How 'Generation Z' is altering today's workplaces

Many Baby Boomers view Generation Z as millennials on steroids. Is this really the case?

How 'Generation Z' is altering today's workplaces

by Brendan Maree, vice president Asia Pacific at 8x8

Each generation tends to view those that follow it with a mixture of amusement and confusion. Some of their actions seem odd while others appear down right weird.

When it comes to Generation Z (those born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s), many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers view them as millennials on steroids. They are tech-savvy individuals who would rather communicate with others via a social app than in person.

This, however, tends to oversimplify some key differences between Gen Z and millennials. Both were born and raised in different cultural climates and economic times, and with various levels of technology.

Millennials were internet pioneers while Gen Z does not remember a life before smartphones and social media. Understanding how these generations interact with technology will be critical to understanding the future of work and how workplaces will need to change.

To gain a better understanding of these generations and the way they will shape the workplace of the future, 8x8 partnered with Koski Research to survey 1000 full and part-time employed workers. All respondents use a computer or phone for their everyday work.

Millennials surpass Gen Z as technology adopters
Gen Z is often considered the most tech-savvy generation, however the survey found millennials are the first to adopt new technologies in their personal lives. The study also found evidence Gen Z may not be as technologically in tune as often thought. When it comes to new technology like wearables, 39% of millennials currently use it in their personal lives, compared to just 27% of Gen Z and 30% of Gen X.

Connected appliances fit a similar bill. The survey found 35% of millennials currently use connected appliances in their personal lives, compared to only 26% of Gen Z and 25% of Gen X. One reason for slow adoption of this technology by Gen Z could be the price involved with owning wearables or connected devices. The findings show that one in two members of Gen Z over the age of 18 still rely on their parents to pay for their communications tools.

For Gen Z, effective communication beats efficiency and convenience
Many workplaces have dramatically shifted to accommodate today’s millennial workers, but in many ways, Gen Z exhibits work communications preferences that are more closely aligned with the way their Gen X parents work.

The survey found Gen Z values face-to-face and meaningful communication more than any other generation. In fact, one in four Gen Z workers prefer in-person communication.

This focus on in-person communication is a major shift from how millennials prefer to work. Four in 10 millennials state that personal interaction will be less important than it is now in the future workplace.

So, where millennial work styles and communications preferences were a stark departure from their Gen X predecessors, Gen Z preferences are more a hybrid of the two. The majority of Gen Z want a physical workspace (57%) combined with the ability to work remotely (48%) and have flexible hours (73%). They want tools that allow them to work effectively in both environments, meaning flexibility to accommodate them will be key.

Gen Z rejects traditional workplace tools
The survey dug deeper into the notion that Gen Z craves human interaction by looking at some of the most commonly used communications tools in the workplace, including email, landlines and messaging apps.

Interestingly, Gen Z is the least inclined of each generation to use email or landlines for work, with only 5% of Gen Z preferring and 42% using landlines. OF those surveyed, 34% of millennials and 39% of Gen X prefer email, and one in two of both millennials and Gen X currently use landlines for work.

Smartphones are the exception and are quickly becoming a hub of communication for all generations, but especially Gen Z. When asked which device they used to take this survey, twice the amount of Gen Z respondents (62%) used a smartphone over millennials (31%) and Gen X (28%).

Additionally, when asked about communications devices they use at work, on average half of all respondents across each generation use smartphones. Though standalone group messaging/chat tools have promised to make workplace communication easier, Gen Z workers are the least inclined to use them. While each generation predicted use of messaging/chat apps would decrease in the future, Gen Z is the least likely to use these tools.

Future workplaces will be less ‘techy’
Interestingly, Gen Z doesn’t anticipate a high-tech future workplace. This could be due to a lack of understanding of how much the workplace has evolved even during the past five years. However, when asked about which tools they anticipate to use for work in the future, Gen Z was most likely to answer with email, mobile phone, text messaging and desktop computer.

Among the top answers for millennials and Gen X was “something that hasn’t been invented yet.” When asked, very few members of Gen Z thought wearables (15%), virtual reality (9%) or connected cars (11%) would play much of a role in the future of work. Even the ability to access data from any device was less important to Gen Z as it is to millennials. Only 67% of Gen Z said it will be important to be able to access data from any device, compared to 78% of millennials.

Is the full-time remote office a Gen X dream?
While flexible working hours are a priority for all generations, millennials are more likely inclined than Gen Z to believe that remote work will be critical over the next five years. Gen Z is the most likely of all generations to believe a physical office will be necessary to complete work in the future.

Surprisingly, it is Gen X - the oldest of the generations surveyed - that thinks that physical offices will be unnecessary in the future. This could be because each generation is in a different phase of its career and their past experiences have an impact on their view of the physical office.

A swinging pendulum
The workforce has clearly dramatically shifted to accommodate millennial workers. There are more BYOD and work-from-home policies than ever before. Millennials prefer to work remotely, over email and with limited face-to-face interaction, and the workforce will face a rude awakening when Gen Z enters it.

So, what does this means for senior business managers, and what changes will be needed in coming years as more of Gen Z joins the workforce? Three ‘to-do’ items stand out clearly from the research:

  • Facilitate in-person communication: Gen Z has a preference for face-to-face communication rather than electronic, so encourage regular meetings and conversations in the workplace.
  • Retain the office: While they understand the benefits of remote working, Gen Z staff like the concept of a regular physical space from which to operate. Managers need to ensure office space is not restricted to the point that workers have nowhere to use as a home base.
  • Smartphones, not landlines: Just as they have been disappearing in homes, landline phones are no longer a necessity in the office. Consider investing in hybrid systems where handsets can connect to a PBX while in the office but also operate as a mobile when staff are away.

While Gen X had to reshape the workplace for millennials, millennials will, in many ways, have to find a way to develop a hybrid work environment that not only prioritises convenience and flexibility, through mobile and remote work, but also accommodates a Gen Z focus on efficiency and in-person communication. The workplace of the future will be a very interesting location indeed.


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