IT SHOULD COME as no surprise that remote work has increased exponentially since 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it has been predicted that “36 million Americans will be working remotely in 2025, a 417% increase from pre-pandemic levels.” (Levanon) Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Great, another article about how the pandemic changed life as we know it.” Just stick around; it will be worth your while.
The pandemic drastically altered the definition of a workplace. Gone are the days of sitting in traffic, praying you can swing by Starbucks and arrive at the 8 a.m. team meeting on time. Now, we have CEOs conducting companywide meetings from their phone in the airport. We see employees building work into a vacation so that they don’t have to take as many days of PTO. There are people who never change out of their pajamas (Guilty! Well, sometimes!) and are just as productive as they would be in a fluorescently lit cubicle.
Prior to the pandemic, only 6% of employed workers worked primarily from home and about 75% had never experienced remote work. (Coate) A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in February 2022 revealed that 64% of people surveyed find that working from home has made it easier to balance work and personal life. This seems like a promising statistic. However, the survey also revealed that 60% of people surveyed also feel less connected to their coworkers than before. This begs the question: how do companies win the remote work game?
The most impactful factor in remote work is company culture. It takes a strong, established culture to survive the challenges of remote work and ensure the benefits outweigh them. Now feels like the time to add in a disclaimer: I have a unique perspective on this situation. I work for an association management company that has been fully remote since its inception in 2018. This was beneficial for me as someone who entered the workforce during a global pandemic. While many companies were trying to get their footing and figure out how to make the switch, I was able to begin my career at a place with an established culture and remote work routine. I firmly believe that this was a tremendous, and rare, advantage. For many, the transition to remote work created several challenges, such as redefining coworker connection, collaboration and priorities. Now that the allure of working from home has worn off, many companies are deciding if the challenges are worth the hassle or if they want to stay remote, return to the office, or take a hybrid approach. Unfortunately, there is not a right answer as it varies by industry, company and desired outcome.
With these characteristics in mind, let’s assess how generational preferences influence the benefits and challenges of remote work. For instance, as a member of Generation Z, I find the main benefits of remote work to be flexibility, comfort, and my employer’s trust in my abilities and work ethic. Now more than ever, there is a certain level of comfort related to working from home. Suits, pencil skirts, uncomfortable heels and unbreathable fabric are ancient history. Instead, I complete projects and attend important meetings with a business-on-the-top, PJs-on-the-bottom approach to work fashion.
Along with such comfort comes flexibility. Remote work provides working parents the opportunity to pick their kids up from school, attend parent-teacher conferences and be on call in case of an emergency. It gives Generation X the work-life balance they crave while also allowing Gen Z to have the individuality and creative freedom they desire. Plus, what C-level executive doesn’t love saving on operating costs by forgoing rent for an office space?
According to an article in Forbes magazine, “the biggest resistance against the return-to-work order comes from managers, directors, and even at the VP rank, who steadfastly refuse to head back to an office. They are willing to quit a job if it is not 100% remote.” (Levanon) Fully in-person companies can be understanding of these preferences by considering a more flexible, hybrid approach to keep employees engaged and satisfied. We have learned that people value autonomy and want to be present for more things in life than just work. This means the ability to take care of a sick parent, working shifted hours to attend a concert or a 10 a.m. “lunch break” for a scheduled doctor’s appointment. If someone has dedicated years of their life to an organization, who’s to say that they are not going to be just as productive working from home, from a coffee shop, or even in another state right before PTO for a vacation begins?
Interestingly, those in my generation tend to feel the opposite. “Many people under 30 prefer to be in an office where they can meet people, make friends, and collaborate.” (Levanon) For a generation that craves flexibility, I find it surprising that there is a preference for structure and an expectation that working in an office is the best route. Remote companies can learn from this by providing set mentorship opportunities, hosting virtual happy hours after work, or even investing in company culture through a yearly, in-person, team retreat.
The company I work for has done an excellent job creating a culture where I know my coworkers outside of their tiny Zoom meeting box. For example, we have a yearly holiday party with an interactive gift box sent to each team member ahead of time. We play games, tell stories, and spend time together that does not revolve around work. We also partake in bi-monthly “water cooler chats” where we are grouped with people we do not typically work with. We then have a 20-minute meeting and work is an off-limits topic. This gives us a more intimate way to get to know one another and build relationships no matter where we are located. Intentional activities like these can be the attribute that sets a remote company apart from the rest.
Wherever you may reside in the remote, hybrid or in-person workplace discussion, I hope you can take a step back and see what option is best for you. Do you agree with the work preferences of your generation, or do you find yourself outside of the status quo? Would you benefit from being fully remote or do you need in-person mentorship and support to succeed at your job? There truly is no right answer or magic decision that will solve all your work-related challenges. My hope is that this article has given you something to think about the next time you are sitting in your pajamas on a Zoom meeting led by your boss.
Coate, Patrick. “Remote Work before, during, and after the Pandemic- Quarterly Economics Briefing – Q4 2020.” Remote Work Before, During, and After the Pandemic, 25 Jan. 2021, www.ncci.com/SecureDocuments/QEB/QEB_Q4_2020_RemoteWork.html.
“Generational Differences in the Workplace [Infographic].” Purdue Global, 2023, www.purdueglobal.edu/education-partnerships/generational-workforce-differences-infographic/.
Levanon, Gad. “Remote Work: The Biggest Legacy of Covid-19.” Forbes, 23 Nov. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/gadlevanon/2020/11/23/remote-work-the-biggest-legacy-of-covid-19/?sh=484f21f37f59.
Mitchell, Travis. “Covid-19 Pandemic Continues to Reshape Work in America.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 23 Mar. 2022, www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2022/02/16/covid-19-pandemic-continues-to-reshape-work-in-america/.