yet, in a recent study by Microsoft, Gen Z was identified as the demographic most likely to struggle with remote work and be at risk of experiencing isolation and burnout. At the same time, there has been a general preference for flexible work arrangements across all generations. So what does Gen Z really think about remote work? Is the incoming generation much more pro-office than we might have initially assumed? Most importantly, how can businesses engage this incoming generation of working professionals in the new age of remote work? To gain some insight, we spoke to some Gen Z-ers.
To go remote or not to go remote?
Reluctance to go remote: Lack of motivation among Gen Z
Microsoft’s 2021 study on hybrid work cited that most of their Gen Z respondents described themselves as ‘merely surviving or flat-out struggling’. Compared to other generations, they were found to grapple with finding work-life balance and motivation towards work. The fatigue and disconnect experienced by Gen Z can likely be attributed to their place in the professional arena. Many young hires feel deprived of forming crucial workplace relationships and connections perceived to be of key importance to their professional development. Navigating and networking during these disruptive times has understandably led Gen Z-ers to feel highly anxious in this new age of remote work.
Additionally, unlike their more financially established counterparts, Gen Z employees are less likely to be able to optimise their work environments to suit their needs. Familial needs such as childcare and eldercare have been commonly explored by businesses as examples of disruptive home office environments.
Yet, less attention has been paid to the space-constraints, boredom and specific mental health woes faced by Gen Z employees new to the remote workforce. Amanda (22 years old), a fresh graduate we spoke to described how ‘going remote the majority of the time would be pretty lonely and unmotivating. I wouldn’t be able to talk and interact with colleagues, which I think is an important essence of a job’. Similarly, Sarah* (21 years old), a full-time intern, voiced how upon gaining full-time employment, she would ‘most definitely prefer in-office work so long as the number of Covid-19 cases are low to negligible. I still firmly believe spatial proximity is necessary to facilitate interpersonal understanding amongst colleagues which is absolutely crucial for building a cohesive team when executing projects’.
“Going remote the majority of the time would be pretty lonely and unmotivating. I wouldn’t be able to talk and interact with colleagues, which I think is an important essence of a job”Amanda, 22 years old, University Graduate
Hence, despite growing up in the modern digital age, many of these young employees still subscribe to traditional views on pre-pandemic office culture. In short, Gen Z-ers’ nimbleness in terms of adapting to the technicalities of remote work arrangements, does not necessarily equate to their enthusiasm for remote work.
Readiness to go remote: Flexibility fits the digital lifestyle of Gen Z
Of course, remote work isn’t all doom and gloom for younger workers. Overall, despite their grievances Gen Z-ers are still more likely to apply for remote jobs. Gen Z-ers also have a head start in terms of their familiarity with remote work. Dell Technologies found that ‘8 in 10 Gen Z employees had worked remotely before (last year’s) circuit breaker’. Contrastingly, older generations had much less experience with remote work.
The convenience and flexibility of remote work has definitely not gone unnoticed by Gen Z employees. Some have proactively used work-from-home arrangements to choose their workspaces and customise their schedule. ‘I was a bit disappointed at first because I had been looking forward to the experience of working in an office with coworkers to get the ‘full experience’. Now, however, I’m kind of hoping that this work-from-home arrangement stays as I appreciate not having to wake up as early’, Jonathan (24 years old), a university undergraduate, explained. This preference for flexibility was also echoed by Emma (21 years old), a full-time intern who described how ‘remote work gives me the flexibility to decide the specific working environment that caters to my mental headspace each day’.
“Remote work gives me the flexibility to decide the specific working environment that caters to my mental headspace each day”Emma, 21 years old, Full-time Intern
It is evident that some have adapted quicker to remote work than others. However, is it important to note that these Gen Z employees have adjusted well due to their ability to choose the flexible work arrangement that works best for them. Businesses need to step in to ensure that such flexibility is afforded to their young hires.
Engaging the Gen Z workforce
So which is it – Does Gen Z love or loathe remote work? In short, it would seem that a healthy mix of on-site office hours and remote work would be the best compromise to cater to Gen Z employees. However, more crucially, employers need to be more attuned to the struggles and concerns younger employees have if they want to recruit and retain new talent.
1. Be sensitive to their interpersonal needs
Instead of being purely results-driven, businesses need to understand that the productivity of their young hires is directly correlated to their interpersonal needs. Gen Z employees need to feel supported, and not deprived of their professional needs upon entering the workforce. Emphasising on close collaboration and interaction between colleagues helps assimilate Gen Z employees into the wider company culture. Companies can even consider scaled-down in-person team building and networking events for their employees.
2. Provide close guidance and mentorship
Businesses want to reap the cost and efficiency benefits of remote work while also developing younger employees. To do this, employers need to ensure that the close mentorship opportunities once afforded to new employees before the pandemic are still made available to Gen Z employees under the new flexible work model. For example, businesses can focus on bettering onboarding programs and regularising check-ins so as to keep Gen Z-ers engaged.
3. Align Gen Z identities with work culture
Gen Z-ers are looking for a more meaningful connection at the workplace – they want their work to be a ‘reflection of their identity’. This is in comparison to millennials who prefer working with businesses that share their values. Businesses need to be open to hearing the emotional needs and personal goals that drive their Gen Z employees in order to align company culture with the deeper sense of purpose prized by Gen Z-ers. This ensures that this new generation of employees retains a sense of pride and belonging to the company even as the workplace goes remote.
In the end, Gen Z-ers are young and ambitious employees at the start of their career. Much like the generations before them, they too, are eager to form connections, socialise and learn. It would be a mistake to assume that their comfort with technology reduces the need for human interaction. While digitally adept, Gen Z employees also want a deeper sense of self in their work. This means that, more than before, businesses need to start thinking about the relational and emotional needs of this new generation.
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*Alias used to keep interviewee identity confidential