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Millennial workers miss working from office: survey

They want the social aspect: the interactions, the engagement and the buzz of a communal workspace.

MUCH was written about the millennial worker prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. They were deemed as the generation that would transform office life due to their tech-savvy ways and desire for flexibility, autonomy and meaning in their jobs.

Many of these traits still hold true. Except that this is also the generation who missed the office more than anyone else during the widespread work from home (WFH) period imposed by the pandemic.

In a survey of 1,500 corporate employees across five countries in the Asia-Pacific region - Singapore, Australia, India, China and Japan - two-thirds of those aged 35 years old and below revealed they missed the office, compared to 60 per cent for employees aged 35 to 49 years old, and 52 per cent for those above 50.

Surprising? Perhaps this is less so when we examine their reasons, because the main factor millennials cited for missing office is not productivity, as they felt they could be effective at home. Instead, what they missed most was the social aspect of the office - the interactions, the engagement, and yes, the buzz that comes with being in a communal workspace.

Looking specifically at Singapore-based respondents, 42 per cent of them chose socialising with colleagues as the main reason for missing the office, in addition to seeing the office as a professional environment that allows for a clear distinction between personal and professional lives, and face-to-face collaborations.

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For the millennial generation which values social engagement at work as being key to their happiness, the office gives them a place to connect with their teams, to collaborate and to share ideas and unleash their potential and creativity.

Implications for the office

Equally, there is no doubt that businesses and employees recognise that WFH can be done effectively for a number of roles and functions. Millennials themselves will demand greater flexibility, and they want the office to remain central in meeting their higher-order needs such as belonging, achievement and self-actualisation.

While Covid-19 has made us think differently about the nature of work and consider a greater flexibility about what the future holds, the collaborative office environment will continue to play a fundamental role for the majority of the workforce of the future.

There is a need for pragmatism at this time. As the use of the office may not slip back into the ways of working from the past, companies will need to re-imagine both its form and its function as it applies to them specifically.

There will be some de-densification of space, with the office co-existing along with WFH, as well as satellite work spaces closer to homes for greater convenience and mobility. JLL's report, Home and Away: The New Workplace Hybrid, points to two models emerging - the "Hub and Spoke" which combines urban and suburban locations, and the "Core and Flex" that will see corporates choose headquarters complemented by flex and satellite offices.

For corporates to retain and attract millennial remote workers, the employee experience will need to adjust to reflect their needs in addition to evolving to meet requirements around health and safety.

The work space will be repurposed or redesigned to provide a safe set-up for collaboration and creativity among remote and on-site workers. Business leaders and corporate real estate specialists must work with their human resources teams to refine and reinforce the employee experience in order to build a community - all the more important with a distributed workforce - and encourage millennial workers to feel the sense of purpose in the organisation.

Naturally, corporates need to consider the business needs and resultant costs for such an undertaking. But we are entering an age where the office needs to be future-fit to foster the engagement, collaboration and productivity that serve as the foundations for company culture.

Companies will have to decide what this means to their business and their new generation of employees as they consider their future real estate footprint.

  • The writer is head of markets, JLL Asia-Pacific

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