Among the COVID-19 pandemic’s many disruptions, the overnight pivot to remote work may have the longest-lasting effects for businesses. According to a recent panel discussion presented by Fast Company and Upwork, hybrid work environments will define the next normal. Yet, according to Adobe’s most recent State of Work study, generational groups are adapting and navigating remote working models at disparate paces.
As companies future-proof their workplaces, they must consider how they will address damaging trends, like ageism, and bridge generational gaps that have the potential to widen in the face of continued remote and hybrid work. Otherwise, in the quest to virtualize, companies will miss out on attracting, engaging, and retaining age-diverse talent.
The following pillars are the foundation for an effective hybrid framework that can help companies recruit, build, and engage successful intergenerational teams.
When the world’s largest work-from-home “experiment” launched in China in early 2020, the rest of the world soon followed suit to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Despite hiccups and challenges along the way, the trend has offered companies and employees valuable teaching moments. The office, as we once knew it, may never be the same—and that’s potentially a good thing. A Bloomberg report from earlier this year projected that long-term remote work could raise productivity by 5% in the U.S.
Companies will need to embrace digital transformation to maximize virtual working models and thrive in a post-pandemic economy. However, each generation brings its own unique sets of knowledge, expectations, needs, and habits. For example, while baby boomers are stereotyped for being “tech-resistant,” a report from eMarketer found that they tend to value practical tech adoption and are more likely to stick with and master the technologies they use.
The key is to provide digital training programs that are accessible from all devices and across all platforms so that employees—from Zoomers to boomers—can onboard, develop, and upskill.
Employers must also factor in where their talent pools are in their own digital adoption journey. For example, if Slack is being implemented as a communication tool, some workers may be able to onboard without significant training. But there must also be an alternative option for workers to do a training deep dive if such an instant messaging platform is unfamiliar to them.
Furthermore, for all the differences in a multigenerational workforce, a one-size-fits-all training strategy is insufficient. In an age of continuous disruption, all employees—even digital native Zoomers—will need to be trained continuously to foster an innovative growth mindset.
Aimee Peters, group head of marketing and corporate communications at Mashreq Bank, stated that her company aims to “ensure that employees anywhere in the 12 countries in which we operate can access the same technology, messaging, training, and communications through the same platforms.” She says this provides the building blocks to roll out programs to attract people of all ages back into the workforce, “whether they are returners, recent graduates, or prospects for newly shaped roles.”
Include age in DEI initiatives
According to Fortune/Deloitte’s 2021 CEO survey, 90% of CEOs reported that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a strategic and personal priority. Similarly, 90% of the CEOs surveyed also said their company aspires to lead their industry in DEI practices.
While DEI gaining traction is certainly a positive, the current momentum may not be enough to support multigenerational workforces that are working remotely.
Despite the increasing focus on DEI, only 8% of companies even consider age when they design initiatives. Meanwhile, an AARP survey found that one in four employees ages 45 and older have been negatively singled out for their age at work.
On the other side of the same coin, younger employees may also be passed up for leadership roles or opportunities because of their age. A recent study published by the American Psychological Association found that younger workers may experience ageism at work more frequently than their more mature counterparts.
Alarmingly, remote work models can lead to more cases of discrimination, including age discrimination, according to a recent report published by Project Include. To counter this, companies with hybrid models will need to be mindful of how they design DEI initiatives and policies.
On this topic, Simon Kahn, vice president of marketing for Google Asia Pacific, said: “Building a space where everyone feels accepted for who they are has always been foundational to our culture. While the exercise is a perpetual work in progress, we are committed to having an open dialogue and educating ourselves to develop a shared language around inclusivity, including age and multigenerational diversity.”
In addition to digital training, companies may look to provide mentorship programs and additional training aimed at building bridges between generations. “Workshops around topics like unconscious bias help us gain an awareness about underlying beliefs that might shape decisions,” Kahn says, “whereas those around communication norms, particularly in a hybrid environment, have enabled empathy and enhanced collaboration between workers of all ages in our workforce.”
Flexible scheduling and work-life balance
As millions of employees stayed home to flatten the curve of infection during the pandemic, living rooms became offices overnight, and work invaded our physical and emotional spaces like never before. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before people started to burn out.
Against the pressures of the past nearly two years, each generation has had its own pain points. Baby boomers, in particular, have had to seriously consider the risks the virus presents to their own health perhaps more so than younger workers. Generation X, the new sandwich generation, is most likely to be in the position of simultaneously caring for children and aging parents.
Millennials, soon to enter their peak earning years, are not too far behind Gen Z, according to a report from New York Life that stated 40% of millennials were more likely to be caring for an aging parent during COVID-19 than pre-pandemic, compared to 34% of Gen-Xers and 13% of baby boomers. Meanwhile, Zoomers are reporting the highest stress levels of all the generations, according to data from the American Psychological Association.
It’s clear that workers of all generations can benefit from a greater work-life balance.
Careem, a subsidiary of Uber that maintains a remote-first workforce, has been focusing on work-life balance to raise productivity in the long term.
“To make sure this doesn’t become an always-on culture, we’re actively encouraging making time for life each day,” said Ruth Fletcher, senior vice president of people at Careem. “We’re maintaining and, in some cases, improving productivity while providing space for workouts, school runs, family meals, and creative pursuits. We’re already seeing a strong response from candidates, and, in the long run, we expect this flexibility will provide a real competitive edge in talent retention.”
Looking ahead: listen to employees
With the threat of new variants as well as “twindemics and multidemics” still hanging over us, companies realize hybrid work is here to stay. But they’re also listening to their employees and making tweaks to accommodate specific needs within their workforce.
For example, Mastercard recently extended its end-of-week flexibility program through the end of 2021, encouraging employees to use flextime before the weekend officially begins. The company also designated quarterly meeting-free days and introduced its four-week Work From Elsewhere program.
“This all came about because our people told us that they value flexibility in when, where, and how they work to better manage their work-life balance,” said Michael Fraccaro, chief people officer at Mastercard. “These programs not only show we listened but acted on their feedback and insights—and we’ll continue to do so.”
Remote work practices are relatively new, so hybrid frameworks must remain malleable. What works today may need to be adjusted tomorrow, especially when companies are looking to harness the talents of a multigenerational hybrid workforce. By listening to employees, companies can build a hybrid framework that maximizes productivity, increases engagement, and empowers employees—across all ages and generations.
Sunshine Farzan is an award-winning marketing veteran and dynamic career coach with nearly two decades of global integrated marketing expertise to help executives design personal branding strategies that support corporate growth objectives and achieve omnichannel engagement.