Why Millennials are keen to get back to the office
Article3 min19 January 2021
Born in the period spanning the early 80s to the mid-90s, Millennials are the tech-savvy generation who led the charge for flexible working arrangements, and yet they are also the generation who are enjoying being back in the office.
Millennials grew up with the internet, smart devices, social media and apps, so navigating the technology we all relied upon working from home during the pandemic was a breeze for them. They’re also the generation known for placing a priority on work/life balance and flexibility over salary. So, having to work remotely during the pandemic was surely an ideal situation for them. Or was it really?
“I think Millennials might have underestimated how important the social connection was to them.”
Surveying the situation
In July 2020, as some people were starting to return to their offices, JLL undertook a survey of 1,500 employees from five countries across the Asia Pacific to find out their views on remote working.
They found that 61 per cent of respondents said they missed going to the office and would favour a hybrid model combining more flexible work arrangements in the future.
But, perhaps most surprisingly, for Millennials the number was even higher, at 66 percent. That was even though more than eight in ten (81%) strongly agreed they felt technology ready, and 52 percent said they were more productive working from home.
Penny Grant, a Sydney-based Marketing Coordinator born in 1993, is a prime example. When her employer asked her to start working remotely, she was excited at the prospect.
She moved back to WA to be with her family and, without the distractions of the office, she says she was more productive working remotely, powering through her work.
But when one month turned into six, and as the rest of her team returned to their office in Sydney, she felt she was missing out.
Reading the room
“That’s when I decided I needed to return to Sydney again the rest of my team was working together again and I felt a bit disconnected from everyone,” Penny said.
“I was dialling in for meetings, and I found it increasingly difficult, especially when brainstorms were involved. It is great be back working collaboratively face to face on projects.”
As organisational psychologist, Dr Michelle Pizer observes that technology is great for simple, transactional tasks. But for creative projects, in person collaboration is better.
Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that while online video meetings might appear to be efficient, they have their downsides.
“You can read some body language, but if you have a whole lot of people you just can’t take it in, you can’t feel the vibe very well, and it’s harder to know where you stand with someone,” Michelle says.
Indeed, being in a meeting room with people is the number one thing Penny appreciates being back in the office.
“It’s difficult to have a free-flowing conversation on a Zoom call with 12 people, and impossible to write on a whiteboard. People can be having two conversations at different ends of the table, and you miss the side-chat which is often the trigger for innovation,” Penny says.
Working from home environments
For Penny, at the younger end of the millennial generation, working from home meant working from the dining table in a house she shared with two friends, only one of whom also sometimes works from home.
That worked well for her, but for those who share with more people, all of whom are trying work at the kitchen table, on the sofa or on their bed, the working from home environment is sub-optimal.
At the older end of the Millennial cohort are those juggling work tasks with parenting young children and even supervising home-schooling.
While Michelle notes that mentoring can still be conducted remotely, she says that the jury is out about what impact working away from the office will have on your career.
“There’s no doubt that if you’re building a career, doing it remotely is difficult,” she says.
It’s something Penny has experienced first-hand, who had three major projects allocated to her by senior managers since she’s been back working in the office.
“I have found being visible and present in the office has been important to both learning from observing and interacting with those around me, as well as securing really exciting opportunities,” she says.
Aligning with the findings of the JLL survey, Penny also missed the social interaction with her team.
“I was missing out on all of the energy in the office, especially the human aspects. I wanted to be part of the friendly conversations with my team, eating lunch together, hearing what people got up to on the weekend; you just cut to the chase when you’re on a phone call,” Penny says.
“I’m not surprised because when I was their age, work was very important to my social world,” Michelle says, pointing out that many people make friends and even find their partners through their work.
“I think Millennials might have underestimated how important the social connection was to them,” she says.
“Also, working from home is less fun, and isn’t work supposed to be fun too? I do think that gets lost when we work remotely.”
2020 has thrown us all plenty of unexpected curveballs, but perhaps another will be a greater appreciation of the value of the office in bringing people together.