The demographics of who benefits most from trends in mobile working are not as obvious as you’d think. Remote working typically benefits an older workforce, not those just starting out in their careers.
One of the big workplace trends at the moment is the growing use of mobile devices enabling work to take place anywhere. And talk often centres around the latest generation entering the workforce – the ‘Millennials’ as they have been charmingly labeled. Those who have grown up surrounded by digital technology and have much higher expectations about how they are able to use technology in everyday activities compared to older generations. There is an assumption that more work will take place outside the boring uninspiring 20th Century-designed office.
But there is a flaw to this argument.
The people who talk about the shift to mobile and home working tend to be around my generation and slightly older. Late 30s to mid 50s. Well-established in a career. Likely to have their own home. Often with children. And own home means the luxury of being able to create your ideal home office.
Many 20-somethings that fall in the ‘Millennials’ bracket, thanks to the current economic climate we find ourselves in, are still living at home with their parents or renting cramped accommodation with limited disposable income. Their home office environment is more likely to resemble the image below than the one at the start of this article.
Source: Flickr image ‘My bedroom home office‘ kindly shared by Gabriel Pires
To steal a line from an old British TV presenter – ‘Who would want to work in a place like this?’ Remote working presents two potential issues for the younger workforce:
- Crappy home working environment
- Slower or limited career development
Yes mobile devices mean we can work anywhere and on the move. But the reality is we are still stationary for large chunks of the time, either at the office, at a remote location or working from home. Home working benefits those who are already established and well-connected in their work, and have outside commitments they’d like to see more of like sometimes being able to pick the children up from school. When you are just starting out, having an office to go to, work out of and socialise nearby with colleagues and like-minded individuals is incredibly important, psychologically for well-being and developing a social life as much as for professional career development. There’s a reason why industries tend to gravitate around locations such as Silicon Valley for tech and the financial districts of London and New York.
I’ve seen first-hand the distress caused to younger employees when a company announces a push to increase remote working and use hot-desking from any location when there is a need to visit the office. Mobile working benefits those further up the hierarchy of an organisation. It potentially creates barriers for the next generation who have yet to build a network of contacts, establish a reputation or even begin to navigate the tricky waters of office politics that play a significant role in career development whether we like it or not.
Whilst being able to offer flexible working undoubtedly helps attract and retain talent, providing the best possible office environment is also important if you want a keen and engaged workforce. Just as paper is still the optimum format for some information-work scenarios, face-to-face conversations easily trump virtual meetings in many decision-making scenarios. It potentially goes further – as more and more recorded information is shared openly beyond organisational walls thanks to the Internet, those offline conversations at work will hold more value.
Flickr image featured at the start of this post – ‘My new home office takes shape‘ kindly shared by Keith Survell