Post pandemic the next generation gap around remote working is here
An entry-level graduate for a Big 5 company told me last week: “I was hired & onboarded remotely. I #WFH with my sister across the table so I am better placed than most. I am not learning fast enough. eLearning is an add-on, not a substitute. I have to book a slot in someone’s calendar for a routine question. It can take days. I took the initiative to meet younger colleagues in the park in the summer. My manager splits his time between his place in the suburbs and his country cottage. When we go hybrid he will be in the office 2 days a week. I am concerned how this will impact me professionally.”
This is not the first time I’ve heard that same remark.
Downsides of isolation
Research from ABBYY COVID-19 Technology and Business Process survey which surveyed 4,000 staff members in 20 industries across four countries — the U.S., UK, Germany and France — found workers 55 years and older more optimistic than younger generations.
The survey found 61% of the 35-and-younger group felt remote work made their jobs more challenging, while just 36% of 55-plus workers felt the same way. They claimed to be more demotivated (39%) stressed and feel more isolated (38%). Young executives felt particularly frustrated; 85% felt business processes “wasted their time.” Maybe that has to do with expectations and understanding. Two-thirds of the younger workforce felt there wasn’t enough information provided about navigating processes and protocols at work.
However, according to a study from Citrix 2025 The Born Digital Effect 90% of Millennials and Gen Z don’t want this to be full-time. They want flexibility but they also want visible and strong leadership (79%) and also autonomy (83%.) Many managers are going to struggle to achieve that.
Location is everything
The question of returning to work and staying at home was always going to be a contentious point. When we talk about the “future of work,” in the first instance what we are really talking about currently is the future location of work. The key drivers for people wanting to return to a physical place of work are a need to collaborate in person (63%) and 62% wanted to socialise with colleagues. 25% even want to go back to dressing up for work, rather than what I call wearing emotional support attire. We are definitely seeing fewer Braveheart, bunker beards.
The current preferred model is hybrid working, which reflects our need for connection, collaboration, and community, with in-person workplace contact. We are on our way to figuring out the where of the problem, but so far, not the how. The challenge will be getting that right as we all adapt.
But we still don’t know if it is going to be the best or worst of both worlds.
Professional and social
Younger employees seem to want to return to the office or for more days more than their older bosses or colleagues. There are two reasons for this;
1. Professional – Very often you learn from others by osmosis. Just watching and absorbing how other people do things. If you have a question you can now stick your head around your pod and ask the person next to you or when you bump into someone in the break-out room. Now contact is structured and intentional. Slack and Calendly are in regular use. Many of their bosses have a second home to retreat to. This has been a common complaint especially if it requires them to sit in Zoom meetings even if they are in the office. Young people tend to (but not always) live in smaller, frequently shared accommodation in city centres. Many younger workers have no or designated workspace with spotty wifi. A younger Paris-based client living in a “Chambre de bonne” assured me that it was nothing like the maid’s room in Emily in Paris. With about 12 sq metres to live and work in where it wouldn’t be possible to swing even a stunted cat, life in a very strict Parisenne lockdown was very challenging
2. Social – Workplaces are also part of their social lives. They make friends with colleagues. Their bosses in particular tend to be older with families possibly with longer commutes which they want to avoid. Badly. Younger generations go to local gyms and have drinks after work in the area around the office.
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Two tier work
To avoid this generation clash, there are fledgling discussions around moving away from time-based organisations to measure the way work is allocated and shifting to project and activity structures. Will we eventually see remote-only work and office-based only work. I wouldn’t rule that out. But they will be fraught with downsides.
Currently, we are very much in trial and error mode. Whatever happens, the market will respond and currently, with skillset deficiencies in many organisations we might see employees having the upper hand. In the short term at least.
But it seems that across the board flexibility is the element in the highest demand.
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Adapted from a newsletter published on LinkedIn