During the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, the narrative was that remote work was monotonous for younger workers trapped in small apartments and a blessing for their bosses, who had spacious offices in their homes.
That young people were missing out on in-person learning, while their superiors were more focused on how to spend the money saved on transportation.
However, heAttitudes towards remote work are much less polarized.
Most traditional office workers seem to value the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week. There is some variation by age, but it is not large or consistent enough to be significant.
A recent study by consultants at McKinsey & Co. found that workers aged 18 to 34 were 59% more likely to leave their jobs than those ages 55 to 64 if their employer did not offer a hybrid work arrangement.
Broader research on work arrangements and attitudes (conducted in collaboration between the Universities of Chicago, ITAM, MIT, and Stanford) presents more nuanced findings.
Workers under the age of 30 were more likely to start looking for a new job if their employer denied them the hybrid job. But heThose over 50 were more likely to quit immediately.
Much depends on how the question is asked.
Invite workers to think about the remote work option for two or three days in terms of a pay raise, and those in their 30s and 40s place the highest value on it.
Ask what raise it would take to work in your employer’s offices five days a week, and it’s the over-50s who want the biggest raise.
The important point is that support for a hybrid arrangement is generally high.
The appeal of reduced commute time, often the most talked about benefit of remote work, clearly goes beyond older workers.
Younger workers can feel the impact of transportation costs in your disposable income more acutely; the most central segments of public transport networks are often the busiest.
Meanwhile, millennials have had a couple of years to get used to working together and negotiating common spaces with their housemates.
What does all this mean for entrepreneurs?
The tightness of the labor market and the need to attract emerging talent will continue to force most large companies to offer the option of at least some remote work.
The downside is that the long-term impact of this change remains unknown.
Some of that belief from the start of the pandemic about learning loss at work and interpersonal interaction should remain a concern.
Less office occupancy means less knowledge transfer between generations and weaker internal relationships.
This can be seen as sources of competitive advantage and as an ability to attract talent.
When things go wrong in companies, the explanation often comes down to culture. Even if the activity can be neatly divided into individual tasks that are best done remotely and collaborative tasks that are best done in the office, something is inevitably lost in the separation: learning by imitation and the ability to knock on the metaphorical open door of a colleague, for instance.
These benefits do not disappear with hybrid work, but they are at risk of diminishing.
So expect employers to offer the hybrid option while encourage the use of the office.
One thing that might help on this front is offer more flexible working hours to avoid peak travel times and allow non-work commitments to be fulfilled.
The second biggest reason why remote work is attractive is the ability to manage domestic and social responsibilities, according to a survey of London workers by King’s College London.
Travel costs can become a more explicit part of salary negotiations. Companies must also respond to what people see as the downsides of office work, often the prevalence of distractions.
For example, it was reported that Alphabet Inc.’s Google is planning to provide more space for people in its future offices.
This reinforces the trend towards corporate tenants seeking higher quality spaces in prime locations.
Vacancy rates for high-end offices were just 4% in central London versus 8% overall at the end of 2021, according to property consultants Cushman & Wakefield.
Developer British Land Co. recently pre-let a building in London’s financial district four years before its scheduled completion date.
But Updating offices in major cities around the world for the post-pandemic era it will not happen overnight.
Unless attitudes radically change or the balance of power between employers and employees changes, the hybrid experiment will take a long time to show results.