Ahhh, remote work. Who doesn’t like the sudden shift in work style that saves commuters time and money, and better enables proper work-life balance?
Younger workers, that’s who. And here’s why: They no longer get to stare at whiteboard scribbles, overhear workplace conversations, ask questions in the communal kitchen or benefit from all the organic learning opportunities naturally available in an office setting.
“Interestingly, the younger generation knows that, and I think that’s fascinating,” says Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, a research and consulting firm that studies and shares insights on different generations and their workplace behavior.
“We just did a study on this, and more than six out of 10 engineers feel that they will not get promoted as fast if they work hybrid or remote than if they were to work in a physical office,” he says. “Besides the observing and the sponging [when you’re in the office], you just get invited to be part of conversations — ‘Hey, come over here and help us with this project, or let’s go to lunch.’ That doesn’t happen [remotely].”
It’s an added challenge for executives suddenly scrambling to offer as much flexibility as possible to workers who discovered throughout the pandemic how valuable it is. Hybrid work schedules, for instance, shouldn’t simply be hybrid for each individual — but should be carefully coordinated to ensure that younger workers find plenty of experienced colleagues in the office on the same days they’re there.
“It’ll be interesting to see how senior leaders choose to respond to that,” Dorsey says. “I think there’s a surprising number of [younger workers] who will say, ‘I want the opportunity to go into the office at least a few days a week so I can build those connections and learn those skills.’”
Senior Executive Media spoke with Dorsey in November 2021. Read on for edited excerpts from our conversation.
It’s a huge blind spot that we have found people are not talking about: The role geography plays is really significant by generation.Jason Dorsey, President of the Center for Generational Kinetics
Senior Executive Media: Tell us about some of the distinctions between people born in the same timeframe but in different places geographically.
Jason Dorsey: It’s a huge blind spot that we have found people are not talking about: The role geography plays is really significant by generation. Even within the U.S., we see differences between urban and rural, and people born outside of the U.S. who moved here. So when we think about generations at a high level, what’s extremely important is that they’re not a box that each of us fits neatly inside based on our birth year, right? We can’t say, “Oh, you’re born in 1972. Therefore, you’re all these things.” It doesn’t work that way… When we incorporate the role of geography, you get a much more accurate lens about different generations…
So when we’re talking about millennials in Europe, it’s a different conversation than millennials in the U.S., and certainly than millennials in Asia, for example… Now, interestingly, because we do so many studies around the world, what we’ve uncovered is that Gen Z is the most similar around the world. But that doesn’t mean they’re the same.
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Senior Executive Media: Is that because they’ve grown up together on social media?
Jason Dorsey: It’s because of cheap mobile technology. The idea that I can live in Kenya and get a phone basically for free, as long as I use it as a form of payment, is revolutionary. Same in India: If you’re going to pay with your phone, you get a phone for free. Well, what that’s done is driven the cost of acquiring mobile technology down to near-zero, which means younger people can have it…
The cheap mobile tech is the highway or on-ramp to then reaching social media, for example, but also sports, entertainment, fashion, all these sorts of things. And then you start to see a lot more similarities, because now they’re connected to similar sources of information around the world. And so Gen Z is a much more global generation than previous generations because of that.
Senior Executive Media: Conversations about specific generations in the workplace are often focused on millennials or Gen Z — and all their unique characteristics that older leaders need to grapple with. Let’s talk about older generations: How are they adapting to a remote environment?
Jason Dorsey: I think there’s two things you hit on that are super-important and really insightful. The first is that it’s never a “Gen Z conversation” or “millennial conversation.” It’s about generational context — recognizing it’s not one generation or the other, but it’s the generations in the context of the other ones. And so when we think about older workers going through this period of time, what our research has shown is that clearly different generations have different levels of comfort with different kinds of technology. And not only that, there’s a different…work style. And I think, unfortunately, work style has been hijacked by the phrase work ethic — this idea that… to be a hard worker, you’ve got to show up in person, where other generations are saying, “No, no, I work just as many hours. I just work those hours differently.” And in some businesses that works, and in others it doesn’t.
What we’re finding is that every generation is having to adapt to this hybrid remote environment. Some generations, it’s more natural than others. But we’re finding that older generations can be really good at it. … And so what we teach younger generations is, “Hey, don’t assume just because somebody is older, that they’re not good at these things.” To me, the opportunity here is…a heightened awareness around how we all prefer to communicate, around how we all prefer to work together, around how we choose to want to work as a team or individually as contributors. … This isn’t about coddling or catering to other generations. I think that’s a super-bad idea. All our research proves that. But it really is taking the time to appreciate, understand and then make wise choices to communicate across them.