As CEOs increasingly issue back-to-work mandates and remote work advocates say not so soon, managers can be forgiven for feeling confused.
Many bosses feel that their young employees, in order to grow and soak up the company culture, need in-person guidance and a chance to connect with other workers. Meanwhile, many senior employees, especially those with children, feel that working from home is actually more effective for them.
A problem with current debates about returning to work is that they often lump together these two very different types of employees, says Hung Lee, writer and founder of Recruiting Brainfood. newsletter.
“We treated things monolithically, and sometimes we have to make generalizations, of course, to have a conversation,” he said in an a16z podcast. episode released this week. “But we’re probably at the point now where we have to bring in the nuance because what’s positive for one group of people is negative for another.”
He pointed to an iCIMS report investigation showing that, among university seniors entering the labor market, working entirely remotely had little appeal. Only 2% of them say they would like such an arrangement. Nearly 60% said they don’t have all the equipment they need at home, and a third said they don’t have a dedicated workspace. Nearly 90% said they want to meet colleagues in person frequently to build relationships and network.
If you look at companies that were already successfully remote before the pandemic, they tended to avoid those employees and instead focused on older workers with lots of experience, Lee noted. Today, “the most pro-remote people — the remote evangelists, so to speak — all belong to this demographic,” he said. “It’s individual contributors who have established a level of expertise.”
These workers have usually already built up social capital and have an efficient workspace at home, he noted, and often have children they want to be close to: “They don’t feel the need to come to the office to make friends”.
In contrast, young workers may live with roommates or their parents or perhaps feel isolated in a small apartment and crave to connect face-to-face with co-workers. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, believes remote work has “exploded” the way we connect, with young workers suffering the most. “You can sit in your studio in front of your laptop and good luck you’re cut off from everything else,” he said at a summit last November.
backlash back to the office
Many companies are adopting a hybrid schedule, with employees being asked (or required) to work in the office three or four days a week. It doesn’t always go smoothly. Amazon recently saw an employee walk out over his return-to-office tenure, and last month Google employees made their displeasure known.
“There’s a bit of a tension at this point where some companies are rolling back the remote policies, or at least they’re starting to put additional terms on them, what you can see is kind of a mission that comes back to the office, “, said Lee.
He believes the power lies with employers, who see “an opportunity to reclaim some of what they have always perceived as an overly permissive stance when it comes to remote working”.
Either way, when “building a business or designing an organization,” employee demographics need to be considered, Lee says. “If we are absolutely a remote company, we are probably optimized as an employer for a senior individual contributor who has already achieved some degree of material comfort.”