When it comes to the discourse around the way we work in the new era of hybrid working, it has never felt more balanced between the technology that enables it and the culture that defines it.
By Lorna Hardie, regional director at VMware SSA
As well as investing in the latest digital experience technologies to support employees wherever they choose to work, organisations are also having to re-think the culture of a workforce that is no longer confined to an office full-time.
If making a decision between permanent hybrid working and a return to the office wasn’t hard enough, employers also need to consider the different and often opposing views of the talent who will define their now and their future. And they need to do this while balancing a host of cultural, business and economic issues such as productivity, what to do with empty and expensive office buildings and figuring out how to increase collaboration or reduce feelings of isolation.
But there isn’t always consensus across age groups on where and how they want to work, and it’s leading to major differences in experience and performance. According to our research, since the start of the pandemic, 62% of 18-25 years olds have been promoted versus just 13% of 56+ years olds.
Businesses are having to respond to these differences in the context of wider goals and aspirations around making the working environment more inclusive and, dare I say, flexible. But it is complicated.
How organisations choose to deal with this generational roadblock, and difference in views, will be one of the biggest deciders on who succeeds and who doesn’t in the new era of hybrid working.
What are these differences and what is the impact on businesses that are already struggling to access critical skills following the much reported ‘Great Resignation’ – employment rates and job vacancies are reaching pre-pandemic levels according to ProUnlimited’s Europe Labor Market Report in many European countries – and less reported but no less impactful ‘Grey Resignation’?
The importance of connection
The starkest gap between generational views can be seen in how the age groups view the development of personal connections. Our research found that 70% of Generation Z (18-25 years olds) believe that the change in working circumstances has improved their personal connections with colleagues, whereas only 30% of Baby Boomers (56+ years olds) can say the same.
It may come down to simply what they’re used to – with Baby Boomers having worked in the office for their whole working careers – but maintaining and building connections to foster collaborative, supportive teams for everyone must be top of mind for employers.
Not only are connections good from learning and social perspectives but they also help drive greater work output and levels of team performance and employee engagement. It’s why – according to the 2022 VMware Forrester Digital Employee Experience Report – 60% of businesses globally are prioritising an average $500K investment in a comprehensive digital employee experience platform over the next 24 months, with 80% citing employee productivity as one of the key drivers behind the investment.
Workers surveyed for the BCG Covid-19 Employee Sentiment Survey who felt less socially connected to their colleagues during the pandemic were less productive on collaborative tasks, compared to before the pandemic and only 30% of Baby Boomers believe that employee productivity has increased with the introduction of remote working.
Regardless of whether they are in the office or working elsewhere, employers need to consider how to enable greater opportunities for social connections across generations. UK app-based bank Monzo founder Tom Bloomfeld recently announced investment in a wellbeing app targeting hybrid-working loneliness to help build connections between colleagues based on out-of-office interests.
Supporting older talent
The other stark gap in views center around freedom of expression and thought within groups of employees of a similar seniority. Like personal connections, the gap between the youngest (Generation Z) and oldest (Baby Boomer) is a significant 40%. And though the gap between the groups gets smaller when asked about increasing employee optimism to 25%, the statistics reveal a worrying trend that Baby Boomers in particularly are feeling increasingly isolated, unheard and pessimistic.
This trend is reflected in wider reporting on what has been dubbed the ‘Grey Resignation’. The ‘A U-Shaped Crisis’ report by the Resolution Foundation revealed the pandemic has led to the biggest annual fall in employment for older workers (50-29 years olds) since the 1980s.
It’s an issue, as Pilita Clark wrote for the FT, because “it can cause big problems for organisations that have become accustomed to a ready supply of older, experienced workers and lack the ability to quickly train new staff”. Finding solutions to support this group in the new hybrid era is vital to employee wellbeing, inclusivity and ensuring businesses have the talent they need now and for the future.
Generational agreement on the value of performance
While the generational groups may be divided on their experiences of remote working, they are agreed on two important things.
Firstly, that working in a remote or distributed environment has led to employees being valued more on performance, and less on traditional metrics such as time spent in the office. These new metrics of measurement could be assessing output against agreed objectives and deliverables or regular catch ups with managers to discuss workloads and where support is needed.
It’s an important message for employers – 70% of whom have either already implemented or are planning to implement employee surveillance measures to monitor employee productivity in a bid to find new ways of measuring productivity outside of traditional office parameters – that there is a very fine line between monitoring and spying.
The second point of consensus is around the leadership skills required to create high-performing teams in a remote or distributed environment. All placed communication skills at the top, closely followed by the ability to trust employees, digital fluency across a range of platforms and adaptability to new modes of measuring employee performance.
Embracing flexibility to support all employees
One of the hallmarks of hybrid working is flexibility. So, while there may be experiential gaps between different generations of employees, the opportunity to close these gaps while transitioning to the new hybrid working model is one that employers need to take advantage of to ensure that they are building genuinely inclusive, diverse workforces.
Businesses today are operating in a tricky labour market. If the media headlines are to be believed, the Great Resignation won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Being able to balance the needs of different types and ages of workers will be critical to retaining and attracting new talent – younger and older – into the business.
While finding that balance may feel difficult to attain, the research shows that there is one very important correlation that, if fixed, will have a positive knock-on effect. That is the correlation between increasing personal connections and consequently increasing productivity and team performance.
While this is particularly true of the older generations who are struggling with feeling isolated and unheard, connections across all ages are what help people (and the business) to flourish.
In the new digital, hybrid era employees want to feel valued, connected, supported and encouraged regardless of where and how they work. For employers, this is an opportunity to evolve the culture of their workforce to one that takes into consideration the needs of each generation and become stronger, more competitive and a better place to work for everyone. And – lean in to the digital experience technologies that can make the contented ‘anywhere workforce’ a reality.