How will Gen Z transform the future of business and the office?

Many employers have not woken up to how different Gen Z is when it comes to their expectations of jobs and the 'workplace'.

How will Gen Z transform the future of business and the office?

After interviewing 200 Gen Z entrepreneurs to write my book Born Digital: The Story of a Distracted Generation. I learned that just about everything my generation sees as the norm, won’t be the norm for Gen Z. 

This generation sees no distinction between their on and offline lives, because unlike my generation, they never had a time without devices. As a result, they don’t see the same boundaries between work and non-work as we do. They expect to mix office time with flexi-working and remote working including working from home. They expect the office to be biophilic (bringing in nature), technologically sophisticated, they hate corporate largesse, value inclusivity, expect ‘experiences’ not jobs and ‘benefits not salaries’, will value personalised careers and roles and expect snappy feedback and communication.

Even before Covid19, Gen Z expected to work when and wherever was convenient, not necessarily during office hours, including when they were on the move. Since lockdowns have ended, some firms have announced permanent home working, others flexible arrangements for part time office attendance. Whatever an employer’s policy, Gen Z will be continually balancing work and social life, whether in or out of the office as it suits them. To them, working is what you do, not where you are when you do it. 

The office needs to be emotional, purposeful, technological and physical. Meaning, it needs to accommodate good work life balance, value inclusivity, EQ, self-regulation and self-awareness. Biophilic environments need to demonstrate that the employer embraces the environment and sustainability. But is also ‘smart’ with the latest tech including electronic concierges to remove tedious admin and low-level tasks. Gen Z wants to work for a purpose not a business. My generation leaves them a damaged planet, the hangover from the Global Financial Crisis and austerity, the continuing global war on terror and now Covid debt. So those Gen Z who don’t want to start their own social enterprises, will expect their employers to be solving societal issues not just making money. Purpose will need to genuinely core to the culture. Don’t try and ‘purpose wash’ Gen Z with some bland mission on a plaque on the wall or a statement in the CSR section of the annual report. 

Go into the office. Watch the youngsters going into a hot desk booth, cracking open their laptop, mobile and iPad and donning their earbuds – the “office pilots”. The two human beings they may not talk to all day are the ones in the adjacent booths. And tomorrow the people in those booths are different people anyway, so no office culture in the way we knew it. It’s more like ‘hoteling’ or ‘officing’ in an Airbnb. 

We wanted to join a big successful company, stay years and progress through the ranks, gradually earning more and more. Gen Z will not be interested in filling in standard forms on websites to apply for jobs nor read long job profiles. ‘Snapplications’ will be the way forward, with short videos used to explain the role and submit a personal resume. Peer group recommendations and YouTube’s impression of a company will be as important as any material the company creates to promote itself. They will regard working as an experience, a brief tour of duty, job hopping will be the norm or ‘take, learn, move’ as I call it; don’t expect unearned years of loyalty from them. Career progression is like playing a video game – master one level and you expect to move straight to the next. Paid time off, unlimited and if necessary unpaid unlimited holiday arrangements, lots of training, university debt repayment programs, technology allowances and health and wellness benefits options will all be valued more than the equivalent base salary. And Gen Z will expect personalised career paths, which take into account their individual characteristics, personalities and the images they have created on social media. Forget standard titles and promotion paths for this group. 

Gen Zers who decide not to immediately start their own businesses and work for someone else, will expect their employers to harness their entrepreneurial and socially minded attitudes with intrapreneurship programs. Forward looking employers will increase employee engagement, job satisfaction, skills, attraction and retention and spur business innovation by helping Gen Z employees discover profitable new products, services or business models that create value for society and the employer. 

Business models will need to embrace the sharing economy in both directions – with goods being used multiple times, Gen Z employees probably being engaged partly at work and partly in their own side hustles and potentially where they engage in multiple mini roles at the employer.

Gen Z are literally transforming business and the workplace, I would argue for the better.

Robert Wigley
Robert Wigley

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