For Gen Z, The Future of Work is Flexibility

Is the future of work remote or in-person? The answer lies somewhere in between.

Nearly two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the workplace is continuing to evolve, especially when it comes to remote vs. on-site environments. While some companies have fully returned to an office setting, others have implemented hybrid schedules or instituted indefinite or permanent work-from-home policies. 

Employee attitudes have similarly shifted during this time, with remote work becoming a strong preference for many. According to an August 2021 survey by PwC, 19% of workers would prefer to be fully remote even if COVID-19 were no longer an issue. An additional 37% preferred to work from home at least twice a week. But do these overall attitudes toward remote vs. in-person work also reflect the views of the newest entrants to the workforce? What are entry-level candidates and recent college graduates looking for in an office environment? 

RippleMatch’s most recent report – based on surveys from college students from Spring 2019 through Fall 2021 – analyzes how Gen Z candidates’ attitudes toward work environment and benefits have changed throughout the pandemic. We learned that Gen Z preferences are characterized by flexibility, both when it comes to work location as well as benefits that promote work-life balance. Here are a few of our findings. 

Most Gen Z candidates are open to a fully remote future

Despite experiencing virtual schooling, virtual internships, and virtual social interactions, a large share of up-and-coming Gen Z professionals are open to the idea of a fully-remote future in a post-COVID world. While some students had a strong preference for either remote or in-person work, about two-thirds of the students surveyed in Spring 2021 and Fall 2021 were equally interested in permanently remote jobs as well as jobs that would eventually have an in-person work requirement. An additional 18% indicated they were “very interested” in remote jobs, but not jobs that would eventually require them to return to an office. That means around 80% of candidates are embracing the prospect of never setting foot in an office, even when it’s safe to do so. When it came to their preference for remote work, these students cited flexibility in living location, cost-savings, and better productivity.

On the other side, there’s a nearly equal share of students that aren’t rejecting the office outright. These students were more likely to consider in-person work as a way to build community. Specifically, they cited challenges in bonding with coworkers and “establishing roots” as some of the main disadvantages of remote work. That said, student job seekers with a preference for the office aren’t interested in returning to the rigid pre-COVID status quo of in-office requirements.

Gen Z candidates would prefer a hybrid schedule over five days a week in the office

Even though many Gen Z’ers are interested in roles with in-person requirements, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to spend 40 hours a week working in an office. In fact, only 13% of the students we surveyed in Fall 2021 indicated that they wanted to be fully in the office five days per week. Conversely, 64% of respondents wanted to be back in an office no more than three days per week. 

Further emphasizing Gen Z’ers desire for flexibility, 23% of students responded that they didn’t want a designated in-office requirement and instead preferred the option to come into an office whenever they wanted. These overall trends suggest that hybrid schedules, with a combination of in-person and remote work opportunities, are also ideal for Gen Z.

Work-life balance is important to Gen Z job seekers

Throughout the pandemic, work-life balance has become increasingly important to Gen Z candidates. When students in Spring 2019 were asked to select from among five factors which were the most important during a job search, ”work-life balance” was the fourth most selected priority. However, in Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, “work-life balance” was the second most selected factor in the job search, only behind compensation and benefits. As COVID-19 has radically changed the way we work, live, and socialize, it’s not surprising that students have placed a greater emphasis on work-life balance since the pandemic began.

Additionally, when asked about the kinds of benefits that they value most in the workplace, flexible work options were selected by a higher share of Gen Z candidates than unlimited PTO, suggesting that flexible work options can support work-life balance for young candidates as much as offering generous time off.  

Across the board, the data makes it clear that there is no returning to the inflexible schedules of pre-pandemic professional life. The data also shows that the future of work won’t take place exclusively online. The next generation of talent will solidify the changes that took place during the pandemic as permanent fixtures of work, ushering in a new era of flexibility and balance. 

To learn more about what Gen Z values in the workplace, download our new report.


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