The Downsides of Remote Work: A Gen Z Perspective

Working in an office feels like a foreign concept to many now that we’ve gotten used to the shortest work commute ever (just down the hall). But it actually IS a foreign concept to many of our new Gen Z colleagues. 

Gen Z doesn’t remember fun happy hours, long evenings in the office with coworkers to hit a deadline, and important presentations that either went great or poorly and what their colleague said to them afterward in the hallway. And while those who did work in offices hold those memories, they’ve forgotten what the actual day-to-day feels like. 

Sure, it’s great having more control over when you start and stop your day. And, if you need to make a last-minute doctor’s appointment you can push some meetings or even take them from the car. Most importantly, you have the space to work when you’re most productive and with fewer office distractions. 

But that doesn’t make missing being in person any less real.

In fact, Indeed surveyed people who started working from home during the pandemic and found that “50% of respondents still miss their commute), 45% miss in-person meetings and 73% miss socializing with their colleagues in person.” 

There are tangible benefits that we all miss out on working remotely, but especially for Gen Z folks who are just starting their careers, like…

  • Getting to see more seasoned colleagues in action and getting support in building skills
  • Creating relationships and a network through authentic, spontaneous interactions
  • Finding a personal balance between work and life that enables all-around success

There will always be tradeoffs between Option A and Option B––whatever they are. But, when it comes down to where and how your team or direct reports work, it’s important to mitigate the obstacles. 

So take these three actions to help your team and Gen Z colleagues overcome the downsides of remote work.

1. Support Skill Development

For folks learning a new role, new company culture, and sometimes even a new skill set, it’s easy to overlook the nuance that gets lost in the virtual space. Getting advice or an extra pair of eyes when walking to your next meeting or by the water cooler doesn’t happen authentically anymore. Now imagine you’re a new hire, new to the workforce, new to your role…that’s A LOT to learn. A 2021 study from EY, for example, revealed that “while members of Gen Z are generally confident about their technology skills and their ability to land a job, many say their education didn’t prepare them to advance in their careers.”

As a leader or manager, you have to be intentional about creating learning opportunities for your team and organization. Learning needs to be prioritized, whether that’s offering a professional development fund, bringing in skill-focused trainings, encouraging mentorship, or sharing stories about the work being done. And it’s what people want, specifically, Gen Z. Lever found that 1 in 5 Gen Zers said they would stay at an employer that offers upskilling/reskilling.

But of course, all of that starts with understanding how your team likes to learn and what they want to work on. Be sure to start the conversation and then structure accordingly.

2. Encourage Building a Network  

Similar to the struggle of impromptu skill building, it’s also difficult to have moments of spontaneity that build lasting relationships and networks. Happy hours, working lunches, even work trips are fewer and far between. Not to mention the push to get in and out of virtual meetings often leaves the conversation surface-level, transactional, and all about work. 

You have to plan social interactions. We know that sounds weird, but it’s easy to let being behind a screen keep our relationships 2D. In fact, one study by JobSage reported that fully remote workers report 33% fewer friends at work.

So, create spaces for people to connect by setting up a regular virtual coffee chat or happy hour and then putting them into small breakouts for some quality time. 

Ask questions that go deeper than “How are you?” like: “What was your favorite part of this past weekend?” “What are you reading, watching, or listening to right now?” “What are you looking forward to most this week?” 

Finally, encourage 1:1s. The benefit of this remote, virtual world is that scheduling a 30 minute meeting or walking lunch is right at our fingertips. 

3. Establish a separation between work and life 

It’s no surprise that when you can work from anywhere, the boundaries between work and life become fuzzy. Now factor in that many of us work where we live and that boundary starts to look, well, invisible. Zippia found that 86% of employees who work from home full-time experience burnout and 45% of employees working remotely due to the pandemic reported working more hours than before. That lack of separation can lead to longer working hours, increasing stress and pushing folks to burnout. 

For your new coworkers, whether Gen Z or otherwise, who are eager to add value to the team, it’s increasingly important to help them develop boundaries and routines that allow them to unplug from work.

To do so, set rules of the road that outline how your team works. For example, “If we send emails after hours we make sure to clarify that we’re emailing when it’s convenient for us and that the recipient should respond when it’s convenient for them.” 

Keep open lines of communication, especially in 1:1s. Make sure you’re checking in with them on what’s on their plate, how they feel they are managing their workload, and most importantly whether they’re making time for activities outside of work.  

And above all, know the warning signs of burnout:

  • Curveballs being treated as major crises
  • Chronic low energy and exhaustion
  • Getting sick more frequently
  • Not recharging or relaxing
  • Having a sense of inefficacy
  • Feeling disengaged and being consistently checked out
  • Cynicism is the norm
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Imbalance between work to-dos and work motivators

This isn’t just for them, but for you as well. You lead by example and if you’re burning out or blowing past boundaries, so will the whole team.

It’s all about intentionality

The name of the game here is being intentional:

  • Offering skill-building opportunities tailored to your team 
  • Creating space for your team to connect more deeply in a  virtual environment
  • Maintaining healthy working habits and creating open lines of communication

By doing so you’ll be better prepared to navigate supporting the new workforce as well as new colleagues in the face of the obstacles remote and hybrid work present.

Being a senior team member takes responsibility. Read this blog for how senior team members can better serve their colleagues and live up to the title.

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