Annie Peterson has never worked in an office. The Queen’s University commerce grad kick-started her career from her Toronto apartment during the pandemic. And when lockdown restrictions ended, Peterson, 25, continued working from home.

“All I’ve ever known is remote work,” she said. And she doesn’t intend for that to change. “I would like to work (remotely) forever.”

If she had to change jobs, she would only trade working from home for a “dream job,” but it would have to be, at most, 30 minutes from home.

For some young workers like Peterson, a media strategist at a marketing firm, working from home is not the “new normal” — it’s the norm. And while some professionals may think she’s not getting valuable face-time that might lead to promotions, Peterson doesn’t feel she’s missing out.

She’s been promoted twice since she started at her company two years ago, and thinks remote work has challenged her to develop valuable soft skills. “The people who are successful at work-from-home are self-starters. There’s a lot of self-regulation in terms of getting yourself to do your job. And that can almost translate into an entrepreneurial kind of mindset,” she said.

With the advent of remote work came a generational divide: on one hand are senior managers, who believe in-person interactions are the only way for advancement and team building. On the other, there is Generation Z, the group of people born between 1997 and 2012, who have only known remote work and the flexibility it provides. As a result, employers and employees are struggling to agree on what were once well-defined ideas of what a career should look like, or even work itself.

“If workplaces want to be innovative, agile, flexible and really adapt to this kind of new context, they’re going to have to work really hard at intergenerational collaboration,” said Ilona Dougherty, managing director of the University of Waterloo’s Youth & Innovation Project, an initiative that aims to amplify voices of young people.

That means “taking the unique abilities of young people and of older folks and recognizing that we need both to really succeed,” Dougherty explained. Intergenerational collaboration flourishes in organizations with employees of all ages who actively contribute to the decision-making table, and it transcends a physical workspace, she said. For example, companies might want to consider including interns or co-op students in their internal committees, she added.

Despite more employers asking for workers to return to the office, with some introducing mandates, younger professionals believe that the benefits of remote work outweigh the negatives, according to a 2023 Deloitte survey that polled 22,000 gen-Zers and millennials — those aged 27 to 42 — across 44 countries.

According to the poll, 22% of gen-Zers said they like remote work because it helps them save money on commuting and other expenses as they feel the pinch of inflation. And 18% said they are more productive at home without distractions from an office environment.

Over half of respondents said working from home has positive effects on their mental health. This, the report said, is especially true for those who belong to ethnic minority groups or have visible disabilities.

Yet there are downsides: about 13% of gen-Z respondents said that finding opportunities for mentorship and sponsorships from leaders in their organization is a concern when it comes to remote or hybrid work. That number was 12% for millennials.

“Younger employees have different expectations from previous generations,” said Genevieve Bonin, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group in Canada. Bonin, co-author of the report “The Next Frontier of Workplace Culture,” believes return-to-office mandates are not in contradiction with a workplace culture that prioritizes mental health as long as employers allow for flexibility and encourage conversations around mental well-being without stigma.

For Peterson, working from home means not having to worry about planning her commute, preparing meals in advance or wearing uncomfortable office attire, she said. It also means she has more time to do things she enjoys, like going grocery shopping on Monday mornings while the sun is shining and stores aren’t busy.

While these might seem like small considerations for people who have worked in an office for much of their professional lives, “small stuff like this is what makes a big difference in the end in terms of your mental health and having work-life balance,” she said.

One thing all generations seem to agree on is they believe meaningful human connections at work make people better at their jobs. What we all need to thrive are “caring, non-parental supporters who are going to really advocate for us,” Dougherty said.

Peterson understands that these opportunities might not come as naturally in the virtual world. “All of the mentorship and encouragement I’ve received from more senior people at my company has been very intentional,” she said.

When she learned that senior executives at her firm were open to taking the time to share career advice, she began setting up recurring video calls with them. She even signed up for a program offered by the company called Donut, which randomly matches new hires with coworkers via direct message on Slack, a messaging app used by several businesses.

She also still makes an effort to attend in-person events, like lunches or trips to Blue Jays games with her coworkers. “If you are looking to be mentored and looking for advice, you have to seek that out.”

Source: The Star