Does Gen Z still need the office?

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In a time of high employee turnover and labour shortages, leaders are increasingly looking to the latest generation of workers: Gen Z, to set the course for the new world of work.

The oldest Gen Zs were born in 1997, meaning that many of them entered the workforce just as the pandemic reared its head and most non-essential jobs went remote. This unusual introduction reflects in their preferences and desire for flexibility.

McKinsey & Co research shows that, unlike their older colleagues, Gen Zs are 59 per cent more likely to walk away from a job opportunity if a hybrid workplace (working remotely on some days and in-office on others) is not an option.

In Australia, this desire for flexibility is only amplified. A survey conducted by IWG Australia found that workers aged between 18 and 24 would be willing to sacrifice extra paid leave and/or a pay increase in favour of hybrid working, 42 per cent of respondents would forgo a pay increase of between 6-20 per cent and 40 per cent would turn down an extra week’s paid leave if it meant having to return to the office full time.

Role of the office in developing professional skills

While Gen Z likes to challenge the status quo, many young workers are deeply invested in their professional growth and wish to take advantage of all skill development opportunities.

One of the best tools organisations have at their disposal is to promote the advantages employees gain from working in the office environment, and not just ask them to return without highlighting the benefits.

Working in the office creates visibility and mentoring opportunities. Relationships with colleagues and managers will naturally develop faster. These relationships can create networks and help younger workers to navigate hierarchies and find their place within an organisation. Visibility is important if they are looking for promotion opportunities.

Learning to work collaboratively is critical in the early stages of a career. Learning takes place at many levels and the subtle knowledge gained from sitting in on a meeting or watching senior colleagues interact with clients plays a key role in shaping development.

Interpersonal skills such as adaptability, communication, listening and problem-solving are all learned with time and experience but working on-site with mentors available to learn from can help speed up the process.

Gen Z employees don’t necessarily need to work from the office to be more productive or perform better in their role, but they do stand to benefit greatly from spending some time working face-to-face with their colleagues.

Flexibility still comes out on top

A hybrid work model combines the flexibility and productivity gains of working remotely, while still ensuring that employees participate in and harness the learning opportunities gained from working in-office.

This can help to create a company culture that’s built on trust, individual responsibility and productivity – all qualities that are prized by Gen Z.

Adopting a hybrid model requires business leaders to evolve at the pace of their Gen Z employees and be agile and open to the needs of individuals. This may be challenging at first but those who take a future-thinking approach stand to attract the best and brightest of this demographic to their organisation.