Is It Possible That Some Members of Gen Z Will Never Work in an Office?

It is a strange time for those people who graduated from college in the past year or so and then started their first job.

Many of these people, often referred to as Gen Z (born after 1997), finished college taking classes remotely, and they began their career working remotely.

So it’s not out of the ordinary when a recent story in the Wall Street Journal posed the question as to whether some of these individuals will ever work in an office.

Remote work, for many people and companies, seems to have become the default approach to work.

And many of these Gen Zers seem to prefer it that way, liking the flexibility that such an approach offers.

In a survey from the fall of 2020,  69% of Gen Zers said they would like to work remotely at least half the time. Yet in that same survey, nearly half of respondents reported an increase of anxiety and depression ascribed to remote work.

As reporter Alex Janin notes, working from home can make anyone lonely and anxious, but experts say these effects are more pronounced for Gen Zers—who have spent a lot of time on screens from the start.

Compounding the problem, young adulthood, from ages 18 to 29, is a particularly lonely time of life for many, with or without screens, says Jeffrey Arnett, a professor of psychology at Clark University. Working in an office, Dr. Arnett says, allows relationships with colleagues, from friendships to mentorships, to form more naturally.

That means young remote workers may miss out not only on professional relationships but also on friends and potential romantic partners, says Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management.

The potential problems aren’t just personal ones, of course. Working remotely presents Gen Z with significant challenges on the job:

  • it is a problem for any remote worker to build a professional network, but even harder for younger workers
  • Because young millennial and Gen Z workers generally have less experience and less power at work than other age groups, they often worry about whether they are on the right track.
  • the sense of feeling among younger remote workers that they are “out of sight, out of mind” could be somewhat true. A survey in 2021 by Society for Human Resource Management revealed 42% of supervisors say they sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks.
  • Remote workers also may be more vulnerable to misunderstandings and bad feelings at work, in part because they are not able to form strong relationships or to build on existing relationships with people they have met.

I did like what a Harvard professor had to say about the issue, noting that employers have to take some responsibility in being more proactive in engaging younger workers, particularly those who are working remotely. This is especially critical in light of a survey by Bankrate which found that  more than half of Americans planned to look for a new job within the year. And among those surveyed, twice as many Gen Z workers as baby boomers and Gen X workers said they were likely to start the search.

I also believe that employers should make a clear case of the advantages of being at the office as opposed to working remotely.

A friend of mine, a high-level executive at a large firm, said that he was surprised how few of the younger employees came into the office when given the option. With the office nearly empty, he noted it would have been a great opportunity for these younger workers to spend quality time with higher-level executives, an opportunity that was not normally available. Such opportunities should be noted so that those who want can take advantage of them.

I also found the following attitude a little concerning, but perhaps it’s me being old:

Sometimes people just aren’t feeling it and they just want to stay at home and do their work, which is fine, as long as the work is done.

I think a lot of people over the age of 30 have days where they “just aren’t feeling it”, yet they still go into work. I think taking the easy way out when faced with such a dilemma is not the best way to show your work ethic and your sense of commitment to the firm. It’s no wonder that there is a sense of mistrust of young, remote workers.

But perhaps the strangest part of the article, for me was, was the following:

A young remote worker had the chance to meet face-to-face with his colleagues at a rented co-working space in Manhattan. Filled with anticipation, he arrived early, took a selfie in the bathroom, settled into a seat in one of the office’s ergonomic chairs, and took part in the meeting.

As one of my colleagues likes to say, “Wait, what?”

*image from TRC Global Mobility


124 thoughts on “Is It Possible That Some Members of Gen Z Will Never Work in an Office?

  1. Hi Jim, I like to do both, work from home some days and work in the office on others. I need to interact with other people and feel part of an organization of other people. The hybrid model works well for me because I can also be at home to receive deliveries when needed and not face heavy traffic every day. My oldest son is a quiet and reserved studious boy. He prefers in person school or lectures. He likes to discuss ideas and concepts with like minded peers.


    1. I think most people would prefer a hybrid model, since it takes advantage of the best of both worlds. I think the concern is with younger workers opting for 100% remote.

      and it’s good that your son’s school has the option for him to attend school in person.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, just people who need to be onsite. When you work with equipment, you need to be there to use it most of the time. I can remote in to some things, but not others.

        Others just aren’t really set up well for working at home and need the office.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. that makes sense. And I think companies are hesitant to force workers to go back to work for fear of the employees leaving and going somewhere that does allow them to work from home…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I would have loved the benefits of working remote. More distractions at work than at home. My commute times were horrible. The HR guy says people will miss out on “potential romantic partners.” What a joke in so many ways!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I thought that was an odd comment as well. I think a combo approach is best; get people in the office a couple of days per week so that their can be some networking and relationship building, but then offer the convenience of working form home a couple of days per week…


  3. “Sometimes people just aren’t feeling it and just want to stay and they just want to stay at home and do their work, which is fine as long as the work is done.” I understand it’s a new world, but I could never do this in my job. I had to drag my butt down there, whether I was running a fever or throwing up to get things ready for the substitute. You might have a little more flexibility at the university level, but I doubt you could do this very often either.

    I expect there are plusses and minuses of working from home, though I admit it would be nice to have that option.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If I don’t show up to teach, that’s a missed class, one that students have already paid for.

      And I think a hybrid solution might be best; a couple of days at the office, a couple of days at home…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. i think they’ve never enjoyed the ups and downs of ‘in person’ as an adult and may not know how to deal with it, but might be a good thing to at least do for part of their work time. there are advantages to both, but something about human contact, in person, is so very important. the kids in my class stay with me for two years, and i was thinking yesterday about the fact that they’ve never been to school without masks, without staying home with symptoms and being tested before returning, expecting to sometimes be online while learning, and to be restricted in the way they function in the building. their world will open when things change and it may be uncomfortable at times, but i think they will quickly thrive.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can, from experience, confirm that there are some important things missing for people who only work remotely. I think it is a real benefit as an option for people when circumstances or health require they stay home, but short of that I think it is a disadvantage for employee and company alike. Productivity becomes something that needs to be measured when you are out of sight. There is little chance for mentoring and much less opportunity to build a sense of team. I know my boss appreciates my work ethic because she sees it every day. The relationships we build with colleagues have a huge impact on the enjoyment of our work. Working remotely also creates some challenging cyber security issues.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. well said, Brad. There is value in being at the office. Perhaps after an initial period of working at the office, employees could opt to work one day from home, and then with seniority, perhaps a couple of days from home, or whatever they prefer…

      Liked by 1 person

    2. A recent study done by a Wall Street fintech where I worked in 2020 and at the global bank where I work now shows that productivity increased in the last two years. “Productivity as an issue” is a tired trope that must be put to bed. If your employees are only productive when they are being watched, you have hired the wrong employees.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Working in an office had a huge impact on my human development. If I never had that experience (day after day for years) I’d be a vastly different person–and not a better person for sure. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I’m guessing: can’t be good.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the office environment, but after nearly forty years I’d had enough! I fear for the mental health of people who have never experienced this: working on your own can be lonely.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. and just as COVID restrictions are easing around the world, we get hit with the Russian invasion. Hopefully that will not last too long or have anywhere near the global impact that the pandemic has had…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I treasure the friends I’ve made working in an office as well. It seems like society is trying to force generation Z into isolation. I wouldn’t mind working alone for the most part but most people need to have high levels of social interaction. This may be the only chance that generation Z gets to have meaningful relationships instead of through the phone.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree with you. I think we are letting Gen Z down badly and storing up pressures for the future on mental health services. What concerns me is whether the issue is recognised – it may already be too late to do anything about it if not.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I agree; the work environment has been part of society since the beginning. Most people did not stay home and do their work; it’s part of our social network, and if a person doesn’t have a chance to be part of that social network, I think it can be harmful…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The isolation argument is pure nonsense. I have friends and family who live in my neighbourhood. I have never been lonely. Some of the people I work with also live in my area. We meet up for lunch or after-work dinner or hang out at the pub. I have never felt lonely while working from home.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I think if people make an effort to get together, that may help reduce the feeling of isolation. However, I sitll think you miss out on the potential benefits of random encounters that take place when people are working otgether int he same physical location…


  8. Humans are social animals and this is all so unnatural that we–especially young people– spend so much time alone.

    … I’m old enough to remember “the mommy track” benefit. It used to allow for one (one!) day of working remotely from home &/or a cutback in hours to 32 hours … this was back when everyone was in the office 5 days a week, Back then I heard so many stories/complaints from my mom friends who despite taking the cut in pay to juggle motherhood/work felt judged about the inconvenience their reduced time in the office caused others when scheduling meetings, working late, etc. Working moms were resented esp by male colleagues who never got maternity leave or if they took paternity leave to help care for a baby they were considered “not dedicated.” (Remember when prime minister of England’s wife wanted Tony to take paternity leave? no one was having it)

    Those days/expectations/judgments about working from home seem quaint now that “everybody’s doing it.”

    But the switch to ALL remote work is, I think, so very bad for the human psyche, especially for young people who spend so many hours working that it is just so much lonelier if they miss the sidebars by the watercooler, the spontaneous lunch partners and “walk and talks” we used to have… even the shared eye rolls at a bad bosses’ dictates were validating when you felt treated unfairly or overworked/underpaid etc etc etc .

    No matter that (some) older workers claim to prefer remote work… they have already have the benefit of having YEARS of both the good and bads of office comradery/politics/gossip … you learn A LOT from being surrounded by all those people, their quirks as well as their wisdom, their mistakes, their commiserating, the brainstorming, the advice.

    Every job I had had a different group vibe depending on the personalities of coworkers … my favorite office job had a small staff and we really did feel like a family–a family that was sometimes dysfunctional but less dysfunctional than my actual family and we had the pride of accomplishing things together. Yes traffic/commutes are frustrating but they make a demarcation between work and home… face to face/navigating social relationships is the most important part of the human experience and so much is lost trying to do that over screens.

    Remember the Bubble Boy movie with John Travolta stuck in a bubble, could see people but not touch? That was SO SAD and yet now if young people spend the vast majority of their working days –40plus hours a week– unable to be in the presence of other humans it puts everyone into lives much like the bubble boy or like the soulful life of lonely (often depressed) writers/artists who were forced to isolate themselves in order to get their work done.

    It may be fine for some people, but even introverts have found that the pandemic exposed their NEED for social interaction. Offices used to provide that without them having to go out and look for it!

    There’s also the real phenomenon researchers report as to why so many men struggle in retirement more than women do. Women tend to have more identities (friend/mother/sister/wife/bookgroups/church/clubs/caregiver/dogwalkers) and networks whereas men’s primary identity was through job/career.

    I found the cliché about retired men driving their wives crazy proved SO true during the pandemic. Anecdotally, and personally, OMG, all my women friends, no matter how happily married were like: Get out of the house! Find some guy friends to do things with! Go have lunch with somebody! GO AWAY so you have something NEW to talk about!

    Work provides all these social outlets to men (and women of course) with little/no effort.

    And the same goes for young people … social relationships ARE work but work used to make it much easier to find loose ties/connections that would lead to stronger social ones.

    I just pray we get back to a more natural work existence in my lifetime, for my daughter’s sake as well as our own. People need people!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. what a wonderful commentary, Susan. You highlight so many benefits of going into the office. And I agree, such interactions, even simple ones like the eyeroll that you mention, foster a sense of connection.

      Perhaps the ideal solution would be a certain number of mandatory days in the office, and then give the employees the option if they want to work a day or two from home.

      I hope things return to a sense of normal as well…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So funny how quickly I can write an entire ESSAY in a comment on someone ELSE’s blog, while I continue to neglect my own!

        Anyway, you always bring up interesting topics/thoughtful observations … couldn’t resist pontificating!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This is very sad! The fact that these young people opted not to come into the office compounds the long term problem. I could go on, but you already an excellent job of that. Thanks, Jim.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Jim! Happy New Year.
    I only had to work remotely for about a year, before I was laid off. (And honestly, it felt like a blessing.) At age 34, I felt the struggles of remote work; I can imagine it is extremely difficult for younger people, especially those who are just beginning their careers. Hopefully once COVID is behind us, we can embrace a positive, in-person work environment that is more sensitive to mental health needs. 🕊

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I definitely feel like the world as we knew it 10 years ago will be so foreign to youth 10 years from now.. off topic but sort of the same parallel.. my daughter hates when commercials come on… she thinks there’s something wrong with the tv because one of the channels she always watches never has commercials during shows lol… oy vay

    Liked by 1 person

    1. we just had that same experience. we were watching a show on broadcast tv, one that we normally tape, but we were all caught up and watching it at its regular hour. We couldn’t fast forward through the commercials, and my youngest son seemed a bit annoyed! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Really interesting, Jim. I’ve been working from home since start of the pandemic. We have a couple of new starts in our team, much harder for them to understand the organisation, talk to key people, get introduced around the place. One thing I find working from home – much easier for people to ignore my emails and phone calls!


    1. I would think it is tough on the new hires to start their jobs remotely. Hopefully at some point they get a chance to meet everyone in person.

      and there are advantages to working from home!


  13. Working at office it’s not just about work but it’s also about socializing and meeting new people also it’s about discipline so working remotely at home is going to increase depression and social awkwardness more to introverts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. you are right; going into the office is more than just the work itself. and I’m not sure who remote work would be more challenging for, introverts or extroverts…

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This generation is coddled and selfish. They don’t understand why they feel disconnected and purposeless, all while constantly checking a fantasy world for affirmation.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.