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Driving Multi-Generational Hybrid Work


Picture of video call about some colleagues in officer, others remote
Image: Blue Planet Studio -

This recent Fortune article touches on a challenge as workplaces continue to go through their hybrid work experiments: In the long term, many enterprises may see conflicting demands from different elements of their workforces, as younger employees exhibit a preference for working in the office, while more established workers will likely prefer remote working.

It’s a question of lifestyle: Younger people often look to the office as a place to socialize and make friends as well as to work; many also perceive the office as the best place for them to acquire the connections and learning that will help build their career. In contrast, older workers may have established themselves and want to work more independently; they may also have added responsibilities such as caregiving that make working from home preferable.

To the extent that these impressions hold true in a particular enterprise, how can they be reconciled? If the office is to be a place for younger workers to receive mentorship, you pretty much have to make sure the mentors come in. But if an enterprise has decided that hybrid (if not fully remote) work is key to retaining mid-career talent, how do you make sure there are mentors on site, at least for ad hoc learning?

The IT organization, and its partners in other teams in the business, may not be able to resolve the dilemma of a generational split when it comes to where work gets done. But they may be able to make the most of what the technology can offer, and make sure the office provides the best possible fit for the mix of employees that show up and the reasons they come in.

This seems more likely to happen if enterprises lean into some of the processes that have emerged in the post-pandemic hybrid work environment, setting specific ground rules around hybrid work. For example, at Enterprise Connect 2023 in March, Stacy Foster of Mastercard noted that her organization uses team agreements to spell out responsibilities within a hybrid work arrangement and makes these agreements available so employees see and understand what’s expected both of themselves and their peers.

Such agreements may help bolster the “why” of hybrid work. Enterprise executives often stress that, to get sincere buy-in from remote workers for any return to the office, there has to be a real purpose behind it. That may be special events or structured team-building, but it could also entail an understanding of the role that experienced workers play in helping to nurture younger workers, whether via formal mentoring or simply serving as a resource.

This doesn’t have to mean ending or even massively curtailing remote work for those who prefer it. The office doesn’t have to be constantly full to be useful. As Mark Grosvenor of insurance broker NFP pointed out during the panel with Mastercard’s Foster, sometimes a more lightly-populated office presents more opportunities for closer collaboration or access to experienced workers that a younger worker might not get in a full office, where that older worker has more people demanding their in-person time.

There’s a standard joke you hear, that, in this situation, would go something like: “Maybe hybrid work is really the friends we made along the way.” You don’t have to be friends with your co-workers, but they’re a core element to the purpose for any return to the office. Given that hybrid work may never reach a permanent end-state, it may make sense to focus on what happens along the way.