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Will hybrid working lead to a generational divide in the office?

A mature businessman talking with young colleagues in a creative office
Age-diverse workforces can bring different perspectives, new ideas and improve problem-solving. Photo: Getty (Portra Images via Getty Images)

Hybrid working solves many of the problems associated with remote work. It gives people a chance to collaborate in meetings and socialise, staving off the grinding loneliness of working from home. But workers aren’t required to commute to the office every day and will have autonomy and flexibility.

However, organising a hybrid scheme isn’t always easy. Some employees may be keen to return to the office, while others prefer to work from home – and research suggests this can depend on age.

The acceleration of remote working in response to Covid-19 has revealed a generational divide in relation to home and office working. According to a survey of 3,000 office-based workers by Deloitte, twice as many under-35s want permanent flexible working post-pandemic, compared with the over-55s. Almost half of those over 55 have returned to offices in some capacity, but only a third of under-35s have done the same.


“The overnight switch from office to home introduced brand new ways of working for many. While some employees have struggled with the transition, the majority have enjoyed a better work-life balance,” says Shivani Maitra, consulting partner at Deloitte.

“The disparity between older and younger generations of the workforce returning to the office is likely to be a reflection of the preferred working arrangements of different age groups, particularly younger workers’ receptiveness to change.”

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Recruitment expert Jamie Beaumont, founder and CEO of Playter Pay, says differing attitudes towards remote and hybrid working can depend on various factors, including the type of role, industry and pay.

“Some workers might feel like they have ‘done their time’ in an office and now value things such as family and work-life balance more than they do their careers,” he says. “And why not? They have the ability to do so as they’ve spent years beforehand investing in their career. They almost have nothing to lose with respect to progression and therefore staying at home provides them with greater satisfaction. No divide will be created, but a knowledge gap for sure.”

However, some employees may worry about missing out on opportunities for progression when working remotely. Research has suggested that in-person work may be more likely to lead to promotions and salary rises, as remote workers struggle with reduced visibility. Additionally, younger people may be more likely to be working from smaller, rented homes with little or no space for a desk, and distractions such as housemates.

“There already seems to be an alarming division between those young who want to get back into the office and those who want to remain at home or take advantage of very flexible working,” says Beaumont. “Within social channels, it seems to be creating a ‘them and us’ culture which is going to be hard to eradicate.”

On top of this division, a generational gap in workplaces can stifle employees’ opportunities to learn and develop in their careers. Younger workers can benefit greatly from mentorship from more experienced, specialist employees. Likewise, young employees can help companies stay up to date with technological developments.

“Probably the most undervalued facet of office working has to be the lessons you learn and the knowledge you absorb by having the older and more experienced generation in the office with you,” says Beaumont.

“Often just sitting next to someone more superior helps you learn. If we now have the young in the office and the more experienced at home, where does the exchange of knowledge happen? How does a younger budding professional create those relationships with their bosses to help them move up the ladder?”

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Moreover, if those in offices are all within a similar age bracket, it can stifle creativity and innovation. Age-diverse workforces can also bring different perspectives, new ideas and improve problem-solving.

So what can employers do to prevent a generational divide from emerging in the future, as workplaces turn hybrid?

“Make sure you book in an ‘office day’ every month. This will help teams get to know each other and create better bonds,” says Beaumont. “While some may be at home over the longer term, it’ll help the younger generation to establish relationships with those more experienced than them.”

And while Zoom is now nothing new, it’s also important to keep investing in new technology to allow people to communicate without boundaries. “By investing in technology that helps employees communicate, you can remove a divide in an instant,” says Beaumont.

Finally, being empathetic is key. It’s important to accept the reasons why some people may be more comfortable in an office, and others prefer to work remotely. “I’m a huge fan of understanding someone else’s life,” he adds. “If you understand why they want to spend more time at home or in the office, you’re more likely to accept this and therefore work better as a team.”

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