Earlier this year, our firm had the chance to work with an unpaid intern from a local high school. We were excited for this opportunity for many reasons, including the fact that Foundations conducts a lot of training on generational differences in the workplace. We were looking forward to having a Gen Zer in our midst!
We had done our research and knew that this young woman would be different from the rest of our team, which is made up largely of baby boomers. We knew our young intern would have a unique perspective on workplace issues, such as work-life balance and collaboration. We tapped into this millennial-like mindset and asked our intern to write an article about the challenges of remote work arrangements. Her article is below.
Where the Work is Done: How Different ‘Offices’ Affect Employee Experience
by Grace Manella
There has been a recent push, particularly with younger employees, to work outside the office. As companies become more flexible with their workforce, employees begin to work more in coffee shops, at parks, in the library or simply at home.
The idea of sitting in a cubicle for eight hours every day is unattractive to most college graduates. A 24-year-old in Nashville recently left her corporate job to become an office-less marketing manager for a developer. She stated that she felt the homogenous atmosphere weakened her performance. Not having a 9-to-5 schedule forced her to be more personally organized, and the freedom allowed her to network more.
So, how do these alternative work arrangements affect productivity? There is a new, desirable concept of being part of a “work-anywhere workplace.” The benefits of not working in a typical office are significant. Even employees who are allowed to work from home one day a week have greater job satisfaction than those who cannot, and they take fewer sick days. In a 2017 report from MindMetre Research, 56 percent of respondents felt that mobile working helped them concentrate more, while 53 percent said it improved productivity.
Being away from the office creates freedom from interruptions and creates distance from daily office politics, which can hurt employee relations. And, confirming that office freedom is highly valuable to many employees, numerous studies have shown that, when companies allow remote work options, they have lower turnover rates. Employees also find remote work appealing because it creates a better work-life balance, saves time and cuts down on the stress of a commute.
While working remotely promotes independence, this isolation can backfire. Relationships with co-workers are a top driver of employee engagement. When Yahoo’s former CEO, Marissa Mayer, banned employees from working from home in 2013, she stated, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu teams…We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” While plenty of people at Yahoo! disliked the ban, others agreed with it because they believed employees had taken advantage of flexible schedules by coming in late without explanation or putting less effort into their work.
Telecommuting may lead to increased expenses, misunderstandings, lower productivity – particularly among disengaged workers – and loss in the quality of relationships. As Mayer concluded, a culture with open schedules and work locations may create communication and relationship barriers, diminishing collaboration that generates company pride and loyalty. Employees who work in the same physical location can easily bounce ideas off one another and gain new perspectives. An employee working away from the office may be more hesitant to call for a co-worker’s opinion.
There is a fine line between too much employee freedom and the amount of freedom that establishes a productive, trusting relationship. Clear guidelines foster telecommuting arrangements that work. Companies may want to establish a set percentage of employees who do not work in the office or offer all employees the option to work remotely one day per week.
If more people begin to spend less time in the office, it should become a priority to make sure employees maintain positive workplace relationships. There should be frequent face-to-face interactions and technology updates. Finding opportunities for employees to unite and have beneficial experiences with each other, such as team lunches, birthday celebrations and volunteer opportunities, will help reinforce company pride and employee engagement.
The most important question for organizations when considering remote work options is how your employees believe they can do their best work. Every employee and company will have a different experience, and it is the company’s job to create an environment that promotes success.
We appreciated Grace’s words of wisdom on this topic. Her time at Foundations confirmed for us that there truly are generational differences. Grace was certainly tech-savvy, creative and independent.
During her exit interview, however, we had an “aha” moment when Grace revealed to us that the most impactful moment of her internship was on her first day when we gave her a small gift – a journal with the letter “G” on the cover – along with a note welcoming her to the Foundations team. She said she was so touched by our thoughtfulness, and she immediately felt a sense of belonging. In this way, Grace was not so different from the rest of us 50-somethings who have spent decades in the work world. It turns out that Gen Zers want the same things out of a job that the rest of us want – recognition, appreciation and a sense of inclusion. Thank you to Grace for showing us that perhaps the gap between generations is not so big after all.
Stephanie Prewitt is Executive Director and Founder at Foundations Human Resources Consulting in Lexington, Kentucky, a wholly owned subsidiary of labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips. Prewitt can be reached at 859-286-1100 or sprewitt@FoundationsHR.com.