The generational divide: Telecommuting during the coronavirus pandemic

Gen Z, millennials and Gen X adapt to remote work life at different rates, the National Research Group found.

The coronavirus outbreak expedited the evolution of remote work, and different generations are adapting at different rates, a National Research Group (NRG) report found. More than half (51%) of workers said they would feel safer working from home than coming into the office, and employers agree, with offices across industries asking staff to telecommute.

NRG's Ready or Not: The Future of Work is Here report, released on Thursday, assessed how Gen Z (ages 18 to 24),  millennials (ages 25 to 39) and Gen X (ages 40 to 54) are handling a new remote working style. While some employees may have already been working remotely, many were not or did not have their entire team doing the same. 

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

"Each generation has a set of values or lens with which they're experiencing working from home," said Jon Penn, CEO of NRG. 

Productivity for those who miss the office structure 

Half (50%) of Gen Z respondents said they are less productive working from home when compared to coming into the office. Another 51% also said they are more distracted at home, the report found. 

With Gen Z being digital natives, or growing up in a technological age and thus more familiar with the equipment, it may seem ironic that they are the least productive, Penn said. 

However, the office space does provide a sense of structure—a quality that is often critical for young professionals. That sense of accountability and oversight is particularly important for Gen Z employees, most of whom have been probably accustomed to a school structure, Penn added. 

Social and cultural impact 

When analyzing the social impact of COVID-19, younger generations are much more concerned. The majority (71%) of Gen Z and 67% of millennials said they are worried about the cultural impact of the virus in regard to how we communicate with each other, the report found. 

More than half (56%) of Gen Z said they want to go into the office because they like being social with their coworkers, and 46% of Gen Z said they are worried that working from home will make society more isolated. 

"What's so interesting about this generation is how much they need the social fabric of being with other people in person. So, for them in real life, that is the office," Penn said.

"When you take that away, they're really missing the social connectivity of seeing people. They feel it's a lot easier to share ideas in person rather than online," Penn noted. "You never would've thought this for this generation, but right now they are feeling the most isolated."

Gen X has the advantage here, mainly because they have more life and work experience, lending them to be more independent, Penn added. 

Economic impact and self-sufficiency 

Three in four millennials and Gen Xers who lived through previous recessions are most concerned about the financial impact of the coronavirus, the report found. 

Many are much more willing to work from home, not only do they still get a paycheck, but they can also care for their kids who may not be in school due to the coronavirus, said Ben Rogers, NRG's president of platforms and technology. 

More than half of Gen Xers (52%) said they think it is more convenient to work from home, and nearly half (49%) said they don't mind staying in their homes for long periods of time, the report found—this view is a far stretch from their younger colleagues.  

"[Gen X] has just been working longer," Rogers said. "They're more likely to have, let's be honest, reached a stage in their career where they can demand some of that flexibility of working from home and and actually get it, as a part of a company trying to appeal to them."

Because of these factors, Gen Xers are actually more comfortable working remotely than Gen Zers or millennials, mainly because they've had more experience. 

How to solve for obstacles: 5 tools 

The biggest pain points for remote work across generations including distractions, loneliness, and lack of access to the devices available at work, the report found. 

The data suggested turning to technology as a means for bridging the remote work barriers. Respondents cited the following five tools as the most potentially useful. 

1. Hands-free screens on-the-go (69%)

With this tech, users could work from anywhere and from multiple screens, allowing for real-time collaboration with coworkers.  

2. Virtual events (67%)

Many high-profile industry events have already opted to go virtual, and respondents agreed that it was a good idea. Instead of in-person meetings, conference attendees could still network digitally through video. 

3. Document/record memories (66%)

Respondents also confirmed that capturing and sharing videos or photos with friends/coworkers can help to retain interpersonal connectivity. 

4. Interactive learning/skill development (65%)

Employees also said that online training could be a great change of pace when working from home. 

5. Remove language barriers (64%)

Technology can also help employees easily communicate with people remotely. With instant online translation tools, international conference calling is not a barrier. 

For more, check out How to use remote collaboration now and after the coronavirus pandemic on TechRepublic.

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