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How to help younger workers “return” to office they’ve never worked in

During the pandemic, businesses quickly adopted remote working models. That meant packing up our office desks and creating new (not always optimal) WFH setups for many of us. For young people who entered the workforce after March 2020, that meant remotely starting their first jobs. As the pandemic dies down, more and more companies are encouraging their workers to return to office — on either a full-time or hybrid working basis.

And graduate trainees and Generation Z workers are excited by this news. Generation Lab found that 40% of college students and recent graduates would like to work in the office full time. And a further 39% would prefer a hybrid working model with at least some office attendance.

But the reality is that many of these young workers have never actually set foot in an office. They’ve only met their teams virtually, and they aren’t familiar with office norms.

So what can employers do to help them settle into a new work environment? Let’s start by looking at what younger workers hope to gain from a “return” to the office.

Why are younger workers so keen to return to the office?

It comes as something of a surprise that Generation Z — a cohort of digital natives with a desire for good work-life balance — are so keen to return to the office.

So what is it about office life that appeals to this younger generation of workers?

Better work-life balance

While older people with families and other out-of-work responsibilities feel that remote work offers better work-life balance, Gen Z and graduate trainees don’t always agree.

Surveys show that some younger workers find it difficult to differentiate between personal and work time working from home.

A conducive working environment

Younger workers are more likely to share homes with parents or roommates. This helps explain why 41% of them worry about having access to distraction-free workspaces.

In-person support from peers and managers

Gen Z workers want to network and build connections within their company. They also want their hard work to get noticed, which is more difficult when they only connect with people via a screen.

Social connection with colleagues

30% of young workers feel they’re missing out on the social aspects of office work. Over 25% said that being in the office gave them a sense of belonging and purpose.

How to help graduate trainees/Gen Z workers return to office?


It’s clear that home-working isn’t a good fit for all graduate trainees and Gen Z hires. But when these younger colleagues have never actually set foot in the office before, you need to think about how you’ll help them through the transition.

Whether your younger workers are returning to the office full-time or part-time, here’s what you can do to help them hit the ground running.

Consider a phased return to the office

Switching from home working back to the office was a shock to the system for many seasoned office workers.

We’d grown unaccustomed to the hectic commute and a busy office. Getting thrown back into it all led many of us to experience back-to-office exhaustion.

For graduate trainees and Gen Z workers who have never experienced a commute or an office environment, the experience is likely to be even more taxing.

So consider a phased return, where you gradually build up the number of days you expect Gen Z employees to come into the office.

Make face-to-face introductions

Talking over Microsoft Teams is all well and good. But it can feel strange saying a face-to-face hello to someone you’ve only met via a computer screen.

That’s why team leaders need to facilitate face-to-face introductions.

You should also allow teams to get to know each other better, whether through team lunches, the odd happy hour, or more structured team-building events.

All of this will help Gen Z workers to start building the strong working relationships they crave.

Conduct onboarding and assign a buddy

Even though your graduate trainees and Generation Z hires may have worked for you for months, they’re still unfamiliar with the office environment.

So, create an onboarding program specifically for people hired during the pandemic.

Show younger employees around and introduce them to office norms and facilities. Tell them where they can make a coffee or where they can go for lunch. And don’t forget to show them how to book meeting rooms and (if you’re hot-desking) how they can book their desk.

Once initial onboarding is over, younger workers need someone they can turn to with questions and concerns. Assign a more experienced office buddy, so they always have a friendly face to turn to for help.

Give lots of feedback and encouragement

Gen Z workers are new to the world of work — as well as to the office.

It can be a daunting experience, with many young workers anxious about whether they’re understanding office etiquette and doing their job correctly.

Good managers will offer regular feedback and encouragement. They’ll do so on both an impromptu basis and through scheduled one-to-ones.

This is important for any new starter, but it’s essential for the cohort who entered the workplace during the pandemic.

Offer training in soft skills

Younger workers are often a little insecure about their skillset.

Recently, working from home means they’ve had less opportunity to develop their soft skills like critical thinking, leadership, and communication.

Try offering learning and development opportunities in this area. This could take the form of traditional courses, a mentorship program, peer learning, or on-the-job training.

Your graduate trainees and Gen Z hires will integrate into the office more quickly and effectively with good soft skills.

Create a strong community culture

When people return to the office, it’s good to highlight the benefits you get from working and communicating in the same real-world space.

Gen Z workers crave social connection — so provide it! Use free office space to host social events. Provide office perks like free snacks and barista coffee. Create breakout areas where people can sit and chat about non-work topics.

All of this will help strengthen your office-based team, and it’ll help Gen Z workers feel more a part of that team.

Model good work-life balance

Gen Z workers may be excited at the prospect of returning to the office. But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate a good work-life balance.

If you want to help relatively new hires feel optimistic about the office experience, try to hold onto the positive things remote work offered them.

That means maintaining a hybrid work model, where employees get to work from home for some of the working week if they wish to.

And it means modeling good work-life balance — not answering emails into the early hours, not staying late in the office every night — and, crucially, not expecting your young workers to do so either.

Utilize technology

Just because you’re back in the office doesn’t mean you should give up the software tools that proved helpful for remote working.

If you’re operating a hybrid model, you need the right tech and software to ensure all employees can stay productive and connected wherever they’re working.

You may also find that a few new tools can help bridge the gap between home and office.

For example, a desk or room booking service makes it easy for employees to book workspaces online.

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Smartway 2 is workplace scheduling software for modern, agile, collaborative companies, and it’s the perfect solution for tech-minded Gen Z workers. Request a demo today to see all of Smartway2’s great features in action!


Jackie Towers

Last updated April 7, 2022