Why fully remote is bad for young workers

Why fully remote is bad for young workers

Two years of sporadic lockdowns and enforced remote working has affected all our lives, both work and home. But one group seems to be impacted most. Young workers; the 18–25-year-old Generation Z.

Gen Z are people born between 1997 – 2012, the cohort before that were Millennials born between 1981 – 1996 (currently 26-41 years old). We’ve spoken to Gen Z workers about their experience of working from home. Here we offer some insights and solutions.

Gen Z and Millennials are not against remote working, but 100% remote fails them.

Surveys by Deloitte, PwC and Nationwide Building Society show that young people are struggling with remote work, especially if it’s their first experience of employment.

Research commissioned by Nationwide showed Gen Z and Millennials would like to work from home 3 days per week, but they are also more aware of the advantages that face-to-face time with colleagues and senior managers can bring.

The key issues for young remote workers seem to be networking, training, welfare, socialising and soft skills.

Networking

Without time spent in the office, there is a fear of missing out on key relationships and conversations. Proximity bias (the advantage of being in the same room as senior staff) is a real concern for young staff. They haven’t yet established strong bonds with the experts and are still learning about the organisation.

Zara, a 22-year-old personal assistant, explained “Sometimes I get the feeling of out-of-sight-out-of-mind when I work from home. I know I’m missing out on casual conversations. But sometimes those conversations include really useful information”

It’s certainly true that remote working dialogue is more planned. There is little opportunity for ‘accidental conversations’ that happen by the coffee machine or water cooler.

She also highlighted that in the office you can develop friendships in other departments. There is a danger that remote working encourages silo connections – you only mix with your immediate colleagues and miss the big picture view.

Training

We sometimes underestimate the value in watching how others work and hearing the business language they use. Every organisation and industry sector has a way of working and acronyms (buzz words). Not understanding these can make new starters feel they are out-of-the-loop.

Being in the office can accelerate that learning – its training by osmosis and observation

Onboarding can also be difficult when working from home. Walking a first-time employee around the office and introducing them to key individuals in their work area cannot be emulated on a Zoom call.

Zara commented “I think I’ve missed out on the informal mentoring you receive when working in the office. There is always one experienced person that you connect with and they don’t always work in your department.”

The Nationwide research showed six in ten Gen Z (58%) and half (49%) of Millennials say they need to spend time with colleagues face-to-face in order to carry out their work effectively.

Welfare

For many Gen Z workers, their office is the bedroom or sofa. They probably don’t have the luxury of a dedicated room converted to a workspace.

Besides being an uncomfortable way of working, it can also be difficult to appreciate when the working day starts and ends. The lines become blurred. Most of us work longer hours from home and this is especially true of Gen Z and Millennials who want to prove themselves. This can lead to burnout and mental health issues.

According to the Nationwide research, 50% of Gen Z and 43% of Millennials who currently work part of the time from home say there is pressure on their health and wellbeing. Over half (54%) of Millennials also say their overall mental health has been negatively impacted during the pandemic.

Isolation is also an issue more likely to affect young people. A higher proportion of Gen Z is likely to be single compared to Millennials and other age groups. Living alone without regular access to an office can heighten feelings of loneliness.

Alex, a 25-year-old CRM Manager, commented “It’s hard to create team spirit as everything feels so artificial over a Zoom call. If you’re a newcomer to the company, it’s difficult to integrate into a team if you’ve only spoken to your peers over the internet and this can lead to feeling left out.”

In a remote world, in-depth voice conversations are normally planned, whether it’s a video call or telephone. As a result, there is a lack of playful, spontaneous discussion (or banter).

Often there is an over-reliance on text (email or chat) which lacks tone of voice – regardless of how many emojis you use 😊 This can lead to misunderstanding, frustration, and a lack of empathy. The result is poor connectivity.

Socialising

Young staff are more likely to still be living with their parents or renting a bedsit. Working from home may mean they don’t get the opportunity to socialise during the average day with others their own age.

Grabbing a coffee or going to lunch with your peer group can make work enjoyable. It’s a shared experience that can cement relationships with laughter.

Professor Dunbar, British anthropologist, once said “Digital world, stone age social skills”.

Alex added, “I think what I miss the most are the team lunches and drinks after work, it’s such a good way to de-stress and to great real connections with your colleagues.”

The ubiquitous Friday after-work drinks are not the same on a Zoom call. Physical contact (Covid notwithstanding) and body language are important for cementing work relationships.

Some office relationships lead to love. Adzuna researched the taboo of workplace relationships in the UK and revealed 66% of workers have had romance with a colleague (and 28% found their current partner at work). Sex is important when you are young.

Soft skills

Just as training by observation is sometimes under-rated, so are soft skills. These are the skills that enable people to fit in at a workplace. They include personality, attitude, flexibility, motivation, and manners.

Soft skills are so important that some organisations use them to decide whether to keep or promote an employee. It can range from telephone manner to how staff resolve workplace conflict.

A PowerPoint presentation and training video are not the best way to improve soft skills. It’s best done by immersing employees in the environment and enabling casual engagement with people around them.

Possible solutions

Gen Z and Millennials are not against remote working, but 100% remote fails them. Like other generations, they would like some form of hybrid working. Nationwide’s research showed that post-pandemic, 62% of Gen Z and 56% of Millennials want to work from home at least three days a week.

In the meantime, if you are operating fully remote here are some possible short-term solutions:

  • Try coffee roulette. Randomly pair young employees with staff outside their department for a 15-minute virtual coffee.
  • Employ a young welfare officer outside of your organisation. Gen Z may not want to admit to another member of staff they are struggling. Young staff are keen to impress.
  • Arrange a virtual team game where staff work with people outside of their department to achieve a goal. Online escape rooms are a good example.

For more thoughts and insight on the future of work and the hybrid workplace, sign up for our Schej Bulletin. For further stats, download our survey ‘Hybrid working; manager’s & employee’s view’.


Photo by Mimi Thian.