Work from home. Those three words have always been near the top of the millennial employee satisfaction wish list. With March’s stay-at-home order, business leaders saw the transition to work-from-home as something that just might work for all involved. But now we are hearing loud and clear that maybe a fully virtual workplace isn’t a panacea for low-job satisfaction.
Millennials in particular, are craving in-person work connections to fuel their productivity, creativity and overall well-being, albeit in a safe environment. Millennials understand that no matter how convenient digital, work-from-home collaboration tools can be, they lack the warmth and humanity of the analog, human-to-human interactions found in the office.
This is not surprising coming from the generation that repopularized the LP record. Millennials find the retro act of buying and physically playing records with their warm, analog sound more rewarding and meaningful than tapping their phone to instantly hear any song ever recorded. The digital experience is convenient but soulless. Same for the virtual office in their opinion.
Millennials have always been about work-life balance and they have pushed for flexibility in how and where they work. A new survey from Envoy, a workplace technology firm, finds 94% of workers are ready to return to the office in some capacity, but they want to do it on their terms and if the technology and tools are available to provide them a safe, productive physical workplace.
Productivity in the virtual workplace hasn’t necessarily dropped for now, but we are starting to see fatigue working with the Zoom middleman and trying to read between the lines of e-mails, searching for tone and emotion. Managers are finding it takes more effort to manage teams remotely, with no in-person team meetings or office drop-ins. Void of actual human contact, this work style is difficult, and throw on top of it the fact many millennials are also juggling their careers while caring for school-age children at home.
Loss of creativity and innovation is also at risk without a physical workspace. Millennials value opportunities to learn from others and informal social interaction. Herman Miller, a leading office-furniture manufacturer, recently commissioned research that found the ‘we’ parts of employee roles — creativity, spontaneous interactions, and learning — are the activities that respondents are struggling with most in the current situation.
And, maybe most importantly, employees’ overall well-being has suffered when isolated at home. A June survey by the Centers for Disease Control found that more than a third of millennials were showing trauma- or stressor-related disorders; more than double the rate for people older than age 44.
And as much as we think folks like a workplace without pants, a recent Korn Ferry survey shows that half of respondents look forward to regaining office camaraderie, and most think their employer can provide a safe office environment. The return to the workplace doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Clearly, workplaces will need to test and track COVID-19. Beyond that, technology can play a huge role in providing a real-time understanding of how workstations, meeting rooms and other office spaces are being used, who’s using them and for how long.
Our company has successfully implemented its own return-to-work strategy that uses a combination of technology and data, space design and a “plan for your day” behavior expectation. Reducing density with a sign-up schedule for working in the office, and encouraging ongoing work from home.
We’ve had zero COVID infections among employees in the office and satisfaction is high. As one of our employees recently shared, “I appreciate getting to interact with people I wouldn’t otherwise see on a day-to-day basis and hearing about their projects. I love the socialization that comes with being in the office ... and sometimes the free lunch.”
Returning to the office is not without risk, but neither has been sending our kids back to school or the resuming of professional sports. Since the longer-term workplace implications from COVID-19 are still evolving, it’s important to establish best practices for a return to the workplace and to be flexible.
Many millennials graduated college during the 2008 recession and are now working through this pandemic in ways we’ve never seen before. This generation has shown time and again they have the grit, determination and work ethic to make this work. Let’s help them get their groove back.
Candace Nelson is chief sales officer and co-owner of Intereum, a Twin Cities office-furnishings dealer.