Work from Anywhere? Gen Z and Millennials Ask, “Why Not?”

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Work from Anywhere? Gen Z and Millennials Ask, “Why Not?”
For Gen Z and millennials, the proverbial 40-hour fixed workweek with long-term benefits does not have the same appeal as it did for previous generations.
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

There’s no denying that the pandemic has and continues to challenge companies to rethink their workforce strategies, particularly with respect to remote work and gig opportunities.

When the pandemic first began to impact Australian shores in early 2020, almost overnight, companies were required to enforce work-from-home policies for most workers. Now, well into 2021, we’re seeing this trend persist as state lockdowns and stay at home orders continue. New data released in May this year claims that now almost half, (43 per cent), of Australians are spending some of their working week from home.

Many of the initial concerns faced by organisations associated with working from home – including performance evaluation, socialisation, data security and regulation – have been addressed with the aid of new technologies and work practices. In fact, the pandemic-induced remote work environment has provided ideal conditions to validate the benefits of remote work for organisations, workers, and society at large.

We’re seeing this ‘work-from-anywhere’ trend play out across the globe as regional hubs and countries take advantage of the challenges presented by the pandemic to attract individuals seeking alternative work environments. Within Australia, many people have swapped crowded cities for coastal seachanges. From Noosa to Wollongong, many people have moved for the attractive lifestyle and economic benefits that are now possible with the new ways of working. We are even seeing the emerging popularity of wi-fi-equipped motorhomes offering an alternative for those seeking to work remotely. The tech-savvy Gen Z and millennial generations are increasingly embracing such opportunities. 

Gen Z and millennials are changing the way we work by leaning into the gig economy and choosing fixed-term projects with flexible locations over traditional jobs. Arguably, this is the first generation of a workforce that strongly prioritises the need to balance their work and lifestyle choices over other criteria while seeking work. For more than three in five Australian Gen Zs (61%),  flexible working hours are extremely important to them in relation to their employment, with one in four (26%) also after workplace flexibility. Considering that by 2025 three-quarters of the global workforce will comprise Gen Z and millennials, it’s now more important than ever for companies to reevaluate their employer branding strategies, including how they attract younger talent and how they continue to engage and inspire them. 

An untapped resource

In times of disruption, external workers can be a valuable resource for organisations seeking rapid flexibility to address fluctuations in demand. According to global statistics released in the Agile Procurement Insights Report, conducted by SAP in collaboration with Oxford Economics, 63% of executives surveyed said the external workforce helps them compete in a digital world, and 62% said it provides extra capacity to help manage peaks in demand. External workers come in many forms including contingent workers, freelancers, independent contractors, consultants, and non-permanent personnel hired on a per-project basis. With Gen Z and millennials rapidly entering the global workforce and choosing flexible arrangements, what does this mean for them?

The pandemic has challenged countless businesses with unpredictable fluctuations in demand and supply which made traditional workforce-planning practices ineffective. Many businesses in industry sectors such as retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics have had to rely increasingly on external workers – workers who have the right skills to do the work, often at lower cost and with higher mobility. In the post-pandemic world, the increased demand for contingent labour is expected to continue, providing more opportunities for the digitally native Gen Z and millennial generations seeking flexibility in their jobs. Many specialised human talent clouds are emerging to connect organisations with external workers seeking alternative work engagements and at the same time organisations are seeking visibility across their traditional employee base and their extended talent pool of external workers to optimise workforce decisions. 

Preparing for the future

According to the 2020-2021 CXC Contingent Workforce Global Trends Report, 77% of executives across the globe believe freelance and gig workers will substantially replace full-time employees within the next five years. So how can organisations go about winning that highly sought after talent? It starts with embracing a holistic workforce strategy that includes employees and contingent workers and establishing mature contingent workforce management programs that complement existing HR solutions. For example, as a federal government agency, The Australian Tax Office had to meet strict compliance guidelines for its flexible workforce. To facilitate its services procurement and external workforce management processes, the organisation used our Fieldglass Vendor Management System to act as the single point of reference for all of its users, including agency hiring managers, talent suppliers, workers and the internal team. It also requires listening to the needs and motivations of younger workers and becoming a brand that values them for their contributions to the business. 

Organisations can do so by: 

  • Offering flexible work arrangements

  • Promoting collaboration by providing the necessary tools and technology to ensure contingent workers are connected to the rest of the workforce

  • Building a culture that is grounded in openness and transparency and that values and celebrates all categories of workers 

  • Committing to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) programs, setting realistic targets, and taking action

  • Managing brand reputation among the community 

  • Providing mentorship programs that allow for genuine two-way feedback and focus on learning and professional development for employees and contingents alike

For Gen Z and millennials, the proverbial 40-hour fixed workweek with long-term benefits does not have the same appeal as it did for previous generations of the workforce. Their choice of work is increasingly influenced by their desire to find purpose-driven work while balancing lifestyle needs. With many companies choosing to adopt a remote or hybrid workplace model, Gen Z and millennials are closer to the work experiences they always wanted. Organisations that promote flexible work arrangements and other perks attractive to younger workers as part of their workforce strategy are the ones likely to be best positioned to redefine the future of work and reap its greatest benefits.

Chris Willcocks is VP & Head of Intelligent Spend Management at SAP ANZ.

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