Millennials might be the largest living generation at the point, but they’re still widely misunderstood. That’s especially true when it comes to their working styles and preferences.
Case in point, everyone seems to think Millennials view telecommuting as the be-all and end-all of career fulfillment. As a Millennial myself, I can say that’s not exactly true. Yes, many Millennials appreciate having the option to work from home. Nevertheless, we also like the social aspect of being in an office setting. Perhaps it’s the flexibility we crave instead of the ability to commute from our beds to couches.
Millennials aren’t alone in this desire for work flexibility, though. The coronavirus pandemic forced millions of workers — from Boomers to Generation Z — to create home office spaces. Consequently, nearly half of Americans with full-time jobs want to have the option to work from home once the pandemic has passed; almost 20% of employers are on board with the practice. This shift will be vital in keeping employees of any generation (but especially my fellow Millennials) happy and motivated.
My experience with telecommuting during the pandemic
At Jelmar, we never worked from home pre-coronavirus. When everything changed, however, we didn’t miss a beat. We pivoted, using tools like Microsoft Teams, Office 365, and Dropbox. It didn’t feel like we lost any momentum, and we found ways to be creative with our work. Once we got used to it, we concluded that working from home wasn’t some strange beast; it was a viable, valuable option.
Of course, not all companies see telecommuting in a positive light — even those that went virtual during the height of the pandemic. Why? Managers worry that employees will be less productive and more easily distracted when they’re at home. That might be true some days, but the same thing can happen in the office.
I’ve seen many cases of presenteeism, where a team member just goes through the motions while at the office. Therefore, working from home probably isn’t the actual problem. Speaking personally, I’ve had many work-from-home days where I was super productive from start to finish — and many in-office days where it was tough to get into a groove and clear out my project list.
The real-world pros and cons of remote work
Pros of remote work
Despite some of the attitudes surrounding remote work, it offers tremendous advantages. The average commute is slightly more than 27 minutes, according to Washington Post figures. And that’s just one way. Who wouldn’t want to reclaim hours of travel time — that could be used for work — during the week?
Telecommuting also reduces the need to waste chunks of personal time on nonessential, mundane tasks. For example, we recently experienced hail damage after a major storm — not fun. Instead of using PTO to deal with the consequences, I was able to be at home to meet up with contractors. That made the experience far less stressful while still allowing me to get work done.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another benefit of remote work that we’ve all enjoyed: wearing sweats. To be sure, I usually get ready for the day just like I would if I were going to the office. Occasionally, though, I institute my own “casual days.” And it’s always nice to get a workout in during lunch without worrying about whether I’ll be too sweaty for the office.
Cons of remote work
This isn’t to say there aren’t disadvantages to remote work. The biggest drawback for me has been limited face-to-face interaction with co-workers. Being physically present at work naturally leads to friendships, innovation, and a stronger culture. Yes, my colleagues and I can talk via videoconference or over the phone, but it’s hard to read body language and verbal cues without being in the same room.
In addition, not all homes are conducive to remote work. Sitting at a cramped kitchen table might be great for a day or two, but it’s not an effective workspace in the long term. Meanwhile, figuring out when the workday ends and personal time begins is much more difficult if you’re at home. Can you really decline an 8 p.m. meeting when you were just planning to watch TV with your partner at that time? It’s a sticky situation that requires finesse.
Are the cons enough to eschew telecommuting? I don’t think so. They’re just reasons to be pragmatic and strategic if you’re going to allow your team to work virtually all the time, part of the time, or whenever necessary.
Making telecommuting work for millennials — and everyone
If you have a cadre of Millennials on your team, know that they’re probably enjoying remote work and want the ability to continue after the pandemic. But if they’re like me, they aren’t ready to give up going into the office altogether. Here are a few ways you can meet their needs without sacrificing those of your organization:
1. Normalize a work-from-home protocol
You might have a mental image of a worker lounging around at home instead of working on tasks. Unless you have evidence that this is happening, let go of that image. If employees were engaged and dependable while working in the office, they will probably be the same while telecommuting. Take time to create a human resources policy on telecommuting. A set policy brings structure to the process and protects your organization; it also gives clear guidelines for supervisors and the people they manage.
This policy should address when employees are expected to be in the office and how this will be communicated, giving them enough time for planning. In addition, it should cover who is eligible to telecommute, how they will communicate that they’re telecommuting (e.g., via formal request or Slack message), what conditions dictate telecommuting (e.g., bad weather, sick kids, etc.), and how team members will collaborate while they’re not in the office.
Remember, telecommuting doesn’t replace PTO or sick days — employees are still working. Lastly, you’ll want to review the policy regularly based on the needs of your organization and your employees.
2. Help employees set up comfortable spaces
Some of your team members may not have all the equipment necessary to get the job done from home on a long-term basis. Ask if you need to supply anything, such as notebooks, Post-it notes, standing desk converters, or extra computer monitors.
These investments are a small price to pay for increased output while working from home — especially since about two-thirds of managers state that employees who work from home are more productive than those in the office.
3. Keep encouraging contact between remote and in-office employees
Many companies and departments have mastered technologies like Zoom and Slack during the pandemic, keeping everyone in the loop and fostering impromptu dialogue and brainstorms. Instead of assuming that communication will continue to happen organically, put steps in place to urge everyone on your team to stay in contact. This is especially important if only a portion of your team works from home.
Those fun Slack prompts and Zoom happy hours that you’ve grown used to for team bonding? They shouldn’t go away. Maintaining these activities will go a long way to ensuring you don’t have two separate groups form — those who work in the office and those who work from home.
4. Work on growing the remote team
If you do change your policy on working from home, be sure to advertise it when you look for new hires. Since the start of the pandemic, many companies have begun to attract talented candidates by offering remote work opportunities.
Applicants will be on the lookout for this perk, so give them what they want. Your business will seem flexible, open, and modern — perfect for job seekers from any generation. This will also cement that remote work is now part of your company culture.
Long-term remote work may be beneficial
The pandemic has taught us many things, including that much of the work we do can be accomplished from anywhere. And that’s not just the Millennial perspective — it’s the result of the largest (and most unexpected) work-from-home experiment in history. As long as tasks are completed on time and at the quality you expect, does it really matter if your employee’s office companion barks and has a tail?