Gen Zs are preparing to enter unprecedented work environments with an increasing number of remote and virtual options.
The next generation, Generation Z, is getting ready to enter the workforce. Gen Zers are defined as those born between 1997 and 2012. They are preparing to enter an unprecedented environment with technology that allows remote and virtual options like never before.
They are also facing a workforce like no other, thanks to a global pandemic. What does a career look like for a generation who might not be able to go beyond the confines of their home for weeks or months to come, save for essential supplies?
COVID-19 is just part of the equation making up the conundrum that Gen Z is facing. They are also coming of age in a tight labor market with increasingly skyrocketing rates of unemployment.
Gen Z is also the first generation in history to be learning in a completely virtual school environment. Although this situation is relatively new, we’re already getting feedback on what it’s really like for an entire American generation to “go to school” without leaving their room. And some of them aren’t very happy about it.
What the new generation says about remote work
According to a survey published in April in the Journal of Media Education, Gen Z prefers learning in person. This is in stark contrast to the generation often thought of as incapable of looking away from a screen for any distinguishable amount of time.
However, the researcher behind the study, Barney McCoy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that professors will be in for unexpected surprises and challenges when this generation reaches college — or the workforce.
McCoy surveyed 1,000 students over the past 2 years and found that the amount of time Gen Z spent on their smartphones and checking them has actually decreased. Ultimately, he found that even though this generation grew up with technology, “most of them prefer in-person communication over tools like texting and videoconferencing. My research found this is happening in classroom settings and has remote learning applications, too.”
Last year, Gen Z spent 19% of “class time” on a digital device, but for non-class reasons. That’s a decrease from 2015 when the average was 21%. McCoy says Gen Z is better at focusing in a classroom but their attention span is shorter than Millennials.
McCoy is continuing his research, and on March 30 and 31, 2020, he found that 80% of students from his Zoom reporting classes said they’d prefer to be in a real classroom.
He also found that Gen Z prefers self-directed coursework, face-to-face time with teachers, and to take notes by hand. Now in the midst of the coronavirus, McCoy is continuing his research, and on March 30 and 31, 2020, he found that 80% of students from his Zoom reporting classes said they’d prefer to be in a real classroom
Gen Z as learners and workers
Gen Z is full of active learners who do well in blended classrooms, and the same can be expected when they join the workforce. They thrive with collaborative learning strategies and tools that are on demand.
They are inherently digital natives, and this perspective and experience will come with them into the workforce. Gen Z is telling us right now, as students, what they prefer and what they need to do well and be productive in school. They will require, expect, and demand the same thing when they start their career paths.
How to transition from school to work
Perhaps Gen Z will be the first generation to embrace a blended approach to work: utilizing technology when necessary and when it works best but also prioritizing in-person “real” communication.
COVID-19 is giving us a taste of what it looks like when the majority of employees work from home. Some are thriving, some are adapting, and some got an immediate case of cabin fever. We know remote work isn’t for everyone. It’s great for a certain, select group of people regardless of generation.
However, like all generations, some majority preferences will emerge from Gen Z, and we’re already getting a glimpse into one of them. This is a generation that needs in-person contact, according to the Journal of Media Education study. They are well-versed in what it’s like to live a digital life. Once the acute crisis of COVID-19 has passed and remote work is no longer the forced norm, we must also look ahead to what Gen Z will bring to the workforce.