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Workplace Culture Change Could Start at the Entry Level

A recent study from IT management platform provider NinjaOne showed that 55% of Gen Z college graduates are looking for workplaces that offer either remote or hybrid options. Further breaking down the numbers, 23% of survey respondents wanted a remote work environment, while 32% wanted a hybrid workplace, and 38% said that one of the biggest roadblocks to saying yes to a job was the requirement to be in an office five days a week. While it's easy to look at the numbers and fret about how the kids today aren't going to come in and soak up all that ambient knowledge or upskill at a pace that's useful to their employers, I think what we need to pay attention is the fact that 45% of respondents wanted to go into an office. Combine that group with the 32% who wanted a hybrid workplace, and that's a solid 77% of young workers surveyed who want some sort of office experience.

This makes sense: the young adults who are graduating into the workforce now are the same ones who saw their college careers dramatically changed by lockdowns and remote semesters. They'd have firsthand experience of how different it is to work with someone locally versus over collaboration platforms. They'd know firsthand the challenges of attempting to master a body of knowledge or new skills while working alone in their bedrooms or home offices. The merits of being onsite and present at the beginning of their careers would make sense.

When we're looking at breakdowns of which cohort likes remote work, there seem to be a few a-ha moments as to who likes working remotely and why, such as: the people who are in the thick of caregiving obligations, such as millennial parents weathering the ongoing childcare crisis in the U.S. or the Gen Xers who are learning what it means to be the "sandwich generation"; the people for whom "normal" office culture was a minefield of daily microaggressions or overt hostility.

Gen Z has been pretty unambiguous about wanting to come to an office some of the time, because many of them have already lived through the experience of trying to master a whole new setting and a whole new body of knowledge with a remote-only model, and they don't care for a repeat experience.

What workplace leaders can do with the increasing body of information about where people want to work and what drives that preference is to look at their leadership praxis and ask if they're seeing employees not as a homogenous group but as a collection of people who want and need different things from the workplace. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all model for the new workplace, there is no one-size-fits-all model for the employees leaders manage. Workplace leadership means figuring out how to lead one to bring out the best in the other.