How to ensure every generation has a great remote work experience

My son is what I like to call a remote native. He entered the workforce after the pandemic and thus never experienced full-time office life. He’s always had the flexibility of optional office life, and he sees no rational reason why he should give it up.

My son isn’t the only one who wants flexibility. A recent McKinsey survey found that when offered flexible work options, 87% of workers took advantage of them, a consistent trend across all demographic groups.

That said, older generations have a different perspective on remote work compared to their younger colleagues. They have a number of expectations from the workplace and have had to adapt to a new way of operating. Their desire for flexibility tends to be driven by factors such as elder care, child care, and personal health and safety considerations.

To successfully lead the workforce through the transition to permanent remote or hybrid working, leaders must consider these different perspectives, needs and preferences, ensuring they provide the tools and support everyone needs. to have a great remote work experience.

My company, Centric Consulting, has hosted numerous focus groups with clients, exploring what workers think about the transition to remote work, the challenges they face, and what they like and dislike about remote or hybrid work experience.

While no generalized statement about a large group of people is without many outliers, here are some of the key generational trends we’ve noticed:

Gen Z and Millennials are the most reluctant to return to the office. They are not afraid to seek other opportunities if their employer does not meet their demands for flexibility and self-determination. That said, these young workers see the value in coming to the office to meet people and build friendships at work – it’s the mandatory attendance that’s the problem. When they get to the office, they’re comfortable plugging in their laptop wherever there’s a free seat, and they don’t need private offices or custom spaces. They are on board with the hospitality trend.

Studies support these observations. Gen Z values ​​flexibility above culture, health benefits and other job-related benefits. The Microsoft Labor Trends Index 2022 found that 52% of Gen Z and Millennials plan to change jobs in the next year. Among LinkedIn users, Generation Z is the most mobile; their job change rate has increased by about 25% since the pandemic.

Generation X is the most open to resuming office life. Gen X workers have been climbing the corporate ladder for quite some time now. For many, success has coincided with being visible face-to-face with business leaders and customers, showing up in the office, and being seen working hard and long. It is difficult for them to translate these experiences into a predominantly virtual work environment.

There’s also a lot Gen X misses about the traditional desktop experience. In our focus groups, for example, we regularly hear from workers of this generation lamenting the ease of in-person relationships in the office. They are not so fond of new office trends such as hospitality. They prefer to have a private office or a designated space that they can personalize with their photos, diplomas, awards, etc. Unlike younger workers, Gen Xers aren’t as comfortable living in a backpack as they balance office work days with remote work days.

Baby boomers are ready to go with the flow. Late-career employees aren’t interested in rocking the boat, they focus on job security. As such, they are ready to accept whatever arrangement the leaders deem best. They often comment on the preferences of young workers who have more scope and therefore more flexibility to choose the work environment that suits them best.

A call for intentional leadership

Whenever a workplace is in transition, leaders need to lead everyone through the changes. The move to remote or hybrid work is no different. While it’s good to keep in mind the generational trends detailed above, the bottom line is that no two workers are the same and an individualized approach is needed.

The following steps can help ensure everyone feels positive about remote work:

1. Have a solid listening strategy. The only way to provide individualized intentional leadership to your employees is to have a listening strategy. Regularly poll people on how they feel about remote work, the challenges they face, and the gaps between their desired and actual work experience. Accommodate preferences, where possible, within workplace norms.

Feedback mechanisms are key, as research has revealed a common disconnect between employees and management. This year’s Microsoft Work Trend Index, for example, found that more than half of managers believe that leadership is disconnected from employees.

2. Establish clearly defined working agreements. The term “hybrid workplace” is nebulous. Does this mean that workers come to the office on designated days? Or when they feel like it? Are there rules about when they must be available online? (Note: fewer rules are better.) Create an employment agreement with clearly defined parameters around what is expected of employees. It should be a collaborative effort: ask employees for input on their preferences, and work together to reach an agreement that balances those preferences with business imperatives.

3. Invest in training on remote working tools. Quality collaboration tools not only make remote working possible, they also make it enjoyable. That said, not everyone will be enthusiastic about integrating a new tool into their day. Leaders should communicate the need for collaboration tools and provide training to ensure everyone knows how to use them. The key is to provide formal, planned training – don’t expect employees to take the time to dig in independently on their own.

4. Schedule strategic face-to-face meetings. Gather people occasionally for meetings, cultural events or just for fun. My company holds a few annual meetings and encourages business units to plan local events as well. We have always seen a huge return on investment with this strategy. Getting together gives people the opportunity to strengthen their bonds with each other and helps them connect with the company’s mission and values. It also helps people see their colleagues as human beings, not just workers, which adds to the overall humanity of the organization.

As the remote work experience unfolds in real time, it’s important for leaders to understand that everyone is going to have unique work expectations and preferences. There are big themes across generations, but you need to take a closer look at your own teams. You can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to designing a hybrid or remote workplace.

Maria D. Ervin