Gen-Z workers seem to have some mixed feelings about remote work, to say the least.
Although younger workers tend to be more comfortable using technology to work and communicate, many of them feel that they’re missing out on key career experiences that mostly happen in the office.
With COVID-19 still posing a threat to public health, many companies have had to delay their return-to-work plans until sometime in 2022. That’s given many Gen-Zers even more time to wonder if the freedom of remote work outweighs the opportunities they’re missing out on in the office.
Who are Gen-Z workers?
Generation Z refers to the generation born between 1997-2002, just after millennials. It’s the most well-educated, racially diverse, and digitally versed generation yet, according to The Pew Research Center.
In 2021, older Gen Zers (ages 18-23) were graduating college and entering the workforce as the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life around the world.
The Gen Zers who managed to find jobs during the pandemic were often starting their careers from home where they had fewer chances to network and learn on-the-job skills that are valuable for building confidence within the workplace.
Gen-Zers challenges with remote work
Starting a new job can be stressful even in the best of times, but remote work is making it harder for younger workers to get started and feel comfortable in new roles.
Here are a few problems they’ve noted:
1. Workplace dynamics are disconnected
The first few days at a new workplace are often spent meeting new colleagues and getting a feel for the office culture, but that’s hard to do when every interaction happens digitally.
Older employees who transitioned to remote work during the pandemic were already familiar with workplace dynamics, but new employees were going into remote work completely blind.
An essay published in The New York Times explained that younger workers working remotely often don’t feel welcome or comfortable because of the limited opportunities to interact with colleagues in meaningful and genuine ways.
2. It’s hard to find a mentor
In an office, it’s pretty easy to find a friendly coworker and ask how to format a spreadsheet or respond to a client. These casual office relationships can easily turn into valuable mentoring opportunities for younger workers.
However, remote work makes it difficult to know who’s available to answer a quick question, let alone offer important career advice.
This lack of support from experienced colleagues leaves new hires feeling even more isolated and aimless in their jobs and careers.
3. They’re not learning soft skills and office etiquette
Companies had to scramble to create employee onboarding procedures for an entirely remote workforce at the start of the pandemic.
Although remote onboarding can teach new hires how to perform their basic job duties, it leaves out important opportunities to meet and connect with coworkers and managers for more personal conversations.
4. They’re missing out on workplace friendships
Workplace friendships help employees feel engaged, but remote workers don’t have the luxury of even striking up casual conversations in the break room.
The pandemic has left many young remote workers both physically and emotionally isolated, which takes a toll on job performance and mental health. A Microsoft survey found that Gen-Z workers were more likely to struggle with work-life balance and feelings of exhaustion than any other generation.
5. No physical separation from work
Entry-level workers are more likely to have roommates or live with family than older employees. That makes finding room for a designated at-home workspace pretty difficult.
Gen-Zers are working from their couches, their beds, and even their closets to avoid distractions. This leaves little if any separation from their work and living spaces both physically and mentally.
6. It’s hard to feel productive
Harvard University researchers in 2019 found that workers who were free to work anywhere and choose their own hours were more productive than other work arrangements.
However, new employees are less confident in gauging how productive they’re being as they work from home.
Data collected by Microsoft show that workers spend 148% more time in meetings each week after the pandemic. Workers are also dealing with more emails and instant messages, meaning they’re spending more time managing their inboxes than getting actual work done.
What do Gen-Z workers want from employers?
In an attempt to understand how to better serve Gen-Z workers, several groups have conducted surveys asking professionals about how employers could make remote work more fulfilling.
Here’s what Gen-Z responses included:
1. Adopt hybrid work models
Studies show that most Gen-Z workers would prefer hybrid work schedules that include a few days of in-person workdays and a few days of remote workdays.
A hybrid model gives Gen-Z the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in person and utilize their technical skills to enjoy the freedom of remote work when they don’t need to be in the office.
2. Offer career advancement opportunities
As the pandemic continued into 2021, record numbers of workers quit their jobs to pursue better opportunities. Gen-Z workers were the most mobile, with 77% of young professionals saying they planned on quitting their jobs during The Great Resignation, according to CNBC.
Many Gen-Z workers simply weren’t getting enough from their employers and knew they could leverage their tech skills to land a better job. Some workers left to pursue better pay and others wanted to work for an organization that offered more opportunities to advance.
Managers should ask their employees about their professional goals and explain how they can be achieved within the organization. Employees who have a clear understanding of what it takes to advance are more likely to stay, according to Forbes.
3. Provide mentors
Mentors are important for early-career professionals, especially women and people of color, according to Harvard Business Review.
Pair young, remote workers with more experienced colleagues to be their “go-to” resources for questions and career advice.
Give them time during the week for one-on-one chats so younger employees can feel free to ask questions they may be embarrassed to ask in front of managers.
4. Set clear performance expectations
After shifting to remote work due to the pandemic, 70% of professionals reported working on the weekends and 45% said they regularly worked more hours during the week, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
New employees may feel obligated to work longer hours simply because they don’t know what’s expected of them, and they don’t want to disappoint their managers. However, the feeling of always needing to be reachable can quickly lead to burnout and anxiety.
Make sure new hires know when they can completely unplug and take breaks. Explain how they should handle emails or phone calls that come in after hours, and what to do if they don’t have time to finish a project during the workweek.
5. Virtual activities and social opportunities
Older generations may take their workplace relationships for granted, but younger employees still want to get to know the people they’re working with.
Encourage employees to meet up after hours to socialize at voluntary group social events. Tell new hires about any workplace groups or clubs they could join, and encourage senior workers to organize casual social events.
Gen-Z workers bring valuable experience and skills to the workplace, but companies need to focus on nurturing early-career professionals so they feel welcome and confident in their new roles.
New hires need opportunities to communicate with coworkers and managers to build relationships and feel engaged at work. Companies that take measures to bring workers together – even remotely – will have an easier time retaining and growing a talented workforce.