Could you have ever imagined being told one year ago that you would be transitioning fully to remote work, turning your home sanctuary into a lively office space? While some people have returned to their physical offices now, our uptake of working from home (WFH) increased drastically over the past year.
For many, this has meant balancing childcare and their day job (and, in some cases, welcoming kids onto Zoom meetings), while quickly learning new technologies to support WFH infrastructures. The upcoming anniversary of the one-year mark of the pandemic makes for a fitting time to reflect back on all that’s changed about how we work, and how businesses can better anticipate and address employee needs, which can vary across the generational spectrum, for the future of work.
In particular, Gen Z – defined by those born after 1996 and growing up in a fully digital world – are keenly aware of the pros and cons of this new normal, and have developed specific working styles they prefer after starting their careers working remotely. According to a recent Sharp survey of 6,000 office employees in Europe, 61% of Gen Z respondents agree it’s been hard to stay informed about what’s going on in the company while working remotely. However, just over half of those under 30 years old also said that working remotely has made them more productive and reduced stress from losing the daily commute. This generation is now expecting more from their employers in the future. More than two-thirds (67%) of Gen Zs want an employer that provides the technology to work from anywhere, and three-quarters of Gen Z respondents want innovations including artificial intelligence in their future workspaces (both home & office).
We covered these topics and more in our recent webinar with Microsoft and industry experts on the future of work. Here are a few key learnings from the discussion.
1) Take a human approach
Take time to really listen, understand and adapt to what employees need now. This will pay dividends in the future, including boosting morale, decreasing turnover and most importantly, showing employees that you truly care. Listening can take on many different forms, such as establishing employee resource groups, fielding an employee pulse survey or creating forums for senior leaders to interact with mid-level and junior staff one-one-one to voice concerns.
It’s also important to note that there are currently four different generations converging in the workplace (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers), each displaying unique workstyles and possessing differing workplace expectations. According to Future of Work Psychologist Viola Kraus, “the way Gen Z communicates with their peers is a direct contradiction to our established communication culture.” Gen Z prefers virtual communications, but still crave physical office spaces that allow them to connect and form relationships with colleagues. Meanwhile, Boomers put a strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships, especially forming two-way mentoring connections. Navigating these nuances between each generation will help companies put people first.
2) Let technology lead the way
Technology is one of the most important parts of the future of work equation, for its role in connecting everyone and becoming a key part of a comfortable remote set up. This includes both hardware and physical tools, as well as software and business products like Microsoft Teams and Slack.
To ensure employees have what they need, consider making it an agenda item at the next staff meeting or company town hall to discuss the company’s tech infrastructure and if it is serving the company in the best way possible. Perhaps have someone from the company join future of work conversations in your industry to ensure you are keeping pace. If your company is due for a tech upgrade, check out some of our Sharp Business products for inspiration. Above all, make sure your organizational leaders are future-proofing your business and fostering cross-generational learning and working.
3) Revamp communication
With employees likely going back and forth between home and office working, it’ll become even more important for employers to figure out the appropriate cadence of communications across the company and across teams to strike a healthy balance. There is such a thing as under-communicating, but over-communicating can also make employees feel inundated and even confused.
Establish a healthy balance that can be adjusted when necessary, especially during times of change. Make sure employees know and expect when they can hear from various members of the company to avoid leaving them guessing, even more so during times when face-to-face communication is less frequent if teams are working remotely (i.e. the holidays or summer months).
We are all at an important crossroads when it comes to setting our companies on the right path for success in the future work environment during this “new normal” we’re approaching. There is little to lose when putting an ear to the ground and listening to employee needs. We’re all figuring this out together!