Young adults forced into virtual working environments by COVID-19 will be dissatisfied and demotivated if workplaces switch permanently to a remote model, according to a new study.
The insights shatter stereotypes about the rising generation, and reveal surprising truths about how 18-to-24-year-olds are faring after months of shelter-at-home orders.
Take, for example, Zoom. Companies turned to videoconferencing to accomplish tasks during the quarantine, but Gen Z is unimpressed with the technology. Only 11% believe it is as effective as meeting in person, compared with 80 percent who would prefer to gather face-to-face.
This thinking extends to remote work. Gen Z respondents would like to work in a brick-and-mortar office two-thirds of their work week, and work from home roughly a day and a half.
As for organizational learning, young adults want to get back into the training room. Eighty-five percent of respondents prefer learning in-person. Just 3% believe in-person learning will not be needed in the post-COVID-19 era.
What does all of this this mean for establishing a “new normal,” even as the pandemic persists?
No matter the re-entry phase you are in, what outside influences change your course or what new operating model you adopt, consider these timeless tips to satiate Gen Z’s deep desire for authentic connection.
1. Empathize. Ask young adults what this experience has been like for them. Listen, meet them where they are, and encourage them through your stories and lessons learned.
Try this idea: Host in-person or online listening and story-sharing sessions with Gen Z staffers. Ask questions like, “How is COVID-19 affecting your life? What lessons are you learning during these unprecedented times?” to spark conversation, benchmark where your Gen Z workers are and better understand what they need from you. Share your feedback to the same questions.
Story sharing, research shows, synchronizes the brains of the storyteller and the listener, creating a pure form of connection.
2. Reorient. As restrictions are lifted, connect in person or elevate your online intentionality. Host one-on-one meetings with team members to re-establish your face-to-face relationship and to clarify new expectations, roles and responsibilities. Then, provide “welcome back” events or interactive town halls that bring people together and boost morale.
Try this idea: Offer a structured program to ease Gen Z back into your workplace. Transitions are hard, especially at a young age. Think of this experience as a second first impression for young hires, which is critical for retention.
3. Learn and teach. Bring learning back to the training room, classroom–or screen. Teach skills such as emotional intelligence, communication, mental wellness and financial sustainability.
Emotional intelligence and communication, especially, are skills that Gen Z staffers must bolster to thrive in face-to-face settings. The ReGenerations study found that a majority of young adults (66 percent) indicated heightened loneliness amid the pandemic, and anxiety increased for 43 percent or respondents. Eighty percent expressed worry about their finances, and 67% were concerned about their job prospects.
Try this idea: Have tenured leaders support Gen Z needs by sharing the ups and downs of their journey and teaching how to relate to others, create a secure future, and stay mentally strong. Exchange mentoring lessons for reverse mentoring tips, such as how to use TikTok or Snapchat.
Mentoring and reverse mentoring, a mindset that we can all learn from each other, strengthens cross-generational connections and transforms potential conflict into opportunity.
4. Create. If restrictions continue to markedly limit in-person gatherings, or it just makes business sense to use technology more, make sure your virtual events simulate in-person connection. Keep online dynamics similar to real- life environments. Then think outside the box.
Take higher education as a case study. Just 2% of young adults said they want online learning exclusively. By contrast, 72% believe the best way to get a college degree is in person, and 25% prefer a hybrid model.
As a result, many students are considering a gap year. Could a strategic “gap year on purpose” be built into a college curriculum as a creative solution to keep target audiences engaged?
Try this idea: Gather your team, and state your aspiration and challenge in the same sentence. For example, “How do we meet Gen Z’s desire to connect in person if we are forced to stay online?”
One thing is for sure, you have an open window with a generation that wants to connect. Can you meet them in traditional or creative ways?
Jessica Stollings-Holder is a speaker, author, researcher and founder of ReGenerations.