There are a few things that Gen Z are equipped with that very few other generations can relate to: growing up with communal devices, the urge to google everything, the ability to type properly on a keyboard since the age of 10, a knack for maintaining social media profiles and the urge to disconnect from every one of our devices when they become overwhelming.
Set-up for success: Technology in the household
When we entered middle school, many classmates had personal cell phones to stay connected via text, phone calls and games. Next, personal computers became a common household staple since prices were reduced and afforded students accessibility to write essays and read textbooks online. Increasingly, these devices were used for “screen time” or “down time,” a luxurious time devoted to browsing the internet and watching TV in privacy. All at once, the time for academics, socializing, and leisure often required a screen and technology’s role in our lives accelerated at a rate faster than ever seen before. This awakened us to the sanctity of the moments without connecting to technology. With a growing sense of dependence on our devices and the stress that accompanies constant connectivity, the balance between screen time and non-screen time became more precious the older we grew. During the pandemic, this tension would enter the work-life balance posed by the remote workforce.
Being born in the late 90’s and jumping into the workforce soon after college, we now find ourselves in a unique position as the first wave of Gen Z-ers in the workforce. Living in New York City after graduation and eager to start our new lives as working professionals in this vibrant and ambitious city, we were prepared to apply our nuanced perspective and natural curiosity for all things innovation-related to our roles as working professionals. Being in a place like New York City made us more than ready to grow up and to consider ourselves “normal” working adults. In our minds, that meant waking up, getting on the subway, and going into the office, like the 3.5 million other people working in the private-sector in New York City.
As fairly new employees to Hotwire, a global tech communications consultancy, we were determined to go into the office every day despite our company’s “Thoughtful Working” policy that encourages employees to work when and where they think they’ll be more productive – whether that be in the office, on clients’ sites, at home, or just about anywhere. We acclimated to this policy whether that be in virtual client calls, teams that spanned across the country, communicating online, or seeing a coworker log on from home for a zoom call not being cause for concern. Little did we know that we were entering into what was soon to become an almost completely remote workforce.
Soon after our office holiday party and a few months of in-person, face-to-face working, we felt as though we were just beginning to settle into our roles in the working world. Before we knew it, the world came to a halt due to Covid-19.
Creating our virtual workspace
We were under a year out of college, and 3 months into the workforce, when we transitioned to remote working as a result of the pandemic. While leaving the office felt unnatural initially, it was a smooth transition for us not to see the same group of coworkers every day and one we were prepared for all along, although we recognized we were in a unique position compared to other workplaces that had to make swift changes to the way they operated.
- The shift to a virtual workspace led companies to invest in video conferencing platforms. Zoom, for example, saw year-over-year revenue growth of 355% and its stock price has jumped 475% from $71.90 in January to $410.01 on Dec. 4.
- Now, companies have begun to think of the remote set-up in the long run, as exemplified by policies set by Twitter, Shopify, Facebook, Salesforce and more. Salesforce is investing in the remote working setup by providing employees the option to work-from-home until at least July 31, 2021, and offering $250 for office tools and equipment—in addition to the $250 provided earlier in the year. Due to the pandemic, more than 65% of US-based IT executives said they expect at least a quarter of their workforce to work from home permanently. In addition, 85% of IT executives said that they are increasing investments in employee listening and feedback.
- Employees new to this way of working, responded well to the possibility of continuing remote work. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, said, “Seventy-seven percent of the workforce say they want to continue to work from home, at least weekly, when the pandemic is over.”
With no choice, we were thrust into a virtual world across multiple communication platforms – on top of the ones Gen-Z-ers were already used to. Through these platforms, we brought work into our homes. Observing the inside of each other’s homes at the start of each meeting and oftentimes sleeping in the same room as your workspace brought a whole new challenge to the work-life balance. Over this past year, we created our own work environments, connected with new coworkers virtually and inevitably cultivated new habits that will continue to shape our professional lives long beyond the pandemic.
Workforce Behavior Predictions Going Into 2021
So, what does all of this mean for the future? Based off of our personal experiences, that of our peers, and from findings in the news, these are our predictions for the workforce and specifically the young workforce moving forward:
- Gen Z-ers in the professional world will have better saving and spending habits as a direct result of COVID-19. The uncertainty of an economic crisis likely would lead any generation living through it to save more, but the imprint of experiencing this at a younger age may lead to more long-term saving habits. According to a recent CNBC article, “Over 16% of Gen Z and 18% of millennials started saving more for retirement since the pandemic.”
- Partially remote office environments will likely remain a trend among companies that have the resources and job descriptions to do so. We predict that more companies will adopt policies similar to our company’s “thoughtful working” approach. A recent McKinsey study found that beyond the current circumstance, “just 22 percent of U.S. employees can work remotely between three and five days a week without affecting productivity” and that another “17 percent of the workforce could work remotely partially, between one and three days per week.” The fact that companies have invested so much in their virtual workspaces and platforms to support a remote workforce (like Zoom as previously mentioned,) is another reason why remote office environments will remain more commonplace than pre-pandemic.
- Fatigue tied to technology usage and virtual communication will only increase for employees – Gen-Zers and beyond. Since the start of the pandemic, 38% of employees say they have experienced video call fatigue, according to a November Robert Half survey. Scientists are already researching ways to mitigate harmful effects of video call burnout and how best to maximize energy, job performance, and workday productivity. Moving forward, companies will need to continue to investigate methods of relief for various types of technology fatigue.
That’s a Wrap
As tech-savvy Gen Z-ers we felt fully equipped going into the workforce a year ago. Now, the events of 2020 have changed our habits – both personal and work-related – to be more flexible. This year was not what anyone had in mind and although our professional lives look different than we initially envisioned, we have developed the tools needed to succeed in creating a positive work environment both in and out of the office. The unique skills we have developed will continue to inform how we adapt, communicate, and grow in professional roles moving forward – and maybe disconnecting from technology will be even more appealing.
–contributed by Isabel Maun and Meg Sanford, Account Coordinators