Why Generation Z need the office (and firms would be remiss to stereotype)
By Lawrence Mohiuddine, CEO of EMEA at Unispace
The emerging generation of the workplace – or Generation Z – have faced a wealth of challenges in their early careers. Many faced launching their professional lives in the midst of a lockdown where global workforces were forced into remote working overnight, and many firms were struggling to find their feet in this new environment.
Fast-forward three years and working from anywhere is a widely embraced concept. But the question that really needs to be asked is, ‘does everyone really want to be away from the office?’ Despite the reports that the workplace has dropped in value, the office has a crucial role to play – particularly with Generation Z.
The lure of the office
Those in the younger demographic have grown up around sophisticated technology, making these digital natives the generation that many business leaders believed would be most keen to make the shift to virtual working. While elements of this may be true – with our European study, ‘Generation Z and the lure of the office’ revealing that 73% of this age group find it easy to collaborate in a remote environment – that does not mean that virtual working is the preferred style for all.
In fact, our study found that for many office workers that fall into the Generation Z category, being away from the physical workspace has a detrimental impact, particularly when it comes to bonding with and learning from peers. The vast majority (81%) of those aged 18 to 34 indicated that they felt disconnected from others in the business in a remote environment, while 78% stated that it was easier to bond with colleagues in the office.
Aside from the missing social element that Generation Zers are clearly craving, there is also the issue of being able to access the often-invaluable learning opportunities that come with in-office working. While virtual training has no doubt progressed significantly as sophisticated technology continues to develop, no online platform has yet been able to replicate those natural ‘water-cooler’ learning moments.
The ability to be able to strike up unplanned conversations in-person, over-hear discussions that help develop your knowledge or just simply being able to turn to a more experienced peer and ask for their opinion are all examples of learning opportunities that provide significant value to emerging talent. But they cannot be forced through regimented online training, they are naturally occurring events that require a physical space to initiate. When we also consider that eight in 10 Generation Z employees that we surveyed indicated that having access to training in the office is important to them, the value they place on being in the workplace to better learn from their peers is evident.
A flexible approach
It is important to be mindful, however, of the need to avoid focusing on a choice between ‘all in’ or ‘all remote’. While Generation Z in particular have a need for the office, they do not want to be in the workplace five days a week. Of those we surveyed, around two thirds were more inclined to prefer the hybrid set up, which demonstrates that flexibility is key.
This fluidity is not just limited to when they are in the office, it also extends to how they use the space. It is broadly recognised by this demographic that the workspace needs to accommodate a range of working styles, from individual activities and phone calls to group (often hybrid) meetings and social events. This is further evidenced by the fact that 81% of those we surveyed revealed a desire to have access to separate spaces for collaboration and focus work in their workplace.
Flexible workspaces will be just as vital in attracting and retaining Generation Z employees as flexible working practices. In order to achieve this, business leaders need to take an honest look at how their office space is set up to accommodate the needs of their current – and future – workforce. The results of our study suggest that far too many workplaces are failing to meet the requirements of the emerging generation, with 88% of those in the 18 to 34 age bracket revealing a desire to change their current office layout. While access to outdoor spaces, breakout areas, fitness studios, quieter work stations and room for social gatherings all ranked highly for this demographic, it is clearly the ability to work in any style in the office that appeals most.
The right office space is still a vastly valuable tool for employers, but it needs to be adaptable to the ever-evolving needs of the workforce. Striking the balance between nurturing collaboration and supporting personal needs is achievable and, for those seeking to create a highly successful Generation Z workforce, necessary.