Spare a thought for the young workers who graduated when the pandemic hit and have yet to set foot inside an office. Instead, they have been recruited and onboarded online, with many yet to meet their colleagues in person. Although this will feel like a daunting prospect for many of a certain age, the next wave of workers to hit the workplace, known as Gen Z, have no intention of ever working in an office permanently.
The generation of people who cannot remember a time before the iPhone is much more comfortable spending time in front of a screen and communicating online with less dependence on person-to-person interaction. For digital natives, diversity is their norm, and they are socially-minded, independent thinkers who enjoy being with other people but have no problem looking beyond the same physical location when enjoying quality time with their friends.
A poll of more than 3,800 people on LinkedIn revealed that 55% would be happier working remotely than in the office. In addition, the Wall Street Journal revealed that 69% would like to work remotely at least half the time. The results suggest that a hybrid approach to working is the way forward and binary thinking is not a healthy working environment for anyone.
Instead of arguing about the benefits of working from home vs. working in the office, we need the flexibility to leverage the best of both worlds depending on the task at hand or personal responsibilities outside of the office. As a result, many organizations are experimenting with hybrid working. A popular model is having everyone in the office Tues-Thurs with the ability to work from home on Friday and Monday to ensure employees can leverage the best of both worlds during their working week.
Addressing the employee-employer disconnect
In America alone, 47.4 million Americans quit their jobs last year, representing more than a quarter of the total workforce. The Great Resignation provided employers with a wake-up call and a clear message that attracting and retaining talent will require a fresh approach and a desperate need to tackle the digital skills divide.
As Millenials prepare for middle-age many brands and employers are struggling to connect with the more entrepreneurial Gen Z. The latter are looking for a more inclusive, healthier, and flexible way of working. Milimo Banji, the 25-year old founder of the social-first creative agency TapIn, is currently on a mission to prepare 100 million young people for the world of work while also helping employers attract and retain Gen Z talent.
The founder shared with me how his day begins earlier than the average commuter. Lunchtime starts with a trip to the gym, and he will take a short nap in the afternoon, which increases his alertness and productivity for the remainder of the day. Milimo proudly declares that the flexibility, mental health benefits, and the opportunity for his team to dictate their own schedule are unmatched.
"We've established our own unique ways of working, which has paid dividends. As a result, our team is more productive and creative because they're empowered to work in ways that suit them."
Increased flexibility and scalability
As our increasingly digital workplace evolves, maybe we are looking at the problems of working practices designed for an analog world through the wrong lens. For example, remote working is not about hiding behind a computer screen; it's about thinking bigger and collaborating with people all over the world. A few years ago, working with colleagues on another continent was unthinkable. But distributed teams are on the rise in startups. This new way of working is also helping them scale and move quicker than sluggish fortune 500 companies that are slowed down by their archaic processes.
We are also learning to celebrate our differences rather than attempting to make everyone work in the same way. Introverts and extroverts will thrive in different ways as a hybrid workplace becomes the norm. Regardless of their generation, some employees prefer to work in an office, while their colleagues might choose to work from home. Equally, others will seamlessly drift from one mode to another depending on their tasks and responsibilities.
Freedom of choice
One of the most significant changes in our attitude towards work is the increasing awareness that we need to recalibrate our relationship with technology. Employers need to move away from measuring the performance of their teams by the number of hours they spend sitting at a desk. It really shouldn't matter where an employee meets their goals, whether in the office, at home, or even on the beach.
Although we are permanently tethered to work emails and Slack channels, we are also beginning to demand the right to disconnect and design a work space that meets our unique definition of an optimal work-life balance. For the most part, employees want their employers to give them the flexibility to choose the best place to work from and manage their schedule and objectives.
The benefits of a binary choice between sitting in an office cubicle for 8 hours every day versus working alone in your home is the wrong conversation. Alternatively, employers can reap the benefits of a highly motivated and engaged team that provides a higher quality of work by simply giving workers the freedom of choice to work where they feel the most comfortable and productive.
Too much of anything in life is terrible for you. So for these reasons alone, we shouldn't be too surprised to see Gen X and Millenial workers follow Gen Z's lead by never wanting to work in an office full-time. On this occasion, technology can be credited with bringing everyone together. The only real mystery is why it took so long for all generations to reach the same conclusion.