How to help younger workers in the work from home revolution
On paper, it seemed like any new graduate’s dream: waking up 20 minutes before work starts and answering emails all day in your pyjamas.
Gone were the lengthy commutes and interminable meetings replaced instead with longer lie-ins, more Netflix and low-pressure Zoom calls.
But as the Working From Home revolution shows no sign of ending — with some offices even shutting for good — young workers are starting to feel the strain.
Many are stuck in cramped bedrooms and have yet to meet their colleagues in real life.
Many young people who have been working from home throughout the pandemic are stuck in cramped bedrooms and have yet to meet their colleagues once in real life
And experts warn it will hinder their career prospects, restrict their money-making potential and lead to a critical shortage of soft skills in the workplace.
‘When I first interviewed for my job, I was told we would be going back to the office and everybody was so excited to get back,’ says one anonymous female professional working in the media.
‘However just one month into the role we were told the office was closing for good. I was devastated. I was 23 years old and told to sit in my bedroom and work alone for eight hours a day.’
She is one of many young graduates who has never even met their colleagues in person, relying instead on video calls for social interaction.
Many had expected to return to their offices on so-called Freedom Day on July 19, but government messaging remains muddled.
Although the ‘work from home’ order will officially be lifted next week, the Prime Minister urged caution on Monday as he said: ‘We don’t expect that the whole country will return to their desk as one from Monday.’
Dr Eliza Filby, a social historian and workplace expert, warns that if young people are cut off from the office entirely it will hinder workplace productivity in years to come.
She says: ‘We will have a generation of people who are over-educated, under-trained and under-experienced. This generation is less likely than their elders to have had Saturday jobs.
‘They’re not used to the workplace and they need to be around more experienced colleagues to learn the most basic etiquette.’
It’s no surprise young people are leading the charge back into the office. Research from Nationwide and Ipsos MORI found that six out of ten employees in Generation Z (those born after 1997) say they need to spend time with their colleagues face-to-face in order to carry out their work effectively.
‘I feel very isolated working from home’
Lauren Lockhead often goes a whole day without actually speaking to another human.
The 27-year-old, from Newcastle, lives alone and has yet to meet her colleagues.
Lauren Lockhead (pictured) often goes a whole day without actually speaking to another human
Lauren, who works for a PR agency, says: ‘I started my new job in January and while they allow hybrid working, no one is going into the office.
‘There are days I go without speaking to anybody in person. It’s very isolating.
‘I find myself making conversation with people in the supermarket instead.
‘My job pre-Covid involved networking and socialising. But now it’s so email-based.
‘I feel lucky that I’m not straight out of university. Those early days of my career were very important to establishing my career.’
Some 50 per cent of Millennial workers (born between 1981 and 1996) said the same.
Joanna Swash, CEO of communications company Moneypenny, which employs more than 850 staff members in the UK, says: ‘When it comes to working in the office, it’s definitely our younger employees who seem most keen to come in.
‘Many are in cramped living conditions. It’s clear they are craving the social side of the office, too.
‘It’s also face-to-face contact that will help you progress in your career. It’s hard to do over Zoom.’
Noa Hoffman, 23, is among those desperate to get back into the office. She has worked for three different employers since the pandemic began — yet she hasn’t met a single colleague.
The journalist, from London, says: ‘I started out on a work placement in Leeds where I was living in a cramped flatshare and could only work in my room.
‘Working in the same room you sleep in is so bad for your mental health. It’s also embarrassing when you’re video calling your boss with your bed behind you.
‘I want to be meeting people and progressing my career.’
Dr Filby says: ‘Offices are hugely important social spaces when you’re young — it’s where you make your friends, learn and it’s where you often fall in love.’
Earlier this year Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon hit headlines after he called remote working an ‘aberration’ that needed to be ‘corrected as soon as possible’.
But other businesses have taken different approaches.
Asda announced earlier this month it was adopting a ‘hybrid’ working model which would allow employees to choose how little or often they come into the office.
HSBC, KPMG and Deutsche Bank all made similar decisions.
There are fears the hybrid model will make some jobs redundant and lead to unemployment.
Reports recently revealed more than a quarter of Deloitte’s UK secretarial staff face redundancy as bosses now do more of their administrative tasks online.
Experts also say Working From Home could lead to reduced salaries as bosses can argue employees save on commuting costs.
Personal finance analyst Sarah Coles, from Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘Businesses now have a larger pool to select candidates from and aren’t restricted to their geographical location.
‘It means in London there will no longer be a pressure to offer London-weighted salaries as employees can choose not to live there.’
The result is the gap in salaries between professional and lower-skilled workers — in short supply after Brexit and less likely to work from home — could close.
Data from recruitment site Reed.co.uk found average salaries in 2021 have decreased by 4 per cent since 2020 — when the job market was more volatile. It also found wages being advertised in the 0-£25k salary tier increased by 14 per cent.
Average salaries in catering and hospitality rose by 7 per cent.