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Younger Workers are Leading the Return-To-Office Charge…Kinda

The conversation surrounding the return-to-office movement has dragged on for so long that it’s beginning to sound repetitive. Occupiers and landlords are eager to get their employees back, but after the pandemic, employees are reluctant to leave the comfort of their home workstations. Poll after poll shows that employees would rather look elsewhere for work if their bosses called them back to the office five days a week, even as companies come up with eccentric methods to lure their staff back to the office. It’s old news, but the reality persists. Yet while the pandemic showed an alternative to mandatory office attendance, it didn’t destroy office markets altogether. Not only that, younger workers (you know, the group that’s supposedly the most opposed to in-person work) largely want to go back to the office. So maybe we’ve been having the wrong conversation all along.

For numerous reasons, younger workers have been painted as the most resistant group to going back to in-person work. But the data seems to be pointing in the opposite direction. A joint survey conducted by economists from three universities (Stanford, University of Chicago, and ITAM) found that fewer than 25 percent of workers in their 20s who have the ability to work remotely on a full-time basis actually want to do so. 

But this finding wasn’t as out-of-the-blue as you might expect. A few months prior, LinkedIn analyzed job applications that had been submitted on their platform and found that 20-24 year-olds are the least likely to apply to remote-only roles. Now, a lot of that could be attributed to the fact that Gen Z is the generation most likely to struggle with an overall lack of workspace at home. Many of these young professionals have recently graduated from college, which means that many of them are living with their parents or in a small apartment with roommates. 

Younger workers are likely leading the return-to-office charge because many of them struggle with working with insufficient space, juggling their personal and professional lives, avoiding distractions, and lacking the necessary tools at home to effectively accomplish their work tasks. But at the same time, younger workers are more inclined to job-hop if they get frustrated with their employer, and the high rates of workers reporting that they’d get ready to leave should their employers demand they come into the office five days a week is a grim reality occupiers and office landlords are still contending with.

So if that’s the case, why do we keep hearing about the prevailing sentiment that people just don’t want to go back to the office at all? Well, it’s because one conversation keeps getting conflated with another. There’s no question that people largely don’t want to return to the pre-pandemic norms of working, but again, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to return to the office at all. The truth is that workers, especially the younger workers, like returning to the office. However, they want to do so on their own terms.

For occupiers and landlords, understanding the preferences of a generation of workers who will comprise 30 percent of the global workforce by 2030 is imperative for market leverage. After all, Generation Z represents the future of work as they enter the workforce, bringing fresh perspectives and vigor. Which leads us to the billion-dollar question: what exactly are those terms?

Once again, workers don’t want to be in the office all day every day. That said, office workers will flock back to the office so long as they have hybrid or remote options. Flexibility in terms of where and when work gets done has emerged as one of the most alluring perks for workers during the Great Resignation. Being able to dictate one’s working schedule is crucial for many in the workforce, not just for the newest generation of workers but maintaining flexibility is key for attracting and retaining young workers. 

Younger workers view the workplace as a resource. A resource that offers the necessary equipment and a greater access to technology than what they can get at home, and that includes technology.  Gen Z is more technologically savvy and incorporates technology more seamlessly into their daily lives so they expect things like space booking, access control, and amenities to be accessible on their mobile devices.

Many young, driven professionals are looking for ways to advance their careers. One of the best ways to do that is by increasing your visibility to higher level executives. By working side-by-side with managers younger workers are able to be top of mind for advancement opportunities. The more this strategy works the more other younger employees with mimic it. Much like coming in early and leaving late was seen as a way for people to get ahead of their peers, regular office attendance could become the new “life hack” for younger workers looking for promotions.

After two years stuck at home, younger workers are craving human connection. Many look to their work to provide social activities where they can get to know their co-workers better and meet new people. This means that what happens outside of work is often just as important as the time in the office. Buildings that hire community managers to plan and oversee events are able to provide a reason to come into the office that can not be duplicated online.

Contrary to popular belief, younger workers are more enthusiastic about in-person work and value being at the office more so than their older counterparts, but only if they’re showing up to an office that suits their needs. And landlords and occupiers should pay attention, lest they fall behind in the talent war.

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