The past few years have been…. interesting, to say the least. Return-to-office mandates post-pandemic have sparked diverse reactions across the workforce. Accordingly, there’s also a noticeable intersection of generational perspectives and different priorities. Each age group brings unique expectations and challenges; noting these insights could be key to breaking the return-to-office code for organizations.

In this article, we look at how we can craft return-to-office policies that harmonize the varied preferences of a multi-generational team. We’ll explore return-to-office for each generation, from baby boomers to Gen Z, and how each generation might respond to hybrid and in-office work.

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Understanding the multi-generational workforce

Today’s workforce is a vibrant mix of generational diversity, each bringing its values, experiences, and expectations to the workplace. Workforce management will look different with every generation, especially workers from Gen Z and younger generations.

To better address each generation’s needs in the event of an office return, you first need to understand each generation and the job market. 

Here’s a look at some determining factors:

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They are often characterized by their strong work ethic and loyalty to their employers. They also tend to prefer the face-to-face communication of in-person work to working remotely and value stability and job security. 

Generation X

Generation X (or Gen X) are people born between 1965 and 1980. This generation is well-known for their independence, resourcefulness, and skepticism towards authority. They are concerned about their well-being, often seek a balance between work and personal time, and are adept at using traditional and digital work communications.

Millennials

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, have been reshaping the workplace with their affinity for:

  • Technology
  • Family and personal relationships
  • Well-being and work-life balance
  • A desire for meaningful work

They are comfortable with digital communication and often seek hybrid working arrangements like remote work. 

Gen Z

Finally, the younger Gen Z, born from 1997 onwards, are entering the workforce. Gen Z are digital-native and socially conscious people who seek instant feedback. They value:

  • Autonomy
  • Digital connectivity
  • Remote work
  • Opportunities for rapid career progression

Each generation’s unique perspective influences their approach to work and workplace preferences. If you plan to return to the office, understanding these generational differences is key to creating a harmonious and productive work environment.

Crafting a return-to-office policy with generations in mind

Calls to return to the office full-time have been growing post-COVID-19. 90% of companies said they would implement return-to-office mandates by the end of 2024. But is blindly declaring a policy and asking everyone to oblige enough to incentivize in-office work?

In this new era, businesses need to recognize and respect the generational diversity within their teams. If you simply require employees to return to work without considering their needs, you’re part of the RTO push that’s prolonging the great resignation. Crafting a return-to-office policy requires a nuanced approach that considers these differences.

For instance, baby boomers may appreciate the office environment’s traditional structure and social interactions. At the same time, younger generations like millennials and Gen Z might gravitate toward flexible work arrangements that allow remote work or a hybrid model.

Tips on Returning to the Office by Zahara art (Canva)

Source: Zahara art (Canva)

What’s the solution?

Finding a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be the goal. After all, understanding each generation’s diverse nuances and preferences should encourage us to be more flexible in the return-to-office push.

That said, effective policies should offer flexibility and structure, catering to the various needs and preferences across generations.

One idea is to incorporate flexible hours or hybrid work models that appeal to young people and their desire for work-life balance. While doing this, you can keep in-person collaboration and mentorship opportunities that satisfy the preferences of baby boomers and Gen Xers.

Moreover, communication about these policies should be multifaceted. You should combine traditional methods with digital platforms to reach everyone effectively. Doing so will help alleviate any apprehensions about returning to the office.

Additionally, consider involving informal representatives from each generational group in the policy-making process. This can make your return-to-office strategy inclusive and considerate of the entire workforce.

How to balance productivity and flexibility with return-to-office plans

Productivity is a significant battle cry for return-to-office strategies. However, there are ways you can balance productivity and flexibility in an RTO initiative. Here are some best practices to help you achieve that balance.

  • Use customized productivity tools – Implement various digital tools that cater to different generational needs. For example, older generations might prefer more straightforward and user-friendly platforms, while younger workers may lean towards advanced, multifunctional tools.
  • Provide flexible work schedules – Offer various working models like hybrid or flexible hours. These options will accommodate personal preferences and life commitments across generations. Those who want structure can maintain their structure, and others can build around it if operations and team dynamics don’t suffer.
  • Regular feedback loops – Establish frequent check-ins and feedback sessions to understand and track employee productivity, spot challenges and preferences, and adapt strategies.
  • Training and support – Provide training sessions for all remote workers. Promote digital literacy and remote work best practices to ensure everyone is comfortable and efficient in their work environment. 
  • Clear communication – Maintain open and transparent communication channels that suit all generations, such as a mix of emails, instant messaging, and face-to-face meetings. Maintain communication platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams, even with RTO setups, as these tools can benefit in-office and remote employees. 

Navigating the challenges of a multi-generational RTO

What should an employer prepare to do with an RTO initiative in a multi-generational team or company? Here are some tips and strategies to help you have a more seamless return to the good ol’ office.

  • Technology training and support – Even with a return to traditional office spaces, companies have to accept that digital tools will be part of the workforce’s future. Training isn’t just for those starting a new job. Offering comprehensive training sessions on new technologies and continuous support to less tech-savvy people will greatly help. This way, you can ensure a smooth transition for all employees.
  • Start with hybrid meetings – Incorporate a mix of in-person and virtual meetings to cater to those who thrive in face-to-face interactions and those who prefer digital communication. A slow and steady transition could help minimize friction in the workplace as you implement in-office days.
  • Create mentoring programs – Pair the younger generations with more experienced ones in cross-generational mentoring programs. This approach to your RTO strategy can help encourage knowledge transfer and mutual understanding between people with different backgrounds, attitudes, and preferences.
  • Build tailored communication – Use various communication methods, including traditional memos and modern collaboration platforms. Every generation needs to feel included and informed; overcommunication through different channels can help highlight that.
  • Focus on feedback-driven policy making – Policies work better when they’re receptive to people’s feedback and suggestions. Regularly collect feedback from employees of all ages to understand their concerns and preferences regarding the return to the office and adjust policies accordingly.
  • Make a clear checklist – To successfully navigate your return-to-office journey, consider developing a comprehensive RTO checklist. It’s best to integrate insights from someone with a business and psychology degree to offer a holistic approach to employee engagement and productivity.

Will things go back to the way they were?

Returning to the office will significantly impact how different generations perceive and engage with their work environment. The secret to navigating this transition lies in embracing flexibility, practicing open communication, and understanding each generational group’s unique needs and strengths.

As you implement these strategies, remember that change is a process. It requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to adapt. Encourage ongoing dialogue among your team members and be receptive to their feedback. This approach smoothens the transition and also strengthens your organization’s culture, helping every generation feel valued and understood.

Remember that this return to the office is an opportunity for growth and innovation. You can create a dynamic and future-ready workplace by blending a multi-generational team’s diverse skills and perspectives. Stay open-minded and flexible, and embrace what each generation brings to the table. After all, it could be the competitive edge you need to find top talent and bring employees with the skills you need into the fold. 

Category: Management