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For Gen Z, the future of work must be flexible

A new report from Handshake reveals what Gen Z professionals are looking for in an employer. And the top location of their job searches may surprise you.

For Gen Z, the future of work must be flexible
[Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images]

After two years of the pandemic, offices across the country are opening back up and employees are returning to their desks.

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Conventional wisdom suggests that the young workers of Gen Z—the generation now entering their early and mid 20s — aren’t interested in cubicle farms and water-cooler conversations. But employers who think Gen Z wants all-remote-all-the-time are missing the point—and could lose out on recruiting the newest generation of talent.

Gen Z desires the Goldilocks solution: flexibility.

Indeed, the data suggest more nuanced preferences. Gen Z wants the ability to work remote while not losing the opportunity to gather in-person for social connection with new co-workers. Handshake’s latest report on Gen Z and work reveals that only 7% percent of all full-time jobs posted at Handshake were remote but generated 17% of all applications through our app. Our top keyword search in 2021 was “remote.” (“Marketing,” the runner-up, was searched only about half as many times.)

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We also found a statistically significant link between the proportion of remote full-time jobs in a city and its popularity among Handshake job-seekers—the more remote jobs a city has, the more job applications a city gets, in other words. And it’s not just tech jobs that are attracting all the interest in remote work: More than 20% of applications from students majoring in communications, art and design and health professions were for full-time remote positions.

It’s not surprising that Gen Z is comfortable with the notion of remote work as their new normal. After all, they grew up with smartphones, high-speed internet, and social media. They went to school online even before the pandemic, and recent college graduates certainly had their share of remote classes because of COVID-19. Gen Z plays games online, finds dates and hangs out online. They’re comfortable forming relationships online—not just social ones but work ones as well. In another one of our surveys, two-thirds of Gen-Zers told us they think they can build their professional networks without having to meet people in person.

It’s not entirely accurate, however, to say that Gen-Zers only want to work from their bedrooms or kitchen tables. Handshake users said they like a remote work arrangement because it’s convenient, saves them money, gives them more control over their schedules and improves their quality of life. But they also want a chance to network in person and put in some face time—not FaceTime—with coworkers, especially in their first jobs right out of college.

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This desire for flexibility also might be influencing where Gen-Zers want to live. The top location search on Handshake’s network in 2021 wasn’t New York City or Silicon Valley or some other tech mecca: It was Florida. Our report found that Miami, of all places, got more than twice as many applications for each job than its size and demographics would suggest.

Miami might seem like a curious choice for Gen-Zers launching their careers. Traditionally, its job market has been dominated by health care, hospitality and tourism. Its largest private employers are a grocery chain, a hospital system, a university and an airline—not exactly the high-growth, high-salary companies that new college graduates have historically flocked to.

But Miami in recent years has attracted some big-name fintech, financial services and crypto firms. Overall employment in the tech sector—a big draw for Gen Z—has nearly doubled in the past decade. Miami is also sunny and warm and cheaper to live in than a lot of other big cities—and roughly 10% of its full-time jobs are remote, giving Gen Z the flexibility of working where they please while also offering opportunities to connect with their colleagues.

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In the case of Miami and other cities with larger-than-average proportions of remote jobs, it’s possible that Gen Z sees the term “remote” and thinks “flexible.” A company offering that is understood as willing to work with employees on a lot of different issues, such as work-life balance, how often they need to be in the office and where they can choose to live.

Companies serious about hiring Gen Z talent need to question themselves about their expectations: Does this job truly have to be in the office? Can it be entirely remote? Or can there be some sort of hybrid arrangement? Flexibility is the key with Gen Z, and smart companies must learn to be, well, flexible toward this new generation of workers.

Gen-Zers might not want to sit behind a desk every day of the week. But they do want the companies they work for to work with them.

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Christine Y. Cruzvergara is the chief education strategy officer at Handshake.

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