he pandemic has forced many businesses to move to remote work. Not every business was ready for it, nor every business went 100% remote. Some moved to the hybrid workforce models. Both models are viable strategies for maintaining business continuity without putting the employee’s health at risk. Few industries have even noticed productivity gains after switching to this new setting.

The situation is far from being under control. After the initial shock early in 2020 and a rather stabilized situation during summer, it seems that the coronavirus strikes back, hitting countries even harder and prolonging the period of social distancing. COVID-19 might reshape the future of work completely, accelerating the shift to remote work for multiple industries.

Although it has many positive aspects for some workers, there are drawbacks that hit others. Especially the younger generation that is currently entering the job market.

The Dark Clouds Over Generation Z

Generation Z is often referred to as the people born after the second half of the 90s and in the early 2000s. What’s different about them is that they have grown up with technology, contrary to the previous generations that either met new technologies in their adult life or in their teens, such as many millennials.

The stereotypical description of Gen Z mentions that they are open, have entrepreneurial mindsets, like to socialize, yet they spend most of their time online. 

Seeking socialization, it’s not a surprise according to Smart Sheet’s survey stating that as much as 82% of Gen Zs feel “less connected” working remotely. Roughly half of them reported having communication issues at work. They also struggle to get the resources necessary to thrive.

The situation might be worse for those who just entered their first jobs. Ambitious people that want to grow professionally and develop their skill set need mentoring from more experienced colleagues. This happens naturally in office environments when a relationship is made with their teammates, managers, and other people at work.

Entering a remote setting makes it difficult to make new friends at work. It’s different if a team that used to hang out at work and after-hours moves to work online. They have a certain energy that keeps them together as a team, helps them perform better and collaborate in any setting.

This also tackles the need for tailoring onboarding procedures to the new situation. What previously could be done at work by going through all the brochures, presentations, and online courses that have been designed to make the onboarding process as efficient as possible, lacks the human touch today. 

Cited by BBC, Dan Schwabel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence, an HR advisory company, and author of Back to Human, points out that the soft skills of young employees might be in danger:

“Part of soft skills from a business perspective is the art of collaboration and connecting. Their soft skills are weakened because they’re not getting human contact.”

All of these aspects lead to mental health issues. According to MetLife’s annual US Employee Benefits Trends Study, Generation Z employees seek help for stress and burnout three times more than their older colleagues.

It’s not that the pandemic hit every young employee to a similar degree and some might thrive in this situation since many of them already embraced remote work. However, this is not the case for everybody and it seems that so many employees suffer, and responsible employers need to address these problems.

A Career In the Shadow of Recession

There might be another problem. Even if some economic soothsayers predict that the markets collapse, and they don’t, we’re still in a situation where a global recession might be just around the corner.

Every generation lived through recessions and this is completely normal as the economy is cyclic, but it should be noted to not be without any consequences. Going through market downturns prepared still hurts individuals’ wealth but allows them to make it out without serious consequences.

On the other hand, those who haven’t saved enough before the recession are the most vulnerable to the economic effects. They don’t have any financial cushion to go through inflation, layoffs, and collapsing businesses. This is obviously the youngest generation on the market who didn’t have time to prepare, and the pandemic doesn’t help them in any way.

According to the data cited on Washington Post, a third of Gen Z jobs disappeared during just two months of 2020. The same article, as well as the research by Pew Research Center, also pointed out that the situation of the younger generation, consisting of people in their 20s and 30s, is much worse than of the previous generation.

The effects might be felt long-term. The Pew Research Center also mentions the link between the lack of financial stabilization and delaying the decisions about having family and buying houses, among others.

In the end, we might end up with a large group of employees uncertain of their jobs, lacking necessary soft skills, growing their careers at a slower pace, and not contributing to the economy. Such situation can hit us back later in 10 or 20 years from now.

Of course, it’s just a prediction. Although the markets were hit by the pandemics and related lockdowns, the situation might get much better in 2021. As Time mentions, the vaccines might be available in April 2021, making the coronavirus crisis much more controllable.

What Can Employers Do?

It’s in employers’ interest to take care of the younger generation. A few years from now, they will become specialists, seniors, and directors who will be highly valuable on the job market–unless they encounter the mentioned problems that will keep them from thriving professionally. This might create a skillset gap, or lead to the lack of experienced talent on the job market in a few years.

The solution doesn’t have to be resource-heavy. It’s just a matter of implementing company-wide routines that are up to the remote work best practices which fortunately can solve problems with feeling less connected, soft skill development, and mental health issues.

What can you do to support your employees in remote settings?

  • Ensure proper onboarding with relationship building. Focus not only on the specifics of the job but take care of getting to know the team.
  • Create an open environment that is super communicative. This both makes it clear who is doing what and what’s the progress as well as keeps the whole team in the loop. Young employees can benefit from such flow of information.
  • Create processes and growth plans for the new hires and follow them accordingly.
  • Encourage managers to carry out 1:1 meetings with new hires more frequently to learn about their struggles.
  • Create a space for socialization. It’s not that during lockdowns and remote work, you can’t throw a team party! You can play games online, hop on an informal call, or even have a virtual drink. Be creative!

Whatever you do, adapt! The situation is new to everybody around and even if it’s temporary, we can’t be certain on how long it will last. Embracing remote work in the right way can have many benefits - from productivity gains to keeping the morale of employees. Another way out is introducing hybrid workforce models with rotating teams on remote and stationary.

And let’s not forget–staying in the office is still an option. Just take care of your employees’ health and follow all the safety guidelines–provide hand sanitizers, encourage using face masks, and use other measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

Nov 4, 2020
Employee Wellbeing

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