What does the future hold for our young workers?

Has remote working increased the generation gap?

Last week, we hosted the 18th #FirestarterForum, where we asked our community of business leaders and young people if they think the generation gap is increasing due to the increased levels of isolation during the ‘new way of working’. We already know that different generations have different motivations and expectations from their working environments, but with the restrictions we’ve all been under during the last 16 months, this has become an ever more important issue and young people are unsure of what the future holds for them.

This month, things were a little different compared to our normal forums, as we hosted three separate panels of different demographics and age groups. We included a panel of established business leaders, a panel of people in their 20’s who are at relatively early stages in their careers and a panel of younger people who have recently finished full-time education and have only ever experienced working under the current restrictions. These panels created healthy debates and interesting conversations, which provided a great foundation for the individual breakout sessions that take place during every forum. 

What big themes came from each panel?

Business leaders panel:

Within our business leader panel, we were joined by four well-established individuals who are well known to our Firestarter community. We wanted to be joined by business leaders, not only because they have experienced years of working outside of the pandemic, but also because they are likely to be hiring young workers. Additionally, people at all levels and age groups have been re-evaluating their own personal values and requirements in relation to their working lives so we wanted to gather a wide range of opinions. 

From our business leader panel, the key idea that came from their discussions was that working remotely creates lots of opportunities as we are no longer confined to our location. However, they think for this to be successful, there need to be good levels of communication between businesses and individuals. Technology has given many of us the opportunity to work throughout the pandemic, but for young people to develop within their job roles, they need to be able to learn from others through communication and observation which is challenging virtually. 

The topic of attracting and retaining talent was also discussed by our panel of business leaders. They suggested that businesses and their leaders need to be agile to hire and retain talent. Businesses and their leaders need to be able to adapt to an individual’s needs, as some many enjoy working from home, whilst others don’t. Many companies are now offering flexible/ remote working as it has proven to be successful over the last year, therefore a company that does not offer this, may not be overly appealing to the incoming talent. 

Early careers panel:

Our early career panel included a range of people in their 20’s who have all experienced working from home during the restrictions. We wanted to have this age range on the panel because they have experienced ‘normal’ office working before the pandemic, however, they are all still at early stages in their career. 

There was an overall sense of positivity from this panel, however, the concept of loneliness and isolation was the biggest factor when it comes to working remotely. They all expressed that they were provided with lots of online communication through their work, but the face to face interaction is something they were all missing. For example,  face to face meetings can increase productivity and get ideas flowing better compared to remotely. They also expressed that the ‘coffee chats’ and ‘water cooler chats’ were something they were something every team needs, even if it is virtual. 

Additionally, the concept of supervision was discussed. How are individuals supposed to be supervised properly when working from home? This created the discussion around ownership when working from home, as the individual has to prove to take control over their schedule, workload, work-life balance etc.  The conversation of ownership, also tied into the discussion of motivation and mindset whilst working remotely. Often going into the office can help create a routine for individuals, for example, going to the gym before or after work. This panel shared that working remotely has made them feel less motivated as they can now just “roll out of bed” and they no longer feel like they have a sense of purpose not being at work physically. 

Youth panel:

Similarly to our early careers panel, the youth panel had an overall sense of positivity even though some could argue that this age group has suffered the worst over the last 16 months or so. 

This panel had ranged from ages 18-22. Many of them have recently graduated and have found it hard to find a job throughout the pandemic. We wanted to have this discussion with this age group as many of them have never experienced a job outside of the pandemic. For example, one of the panellists works in sales which often involves a lot of face to face interaction, therefore they have never had the ‘real’ experience of their first sales job. This age group of people are also less likely to have everything they need whilst working from home. For example, an office and all the correct technology, as they are only just starting out in their career. 

Additionally, they expressed they have had to adapt very quickly to the working world and they may have to re-adapt just as quickly when the world does go back to ‘normal’. This also tied in with the concept of creativity. Creativity often comes from collaborative working, and this is something that can’t be found at home. Although the pandemic has made individuals and businesses aware of the online training courses that are available, our panellists expressed they can’t learn from their leaders and team members as much as they would like remotely.  Another interesting theme that this panel discussed was long term goals. They all expressed they have long term goals for their career, and they can’t see themselves fully achieving them from home. Even though they enjoy the flexibility of working remotely, there was an overall sense of optimism towards going back to ‘normal’ as they are keen to progress in their careers.

As usual, this forum left us with plenty of more topics that could be discussed at future Firestarter Forums:

  • The commute: Do you love or hate it? Do you work through the time you would normally commute?
  • How far can you really progress in your career from home?
  • How to keep a positive mindset/ routine whilst working remotely?
  • How do you stop the lines blurring between home and work-life?
  • Should we still have social moments such as ‘coffee chats’, even if they are virtual?
  • Retaining talent: Should businesses do more to make sure their employees are happy?
  • Should businesses encourage young people to come back to the office first?

Overall,  we can never be sure what the future holds for young people and the working world, but all three panels are optimistic about the future and the opportunities it could bring. However, young people feel as though they are less likely to achieve their long term goals whilst working remotely, and they are looking forward to going to the office, and for some their first experience of the ‘real’ job. As the last 16 months have proven, working remotely can work for all age groups and competencies but for individuals to continue to grow and develop there needs to be high levels of communication and businesses need to remain agile to adapt to the needs of their employees and new incoming talent. 

We hope this forum has left our forum community with practices and lessons that they can take back to their working world! Thank you to all our fantastic panellists and everyone that attended. See you in September for the next forum! If you missed the forum, you can watch it here.

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