I like to refer to my son as remote native. He didn’t know full-time office life after he entered the workforce. He doesn’t see a reason why he should ever give up the optional life in the office.
My son is not the only one who desires flexibility. According to a recent McKinsey survey, 87% of workers take advantage of flexible work options.
Older generations have a different perspective on remote work compared to their younger colleagues. They have had to adjust to a new way of operating because they have a set of expectations around the workplace. Factors such as elder care, child care and personal health and safety are what drives their desire for flexibility.
To successfully lead the workforce through the transition into permanent remote or hybrid work, leaders need to consider different perspectives, needs and preferences, taking care to provide the tools and support everyone needs to have a great remote work experience.
My company has run many focus groups with clients, digging into how workers feel about the transition to remote work, what challenges they face and what they like and don’t like about the remote or hybrid workplace experience.
While no generalized statements about any large group of people will be without plenty of outliers, here are some of the major generational trends we have noticed.
The most resistant to returning to work are Gen Z and the younger generation. Should their employer not meet their demands for flexibility and self-determination, they will look for other opportunities. It’s mandatory attendance that’s the issue, these younger workers see value in coming to the office for meeting people and forming work friendship. They have no need for private offices or personalized spaces when they come into the office because they are comfortable plugging in their laptop wherever there is an open seat. They are in agreement with the trend of hoteling.
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Flexibility over culture, health benefits and other perks is what Gen Z values the most. More than 50% of Gen Z and Millennials are considering changing jobs in the next year. Gen Z is the most mobile, their rate of job change has increased 25% since the swine flu epidemic.
The most open are Gen X and Gen Y. Some Gen X workers have been climbing a ladder. Success has been linked to being visible through facetime with company leaders and clients, showing up to the office and being seen working. It is hard for them to translate their experiences to a virtual work environment.
Gen X misses a lot about the office experience. Workers of this generation mourn the ease of in-person relationships at the office, which is what we hear in focus groups. They don’t like new office trends such as hoteling They would rather have a private office that they can personalize with their photos, diplomas, awards and like. Gen X isn’t as comfortable living out of a backpack as they balance their work and life.
Baby Boomer are willing to go with the flow. Employees at the end of their career are focused on job security, not rocking the boat. They are willing to go along with whatever leadership deems best. They often comment on the preferences of younger workers who have more runway and are more able to choose the work environment that serves them best.
A Call For Intentional Leadership
When a workplace is in a transition, leaders must bring everyone along. The switch to remote or hybrid work is not new. The bottom line is that no two workers are the same, and that an individualized approach is necessary.
The following steps can make people feel positive about remote work.
The number 1. A good listening strategy is needed. A listening strategy is the only way to provide individualized leadership for your employees. Poll people on how they feel about remote work, what challenges they are struggling with, and gaps between their desired and lived experience. It is possible to accommodate preferences in the workplace.
Research has shown that employees and leadership don’t always agree. Over half of managers think leadership is out of touch with employees, according to the Microsoft Work Trend Index.
There are two things. Work agreements can be clearly defined. The term hybrid workplace is not clear. Is it a sign that workers come to the office on designated days? When they feel like it? There are rules when they are available online. There is a side note that says the less rules the better. What is expected of employees should be clearly defined in a working agreement. Asking for employee input about their preferences and working together to come to an agreement that balances those preferences with business imperatives should be a collaborative effort.
There are 3 Training on remote work tools is a good investment. Quality collaboration tools make remote work possible. Not everyone will be very enthusiastic about incorporating a new tool into their day. To ensure everyone knows how to use collaboration tools, leaders must communicate the necessity and give training. Don’t expect employees to take time to independently dig in on their own, the key is giving scheduled, formal training.
A number 4. Plan in-person gatherings. Sometimes people can be brought together for meetings or just for fun. Business units at my company are encouraged to plan some local events as well as host annual meetings. There has always been a huge return on investment with this strategy. Getting together gives people an opportunity to strengthen their bonds with one another and helps connect them with the company’s values. Adding to the overall humanity of the organization is the fact that people see their coworkers as human beings.
As the remote work experiment unfolds in real time, it is important for leaders to understand that everyone is going to have their own unique expectations and preferences. There are many themes among generations, but you need to keep an eye on your teams. A one-size-fits-all approach to designing a hybrid or remote workplace is not possible.