Is there a generation gap when it comes to returning to the office?

In the pre-pandemic world, remote working had just started to gain ground. Primarily, trusted senior executives were allowed to work remotely as a perk for a job well done. When COVID struck and businesses were forced to require non-essential workers to work from home, mandatory departure from the office changed the natural order of the work environment.

At the height of the pandemic, two-thirds of professionals worked from home. Now, as employers recall workers back to the office, it appears that a generational gap has formed in the desire to return. A recent survey found that 55% of Millennials expressed reluctance to return to the office, compared to 45% of Gen Xers and 36% of Baby Boomers.

Why the generational gap?

Generally speaking, older colleagues enjoy going to the office rather than working from home. Many Baby Boomers and a large percentage of Generation X value the connections that are made in person. With these connections, they see an opportunity to bond with co-workers and also the chance to hang out with bosses, which can lead to better assignments.

Millennials, however, see it differently. Growing up with technology, they believe it can be used to facilitate remote working. Survey results show that 81% of Millennials and Gen-Zers use platforms like Slack and WhatsApp for work, compared to 21% of Boomers.

In addition to the gaps in the digital learning curve, young workers find the autonomy and freedom offered by remote working a good fit with their preferred way of life. However, for every benefit in their case for working from home, they need to consider the downsides.

Millennials and Gen-Zers will want to weigh the pros and cons of working remotely:

Work-life balance

Pro: The improved flexibility of remote working means you connect from anywhere with access to Wi-Fi. If assignments are distributed in a way that only requires a deadline, no one is owed. a working day of 9 to 5 days. Schedules can be adjusted to better accommodate social life, recreation and other non-work priorities.

Inconvenience : Working on projects remotely limits some of the opportunities for collaboration, learning, and community that arise from in-person group interaction. (This is best for lone wolves; not so great for extroverts.) Additionally, reaching out to a coworker for critical information while working non-traditional hours can be difficult, resulting in wasted time waiting for ‘answer. If one of the team members works in a different time zone, the coordination becomes even more difficult.

Productivity

Pro: Eliminating daily commuting saves a considerable amount of time which can be applied to job performance. Plus, those everyday office distractions like loud conversations or unwanted interruptions cease to exist, allowing you to focus on long periods of concentration.

Inconvenience : While distractions in the office can be annoyances, interruptions in family life are even more likely to require immediate attention. Children with school projects, a dog getting sick on the carpet, a neighbor at the door needing to borrow a ladder can nullify any momentum and wipe out his thoughts. (“What was I thinking again?” Hmmm.)

Integration or internship

Pro: Remotely settling into a new working relationship with a new manager and a new team can take some of the pressure off of entering the office on day one with all eyes on the newbie. Zoom or Teams conference calls allow new employees to stay on the sidelines, allowing them to gain insight into the team’s culture before they are fully immersed in it.

Inconvenience : It is difficult to virtually replicate the training of new personnel, especially when the mode is more to say than to show. Additionally, new hires don’t have the same ability to observe and learn from coworkers or feel part of a team when they have no face-to-face contact. Asking important questions becomes more difficult.

Professional advancement

Pro: During the pandemic, some creative professionals, such as architects and designers, found they worked more efficiently outside of the office. In many ways, remote working accommodates different styles of work where headlong working and thinking time are needed to make them shine.

Inconvenience : Remote working can more easily feel like working in a vacuum, preventing all staff from forming the personal relationships necessary for constructive feedback and potential growth. Without in-person interaction, senior management is less able to assess personalities and work styles, and remote workers may miss a promotion. It’s also harder to volunteer for assignments or conveniently be the last person in the office each night (and therefore the first someone can ask to pitch an exciting new project).

Organizational culture

Pro: Work-from-home mandates during the pandemic have helped employers rethink how best to inspire professionals and build teams remotely. Thanks to technology, some companies have seen greater attendance at meetings, more attentive managers, and easier communication. Also, in some ways, video conferencing becomes a great equalizer when all participants, regardless of rank, fill the same size square on the screen.

Inconvenience : Effective team building, communication and collaboration require the trust that comes from forming close relationships. Difficult to create cohesion and collegiality without meeting regularly in person.

Employers and employees – across generations – will continue to weigh the pros and cons of returning to the office after the pandemic. Young workers will certainly expect more flexibility, and their employers will show goodwill in offering it.


Written by Vicky Oliver.

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