Aquila Capital Partners

Austin &
New York City

The Generational Divide: Why Different Generations Want Different Work Environments

As the vaccine continues rolling out with expediency and with the recent FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, many companies are pushing for their employees to return to the office. But not everyone is thrilled with the proposition. After a tricky start, many employees have adjusted relatively well to working from home. Many express the positive effects of being able to live anywhere, not having a commute, and being more active in their kid’s day-to-day lives. Our new era of work is a stark contrast to how work environments previously operated. Before 2020, working remotely for even one day per week was a luxury for most. Before the pandemic, most people rarely or never teleworked. Now, 71% are doing their job from home most or all of the time. According to this same survey, more than half would keep working from home after the pandemic if the circumstances allowed. 

While it hasn’t been seamless, many companies successfully adapted. Access to digital tools increased in the last year, and even those resistant in the beginning quickly learned that these tools were necessary for a functioning work environment. Large corporations like Google and Facebook promise flexibility as a permanent part of their work model. They’ve found that working from home works for their business model as long as employees remain engaged and get their work done. This signals the positive benefits of an outcome-based company structure. 

Essentially, an outcome-based approach means that company success and employee performance are measured by the product of work, versus the amount of time and effort spent completing that work. Many employees find this beneficial because it gives them greater freedoms and increases work-life balance. Those who work for companies with leaders pushing for in-person work may feel like their bosses are micromanagers who don’t trust their employees—that their leaders don’t believe they can be productive unless they have some supervision. 

The Remote Work Debate 

A survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 39% would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. The generational difference is clear: Among millennials and Gen Z, that figure was 49%, according to the poll by Morning Consult on behalf of Bloomberg News. Younger workers (53% of those ages 18-29) say that they feel less motivated to do their work from home, versus adults who say that it has been somewhat easy for them to feel motivated in the same working conditions. 

Not withstanding the above, one study from Bloomberg indicates that people from all generations prefer hybrid work over 100% remote or 100% in person. Additional research indicates that Gen Z is the most likely to resume with in-office or hybrid work (versus totally remote), second to those aged 45-54. For many members of Gen Z, a remote workplace is all they’ve known. In an increasingly digital world, they desire some form of in-person interaction with their peers. The same study by Bloomberg indicated that Gen Z overwhelmingly believes that a 100% remote work environment will negatively impact their career progression and chances of promotion. Considering the fact that Gen Z is the most digitally adapted generation of all, this research is surprising. One would assume that they would prefer a remote work environment. But that is not the case. 

Why Gen Z Is More Likely To Choose In-Person Work 

The research is clear: Gen Z wants to learn from their peers and from others in an in-person environment, with the option of a flexible schedule and hybrid work. In a pre-pandemic world, this might be considered demanding. But we’ve learned a lot about what does and doesn’t matter over the last eighteen months, and more so, what is truly needed to make us successful. 

Leaders must identify what work structure is best for their company. There’s no reason not to consider different options for our companies. We have access to a wide variety of digital tools. We’ve learned that we can schedule and execute meetings successfully despite varying time zones. It is important for this new working generation to have peer-to-peer, shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration with their teammates and leaders—but on their terms. Giving them the freedom and agency to choose their environment and creating a more outcome-based company structure is essential to setting our companies, and employees, up for future success. 

Read more for additional insights from Mark E. Watson III