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The future of the workplace: Generational insights on remote work

In 2022, Forbes asked whether remote working was holding an entire generation back. This kind of sentiment is becoming all the more common, as Gen Z workers in entry-level roles report decreased productivity when working remotely, a significant lack of engagement and difficulty picking up the nuances of office etiquette.

Many of these remote workers began their careers during unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. As a result, according to data from Indeed, their experience as young professionals is considerably unique – with a staggering 82% of Gen Z and 39% of millennials having never worked full-time in an office environment.

This situation has left many employers seeking guidance on how to train, develop and motivate workers who aren’t in the office – which we’ll explore below.

The current discourse around remote working vs in-office

Despite concerns they may be missing out on progression and development opportunities by not working in the office, recent data from Deloitte revealed that a vast majority of the UK’s Gen Z (77%) and millennial (71%) workforce would consider looking for a new job if their employer asked them to go into their workplace full-time.

In 2023, many businesses sought to bring workers back to the office and began to roll out return-to-office (RTO) mandates, a trend which has continued into 2024.

In response, many employees expressed reluctance to sacrifice their flexible schedules and this has left employers and workers in a unique conundrum; businesses potentially face high rates of turnover if they demand that workers return, meanwhile, workers themselves cite concerns around missed opportunities due to not being in the office, yet are strongly adverse to returning full-time. 

Pros for remote working 

The benefits of remote work have been extensively discussed, typically falling into the following categories:

1. Flexibility and autonomy

Remote working offers unparalleled flexibility, allowing employees to control their work environment. This autonomy reduces stress and enhances productivity; with 53% reporting they can achieve more working from home, due to fewer interruptions and distractions. 

2. Environmental and financial savings

Eliminating daily commutes saves time, reduces carbon emissions and cuts transportation costs. The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), links commuting with heightened anxiety and dissatisfaction, indicating that remote work can significantly improve overall well-being.

Recently, the influential British fashion house Vivienne Westwood received praise for adopting a hybrid model of three days a week. This decision was made in alignment with the climate-conscious mission of the late Westwood herself, to reduce emissions from workers’ daily commutes.

3. Employee satisfaction 

Remote and hybrid working options demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being, aligning with the preferences of modern workers. In 2023, around 70% of Millennials and Gen Z-ers alike stated that they prioritised their work-life balance over a higher salary or promotions. 

4. Talent attraction and retention

For reasons such as those above, a vacancy which advertises a flexible schedule will generate drastically higher interest than one without – and allow businesses to select from a wider pool of talent to find the perfect match. 

Moreover, when we consulted our LinkedIn audience earlier this year, 63% of respondents classed flexible working as a deal breaker in their job search, while a further 30% saw it as preferable.

Cons for remote working

1. Loss of company culture and communication

Without face-to-face interaction, there’s a risk of losing company culture and a sense of disconnect among employees, contributing to what’s been termed as ‘productivity paranoia’. Only 12% of employers had full confidence in remote team productivity, prompting some businesses to adopt surveillance technology. Despite 83% of employers acknowledging ethical concerns, 78% implemented surveillance measures in 2021. Alarmingly, nearly half (48%) of employees would consider a reduction in pay, to avoid such surveillance and its associated stress. 

2. Onboarding challenges and turnover

Fully-remote working can also lead to a less-than-straightforward onboarding experience for new employees, meaning higher turnover for businesses. In 2023, a study found that 63% of new remote hires felt under-trained, with 80% of these new hires planning to leave their jobs as a result.

3. Employee stress

In 2023, one in three remote workers expressed concern about spending too much time in the house, with 23% reporting increased feeling of loneliness since working remotely. Moreover, 81% of remote workers struggle to disconnect from work, often checking emails outside of work hours, a challenge reported by 22% of them.

In combination with these factors, generational perspectives can also strongly influence workers’ preferences, which we’ll discuss next.

How do different generations feel about remote working vs in-office?

When looking at these generational attitudes to working, it would be amiss to apply a blanket statement to each. For example, a common opinion regarding Gen Z’ers is that they are reluctant to return to the office. Yet, as highlighted by Stanford University economics professor, Nick Bloom;

“People in their 20s have high returns to professional networking, on-the-job training, and mentoring—activities that benefit greatly from in-person interactions. (…) They are more likely to live in small or shared apartments, which reduces the appeal of work from home.”

A separate study found over a quarter of remote workers lacked proper ergonomic setups in 2021, with 26% working from sofas or beds, resulting in musculoskeletal issues for 48% of them.

In their 2023 study, Bloom and fellow researchers José María Barrero and Steven J. Davis gathered data which reflected a higher desire to work from home among Millenials, due to responsibilities around childcare or facing long office commutes.

Citing an ‘unexpected alliance’ between Gen Zers and Boomers, they mused that these generations were in fact eager to regain in-person work; Gen Z to gain a sense of connection with – and learn from, their mentors, while Boomers craved socialisation with colleagues they have built long-time work relationships with. 

In summary…

Company culture is tantamount to employee satisfaction and retention, so it makes perfect sense that employers are striving to uphold a sense of community within their businesses. In the case of these latter points however, underlying culture killers such as mistrust and improper training can be rife within a business, even without remote working to point the finger at. 

As said by Forbes: “The wrong kind of culture with everyone working in the same place is no solution. It is just a messier problem.(…) If your workplace culture is flawed, in-person work won’t fix it. Neither will remote work.“

Work with Distinct 

We understand the challenges companies face regarding remote work policies. Many of the businesses we work with (including those who prefer a full-time, in-office presence), recognise the importance of offering some degree of flexibility. If you have any questions, including how to best position your company when advertising roles, our recruitment specialists will be happy to consult with you. Contact us today.

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