Why older workers might want to rethink full-time WFH
Summer is officially over in just a few weeks, but it feels like fall already now that school has started. Our intern, Emily, headed back to App State a few weeks ago, where she’s studying interior design, and I miss the fresh energy she brought into the office.
All of this has me thinking about the work-from-home movement and what it means for young people who are just starting their careers.
According to Gallup, Gen Z and millenials now make up 46% of the full-time workforce, and a recent five-year study found that Gen Z employees prefer in-person communications.
How do companies balance the desire of the youngest people in the workforce for in-person mentoring and onboarding against the desire of older workers who often crave the flexibility of working from home? A lot has been written about the latter, but what about the needs of the former? How can we meet those? How do people just entering the workforce soak up company culture when there’s no water cooler conversation?
Beyond their connection to a company, I wonder how work-from-home impacts the personal lives of newer workers. In the past, many of us built our networks and made friends in new cities through work-related social experiences.
Rather than pitting younger and older workers against each other, I always think it’s helpful to look for common ground. It seems safe to say that we all want to be part of something. Most of us want to find meaning in our work, and that often comes through connections with people. So what are the best ways to cultivate those connections? Via zoom? In the office? In those third places? There are no one-size-fits-all answers, but for me, it's non-negotiable that we think about how we’re supporting the next generation.
Recently I was talking to another designer who said she’d never envisioned owning her own business when she was younger. Now she does so with ease. Her years of being immersed in other companies prepared her for the leap to ownership, almost without her realizing it. Could she have built the relationships with clients that make her company so successful today if she’d done everything online early in her career? Could she have soaked up all that learning from mentors and role models if people were not in the office together?
I hope going forward we can find a balance between work flexibility and preparing the next generation of effective leaders and entrepreneurs. It might mean that we older workers have to give up some convenience and commit to being in the office more often. But I say, let’s do it for the kids.