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Even before COVID-19 made its debut, the winds of change were starting to swirl in corporations across the globe. A new generation of innovators and status-quo shakers were stepping into the workforce, bringing a different point of view with them. True digital natives, this first wave of Gen-Z corporate professionals envisioned a different kind of workplace. One where they didn’t have to commute for hours on end just to toil in an overcrowded yet well-appointed cubical farm.

But many within the corporate rank and file simply chalked Gen-Z’s desires up to young idealism run amok. Then the pandemic came and changed it all. Home became the office for millions of workers, while millions more quit their jobs and joined the Great Resignation. It was the modern-day version of a labor union strike — but on steroids.

Now that the dust has somewhat settled with COVID-19, companies are demanding that employees return to work at their offices full-time. But that could be a losing battle. Employees have had a taste of what’s possible and the office world might not ever be the same again. This is especially true for Gen-Z and those who didn’t want to come to work at an office in the first place.

Gen-Z opts out of the office commute 

According to a recent ADP Research Institute report, 71% of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 said that if their employer insisted they return to the office full time, they would consider looking for a new job. The findings are based on a survey of 32,000 workers in 17 countries, including the U.S., ​​India and the Netherlands. And overall, the report found that 64% of the total workforce shared the same opinion about a return to the office as Gen-Z. So, it seems the vote is in, and the workforce wants a change.

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In support of ADP’s findings, a recent report from Citrix Systems concluded that people born after 1981, or the “Born Digital” generation, are no longer interested in working in offices full time. Citrix Systems gained its insights from 1,000 business leaders and 2,000 knowledge workers in 10 countries, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Mexico, the U.S., the UAE, China, India and Japan. Of the 2,000 surveyed, 750 were members of Gen-Z, and 1,250 were millennials.

These two generations now make up the biggest slice of the global workforce. Based on research, they are expected to deliver an extra $1.9 trillion in corporate profits each year. That makes them a powerhouse when it comes to the global economy. But it seems that older management completely misunderstands their needs.

The Citrix Systems survey found that workforce opinion was in stark contrast to that of business leaders, the majority of whom thought that all it would take is some cool workplace technology and training opportunities for younger employees to want to stay at the office. But those leaders couldn’t have been more wrong. According to the survey, 90% of respondents said they have no interest in returning to the office full time, with more than half preferring a hybrid working model where they can work from home most or all of the time. It’s not that they don’t want to work, as some assume; they just want to work and live in a more balanced, symbiotic way.

From the available data, it’s clear that much of the workforce no longer wants to work in an office full time, especially younger generations. And as we’ve seen with the Great Resignation, they are even willing to walk away from good-paying jobs to get what they want. As such, the conversation now needs to be more about what businesses need to do to prepare for a mostly remote workforce, not how to prevent it. 

Steps to creating a thriving remote workplace

To help highlight how painless the transition from in-office to remote can be, it’s worth sharing some best practices based on Dating Group’s own experience. Even before the pandemic, the company was looking at ways to improve productivity and employee satisfaction. Less burnout, more life experience and better balance became no-brainers. Research from Oxford University even found that happy workers are, on average, 13% more productive.  

To get started on the path to a fully remote workforce, the first step is to invest in technology that can help you manage your business workflows: instant messengers, task-setting applications, databases, etc. And start using them, even before becoming 100% remote. This will help you work out all the kinks, saving you from frustration down the road. After all, failing to prepare is indeed preparing to fail. 

Secondly, create an employee reward system. Whether it’s for the successful completion of work, helping a colleague or impacting the bottom line, give every employee an opportunity to receive perks like merchandise, gift certificates, holidays and more. But try not to include monetary rewards; save those for structured bonus programs. 

Next, organize corporate team-building events. This is extremely important. Whether online or in-person, find ways to bring staff together in a fun way that isn’t entirely work-related. Enabling staff to meet and interact in a social setting helps reinforce corporate culture, and it allows people to get to know each other. 

And finally, make sure all of your operational policies and procedures are in order. Although the positives outweigh the negatives, the hardest part was transforming corporate policies so that they could accommodate a new remote structure. HR policies, compensation, governance, liability — you name it! The devil indeed is always in the details. 

Final thoughts

One of the biggest reasons many corporations have office space is to ensure productivity. However, that thinking is completely wrong. Our teams are much more productive without those old offices. Internal research has shown that the company’s teams are now 18% more productive than before, which can be attributed to employee happiness and job satisfaction. 

As research and firsthand experience support, remote employees work much more efficiently and effectively, especially if their workflows are organized and supported by technology. And the freedom to work from anywhere, in an environment of their choosing, simply makes employees happier. This not only improves productivity, but also reduces stress, burnout and staff turnover. It’s absolutely worth the change, even if it seems scary at first.

Bill Alena is chief investment officer of Dating Group.

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