Love it or loathe it, Gen Zers are driving the push to work in the office

Contrary to popular expectations, the digital native generation misses face-to-face office space – way more than other generations.
Written by Pallavi Kenkare, Associate Editor
smiling woman working on a laptop
Image: Getty/Morsa Images

Although media headlines push the narrative that first-time workers are more likely to demand increased locational flexibility from their employers, Gen Z employees may actually save the physical workplace. 

A new poll from youth trend research firm Generation Lab reveals that 40% of college students and recent graduates prefer fully in-office work, with 39% seeking hybrid positions and just 19% vouching for fully remote policies. 

It's hard to get an accurate reading on how younger generations feel about the remote work versus office debate, as data regarding Gen Z work is often contradictory. A similar survey by TenSpot, a workforce engagement platform, reports that 30% of Gen Z workers want to work remotely full-time, as opposed to the 19% reported by Generation Lab. Meanwhile, a study by SkyNova interviewing 1,000 workers found that 47% of Gen Zers are seeking an in-person job.

Although numbers vary between polling platforms, a general trend is easy to identify: the number of Gen Zers seeking fully in-person positions is overwhelmingly higher than other generations, including, notably, their Baby Boomer counterparts. Indeed, when comparing the generation just beginning to enter the workforce to the generation commencing their exit, Baby Boomers are by far most likely to hold a pro-remote work stance. 

SEE: Six ways to stay productive when working remote

This might seem counterintuitive, as Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, grew up during the rise of digital technology. Often referred to as 'iPad kids,' this generation of digital natives is expected to be the most comfortable with the online nature of working from home. 

However, with its first members turning 25 in 2022, the eldest Gen Zers have only had a few years of 'regular' work experience prior to the beginning of the pandemic -- and many have solely experienced a hybrid or remote beginning to their careers. Without the introduction to and reinforcement of work norms that can be gained from working in a physical office, Gen Zers report a dwindling sense of workplace community, confusion over establishing mentorship and a lack of career development opportunities.

A survey by Axios shows that 66% of young respondents would prefer in-person feedback from their manager and 45% of respondents worry about maintaining a distraction-free workplace in a remote or hybrid future. As for the generations inbetween, more than half of millennials and Gen Xers, who are often juggling responsibilities such as childcare and taking care of the home, prefer a hybrid or fully remote workstyle. Once again, in keeping with trends, Gen Zers are significantly more likely than Millennials and Gen Xers to champion an in-person workplace, as reported by Eden, a workplace management platform. 

SEE: Remote workers want new benefits. This is how employers are responding

So, what does this mean for employers attempting to accommodate their newest workers? Though it may make sense to assume these digital natives would enjoy the nature of remote work, it is clear that Gen Z is craving human connection and a sense of direction in the workplace. Requiring everyone to be fully in-office may be a dramatic request, but offering at least a portion of the physical workplace experience -- whether by implementing a hybrid work styles or making certain meetings and learning opportunities in-person -- will likely be greeted with enthusiasm by employees in their twenties. 


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