- Offices often serve as a key place for younger workers to socialise and network, but that’s being taken away in a work-from-home world.
- One economist told Business Insider this makes remote work better for more established professionals, putting Gen Z workers at a disadvantage.
- But success while working from home really comes down to an organisation’s health, a professor in organizational behaviour said.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
For many, working remotely may be the preferred choice. Remote workers have been reported to be happier than their in-office counterparts, and there are tangible financial benefits – like cheaper housing or no leases – for workers and employers alike.
But there are sacrifices that come with working remotely. While it may be a public health necessity for now, keeping workers at their homes permanently could negatively impact team cohesion and innovation. But it could do worse for younger workers, potentially crippling the formative years of their careers.
The first three months of a job can be crucial to setting yourself up for achievements down the line and for establishing an office social life. But for Gen Zers lucky enough to be starting new jobs – whether they are entering the workforce or finding new opportunities due to changes brought on by the pandemic – those three months will be different, and the years afterward could be, too.
If they’re in an office, they may find themselves navigating one-way hallways and sneeze guards. And if their company has recently switched to mostly or completely remote working, they could be the odd ones out in a group of coworkers who already forged social and professional bonds pre-pandemic.
As Business Insider’s Shira Feder reported, a Cigna survey found that, pre-pandemic, newer employees were more likely to feel lonely at work, and experts recommended that workers seek out face-to-face interactions to combat loneliness.
Millennials are more likely than older generations to say that having friends in the workplace impacts them positively, a 2014 LinkedIn survey found. Exactly half of respondents said it makes them more motivated, and 57% said it makes them happy. One-third of millennials also think that socialising with colleagues helps them move up the career ladder. That ladder has been a rickety or even broken one for millennials, who have struggled to find their career footing after graduating into the post-Great Recession job market, but what if it’s worse for Gen Z?
Gen Zers are already staring down a crumbling job market and more insular social lives. What’s unclear right now is what it will look like to begin a job in a workforce that’s turned remote. Business Insider consulted two experts to see what they think the future of work looks like for Gen Z.
Remote work could hinder Gen Z’s networking opportunities
The jobs that workers get soon after graduating often set the stage for one’s career path. It’s a time when younger workers accrue and hone new skills, begin to solidify their own personal values and missions, and start building relationships.
But will that hold true over Zoom? Hannes Schwandt, assistant professor at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, told Business Insider that he doesn’t think so.
While there hasn’t yet been any finalised research on the topic, he noted, he said he thinks remote work is better for more established workers than for “newbies.” And all the other networking events outside the office that have been cancelled are probably more important for newbies, too, he said.
“Usually, socialising at conferences is a way the next generation gains ground, while the more established older cohorts are staying home,” he said.
Networking is one of the most important aspects from a first job, and it’s something most successful people do in their first month on a new job. It’s proven to lead to more opportunities, increase knowledge, and spur faster advancement and authority, states the Harvard Business Review. It also improves work quality and job satisfaction.
This is especially true for younger workers, who don’t yet have the solid circle of connections that many of their older colleagues do. Working remotely puts facetime behind a screen, building a potentially shaky foundation of relationships.
However, more established workers aren’t at a complete advantage. Those who are parents have to master the juggling act of balancing their own jobs with their children’s less structured days amid school closures, which Schwandt said can hinder productivity.
“I guess the sweet spot is young professionals with a decent network but no kids yet, and the older, well-established people who have kids that are old enough to allow a productive coexistence during lockdown times,” he said.
How well permanent work from home functions depends on organizational health
But if a Gen Zer finds themselves at the right company, they could still be in a prime position to succeed, even if it’s from their couch.
Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer in organizational behaviour at the Yale School of Management, said permanent work from home may not necessarily be a downgrade – rather, it’s just different.
“If we think of it as different than categorically worse, then we’re adapting into a new normal and not suboptimal conditions,” Brooks said. And, because the younger generations are more used to a mobile and online lifestyle, “Gen Z is well-equipped to be quite dynamic during this time.”
Instead, the bigger issue may come from preexisting – but sometimes invisible – fissures in the organisation’s health.
“People are kind of discovering the DNA of their culture right now, and not always getting good news,” Brooks said.
She said that being in an office is, in a sense, like having membership to a club. In a physical space, you have things like an ID badge and desk that demarcate your belonging in that culture and organisation. For those who may not have an innate sense of belonging in an organisation – such as those who come from marginalised populations, and may not see themselves widely represented in a company’s culture – those “overt signals of membership” can be important.
Permanent work from home is, according to Brooks, a good time to “stress-test those things.” Leaders can step up to fill in the gaps left by no longer walking through a lobby or getting a smile in the hallway, and should make the time to further emphasise a sense of belonging for everyone in the organisation.
And younger or newer workers should actively voice their concerns about virtual mentorship, and what workplace mentorship could look like. In fact, Brooks said, the best mentors might be the people who will help talk through those questions.