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The changing landscape: Generational preferences in work models

April 9, 2024 Article 3 min read
Sean Abelarde Plante Moran Realpoint
The preference for different work models — hybrid, remote, or in-office — is trending along generational lines. Workplace policies should address the needs of all generations of staff to create a thriving workplace.
Hybrid meeting in a modern office

As we navigate the transition from traditional office setups to remote and hybrid work models, understanding how different age groups adapt is crucial for creating a thriving workplace and preparing younger generations for the future. What are Gen Z and older generations experiencing in today’s workplace?

Gen Z: Seeking connection

College graduates, fresh-faced and eager to embark on their careers, find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to working from home. While some embrace the flexibility of remote work, many are opposed to a fully remote environment.

One of the challenges faced by younger professionals with remote work is the lack of access to high-quality work equipment at home. A sturdy desk, ergonomic chair, and reliable Internet connection are essential for maintaining productivity but can be quite costly. A recent survey from Stanford University showed that only 49% of professionals have a private room to work in other than their bedroom. That means nearly half of professionals working from home don’t have the space to create clear boundaries between work and their personal life!

On top of finding balance, working remotely can be isolating, especially for entry-level staff. The camaraderie of the office — those impromptu coffee chats and hallway conversations — fosters a sense of belonging that remote work struggles to replicate. Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, argues that young professionals have less engagement, less commitment to their organization, and more social isolation while working remotely, putting them at a disadvantage for promotions and other career development opportunities. Without these informal interactions, young professionals may feel disconnected and miss out on valuable opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, skill development, and career advancement.

Frequent in-person meetings allow young professionals to learn the ropes, master communication skills, accelerate integration into projects and conversations, and facilitate rapid knowledge transfers. Harvard economist Amanda Pallais studied a group of software engineers at a Fortune 500 company. Research uncovered that engineers working in the same building as all their teammates received a staggering 23% more feedback on their codes than engineers with distant teammates. Young women were especially more likely to ask follow-up questions when working in person, “zeroing in on pain points in their programming.” In remote scenarios, that back-and-forth dynamic is severely diminished. Without this kind of feedback, younger professionals were more likely to leave their job, the researchers found. For Gen Z, remote work isn’t just about tasks; it’s about forging meaningful connections.

Older generations: embracing remote work

Contrastingly, older staff at managerial levels generally champion remote and hybrid work over coming into the office.

Older professionals often have well-equipped private home offices that are optimized for productivity. These workspaces are designed to support their specific needs, complete with ergonomic chairs, dual monitors, and TVs close by to stay informed on the latest news. Having an effective space allows older professionals to maintain focus, efficiency, and professionalism in their remote work while having the resources to excel in their roles.

One of the advantages that older professionals experience in remote work is the ability to prioritize family time. With years of experience, they understand the importance of striking a balance between their career and personal life. Remote work eliminates lengthy commutes, allowing them to spend quality time with their loved ones. They can enjoy the flexibility of being present for important family moments now more than ever and create a harmonious work-life integration.

Years in the workforce have cultivated significant social capital for older professionals. Through their extensive networks, industry expertise, and established relationships, they have built a strong foundation of connections. This social capital enables them to work confidently, drawing on their vast knowledge accumulated from years of experience and integration in the workplace. They can leverage their network to collaborate, seek advice, and make informed decisions, contributing to their continued success in remote work.

Striking a balance

In this dynamic landscape, organizations need to find a way to strike a balance with their workplace policies. Gen Z, in general, struggles with remote work. It can lead to disadvantages related to promotions, commitment to their organization, gaining the necessary resources, defining work-life balance, isolation, effective knowledge transfers, and building meaningful connections with coworkers. Experienced staff appreciate work-life harmony because they can rely on their established knowledge, resources, and networks to remain productive throughout the day.

While generational preferences are not the only factor to consider for your business’s workplace policies, any policy should address both preferences — the flexibility of remote work championed by older generations with the need for connection and mentorship of growing professionals eager to fill in their shoes.

If your business needs help assessing its workspace and workplace strategy, Plante Moran Realpoint’s real estate consultants can help. Contact our team today for a consultation.

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