While the COVID-19 pandemic undeniably served as a catalyst for the widespread adoption of remote work, according to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, remote work was already on an upward trend well before the pandemic, with the number of remote workers sharply increasing in 2010 and steadily climbing in subsequent years. Millennials, those born from 1981 to 1996, played a crucial role in the rising popularity of remote work, and their influence continues to this day. Research by Barrero, Bloom, and Davis shows that work-from-home intensity, measured by the percentage of paid full days worked from home, is notably higher among workers in their 30s and early 40s compared to other age groups; underscoring the fact that millennials are greatly contributing to the prevalence of remote work.
So, why are millennials driving the remote work revolution?
One key reason millennials have spearheaded and wholly embraced remote work is due to family dynamics. Many millennials in their 30s and early 40s have younger children, making flexible work arrangements, like remote work, highly desirable. The ability to work from home allows them to better balance their responsibilities as parents while continuing their professional careers, as they can more easily adapt their schedules to accommodate school drop-offs, pick-ups, extracurricular activities, and childcare arrangements.
The Great Resignation, another phenomenon partly triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, also ushered in a significant period of transformation for the workforce, with millennials again at the forefront of this seismic shift. Many millennials who were once grappling with financial challenges at the height of the pandemic now found themselves in a unique position to leverage the evolving job market, with some seizing this opportunity to make strategic career moves, such as transitioning to higher-paying and remote-work-friendly positions.
The low mortgage interest rates also prevalent during this time gave some millennials the opportunity to leave apartment living behind and enter into the housing market. As a result of upgrading to larger living spaces, many millennials found themselves better equipped to set up productive home offices. Moreover, a significant number of millennials chose to purchase homes further away from urban centers. According to an analysis conducted by Gusto and Stanford, professionals aged 30 to 39 experienced a two-fold increase in their commuting distance compared to their pre-pandemic commutes. This significant increase in average commuting distance only further reinforced millennials’ inclination towards remote work, as they sought to minimize the time spent on arduous commutes and achieve better flexibility and work-life balance.
While millennials have undoubtedly been instrumental in championing remote work and reshaping the modern workplace, it is important to recognize that remote work is not a one-size-fits-all model. Different generations bring their own unique preferences and perspectives to the table when it comes to workplace dynamics, and understanding these generational differences may provide valuable insight into how to successfully manage a diverse workforce and navigate the future of work.
Baby Boomers and Generation X
Baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) and Generation X (born from 1965 to 1980) typically show an inclination for in-office work, with several factors likely influencing this preference.
Individuals aged 50 and above are more likely to find themselves in the “empty nester” stage of life, where their children have become independent and moved out. With fewer family obligations at home, they are usually in a better position to work in the office without needing the additional flexibility that remote work provides. Moreover, most professionals in this age group have likely spent the majority of their careers working within the structured confines of a traditional office environment, making them more accustomed to the in-office work model.
The preference for in-office work among baby boomers and Gen X is not solely driven by familiarity or family dynamics, however. These seasoned professionals have, over the years, come to deeply appreciate the benefits of face-to-face interaction in the workplace. They recognize the significance of in-person collaboration, the importance of mentorship, and the value of forming enduring professional relationships. In the eyes of many older professionals, the weight placed on interpersonal connections at work is profound, to the extent that some have even opted for early retirement instead of continuing to work remotely.
Perhaps surprisingly, even Generation Z (born from 1997 to 2012) shows a preference for in-office work, at least partially.
This younger generation, including some millennials, grew up in a tech-savvy era where virtual communication largely dominated. Even though technological advancements have enhanced remote work frameworks and digital collaboration, Gen Z employees who exclusively work remotely cite frequently experiencing feelings of isolation. Additionally, recent university and college graduates, particularly those who studied online or abroad, may be less likely to have an established network of friends, and, as a result, may rely on their workplace for social interaction and fulfillment more heavily compared to other age groups.
Many Gen Z employees have also expressed concerns regarding a lack of guidance and mentorship in the workplace. Despite choosing to work in the office, Gen Z employees often find themselves working under millennial bosses who continue to work remotely. This dynamic limits opportunities for direct guidance and mentorship; and diminishes the perceived value of being in-office for Gen Zs, who view the office as a place for personal and professional growth.
However, Gen Zs are not totally detached from the advantages of working remotely. In fact, many lean towards a hybrid work model that supports the harmonious balance between remote and in-office work, enabling Gen Z employees to experience the best of both worlds by merging the flexibility of remote work with the interpersonal benefits that in-person office environments provide.
Millennials have played a pivotal role in spearheading the remote work revolution due to the unique factors and circumstances surrounding them. By transforming how society approaches work, millennials have laid the groundwork for flexible and adaptable workplaces to become the norm. As the employment landscape continues to evolve, millennials will undoubtedly remain at the forefront, continuing to shape the future of work for years to come. However, it is important to acknowledge that generational perspectives on office work are multifaceted. While older generations tend to favor in-office work due to the comfort and value they place on face-to-face interaction, younger generations desire a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the connectedness of working in-office. As a result, organizations must be mindful to consider and accommodate diverse generational preferences in order to foster an inclusive and productive work environment for all.
Senior HR Management Consultant
Cierra is an experienced human resources professional with a comprehensive background in recruitment and onboarding, contract writing, compensation and benefits, health and safety, and policy development.