We all know the term “digital natives” to describe those who grew up with digital technologies as an integral part of everyday life. In many ways, digital natives’ perspectives on life and society are fundamentally different from those who grew up in the analog era. They’re hardwired to expect frictionless services such as instant access to information, borderless communication and on-demand entertainment.
In the era of remote and hybrid work, we’re also seeing the emergence of a new group, one whose experiences with work are also fundamentally different from any of those who entered the workforce before them. These employees are the “hybrid natives.”
Who are hybrid natives?
Comprised mostly of Gen-Zers and the very youngest of Millennials, hybrid natives entered the workforce just before or during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of them began their careers during lockdown. They were onboarded, integrated and have executed their jobs in an entirely remote, virtual work setting. Many only met their colleagues in-person more than a year after beginning the job. Others still haven’t met them at all.
Over time, as their local Covid-19 situation improved, some came into the office for the first time. Then, when it got worse again, they may have been sent back home again. Whatever their situation, their entire experience with work has been characterized by constant movement between working locations. For most hybrid natives, working from home, holding virtual meetings and collaborating with fully distributed teams are the status quo. Return to the office? For this group of workers, it will be more of an introduction.
What makes them different?
In our new Hybrid Ways of Working 2022 Global Report, Gen-Z—and to a certain extent, Millennials as well—stood apart from Gen-X and Baby Boomers on many different factors when it came to working condition expectations and experiences. This was most notable when looking at the role of location in work. For example, 10% of Gen-Z reported that their usual workspace was a third space, such as a café, library, or co-working space. That’s twice as many as Millennials and roughly three times as many as Gen-X and Boomers.
Additionally, 64% of Gen-Z and 63% of Millennials said they considered their “office” to be their laptop, headset and wherever they can get a strong internet connection. When compared to 48% of Gen-X and 43% of Baby Boomers, it’s clear that the future of work, a workforce comprised increasingly of these two younger generations is likely to prioritize having the freedom to work from anywhere.
Why does it matter?
When it comes to enabling autonomy (subscription required) and flexibility for employees, the decisions that organizations make right now will impact them far into the future. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Gen-Z—those born beginning in 1997—will make up roughly one-third of the civilian labor force by the year 2030. A hybrid workweek is considered the ideal workweek for Gen-Z (65%) and Millennials (67%) at a far higher rate than for Gen-X (57%) and Baby Boomers (54%). There is a clear value shift in where these younger generations want to work, one that may have significant impact on an organization’s ability to reach these employees in the future.
None of this is meant to dismiss the immense value of having a generationally diverse workforce or is by any means a recommendation that leaders should only tailor themselves to the needs of younger workers. Any organization thrives best when its employees have a wide range of knowledge and experiences from which to draw, and age is certainly one of the most crucial factors to consider in this equation. For organizations to succeed in the future, they’ll need to understand how past experiences impact their employees’ understandings of the where, when, why and how of work.
What should we do about it?
With so much of today’s work taking place on digital platforms, the work experience is now largely defined by the quality of our virtual experience. This is especially true for hybrid natives. The absence of a previous workspace means that their sense of belonging, productivity and well-being has hinged entirely on their company’s ability to deliver a flawless virtual onboarding and cultural experience.
However, not everyone has had this flawless experience. For example, we’ve seen from our research that users of consumer audio devices are feeling more left out in virtual meetings than those with professional audio devices. As Gen-Z are the highest adopters of consumer devices, as well as those with the weakest networks within the organization, it’s not surprising that they’re also the generation feeling most left out in virtual meetings. As a disclosure, my company Jabra is one provider of such tech solutions.
As work only continues to trend toward these virtual spaces, getting the tech equation right will be central in defining these—and future—generations’ experiences at work. According to research from Dell, 80% of Gen-Zers said they aspired to work with cutting-edge technology and 91% indicated technology had the power to influence their choice if presented with similar job offers. Leaders need to understand that not all technology is created equal. Professional virtual environments call for professional technology to make sure everyone feels included and that they are a full and contributing member of the organization. In an era where permanent desks and offices are rapidly fading away, professional technology will continue to be a key component of the hybrid native employee experience.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.