Getting remote and flexible working right across the generations

Remote working

Within this article, Alex Graves, CEO of Silicon Reef, explores how remote, flexible and hybrid working are now part of life.

85 per cent of managers believe it will become standard to have some remote workers in their team. This has presented huge challenges over the last eighteen months, mainly technical and cultural. As the dust settles, there’s a new problem to solve; making it work across generations and lifestyles.  

Ironically, when considering remote and flexible working, it’s often with a one-size-fits-all mindset. Everyone gets the same tech and framework for how they should operate. Yet it’s quickly becoming clear that what works for one age group is woefully inadequate for another.

An early sign of this came at the start of the pandemic when middle aged workers with studies and spare bedrooms settled into a nice new lifestyle, while younger ones stuck in flat-shares balanced laptops on ironing boards and retreated into their bedrooms. There is now a long list of pitfalls that need to be considered if remote, flexible and hybrid working models are to fulfil their huge long-term potential. Each age group and type of worker needs to be taken into account from the younger to the older. From those with caring responsibilities to those without.

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Remote working is becoming the new norm across generations

Gen Z Zoomers

Whilst younger office workers are often seen as digital natives who might love operating in a virtual team, 71 per cent of those under 25 say they want to go into the office at least two days a week. They don’t want to work remotely on an exclusive basis. This isn’t just about lacking space in shared housing. It’s also about learning, growing and developing. When everyone was in the office, juniors could be welcomed to the team and it was easier to learn on the job, listening to colleagues, learning from seniors, seeing how things were done.

This calls for two key initiatives. Firstly, collaboration tools need to be used from day one so they can be onboarded and introduced from the start, despite not being in the same room as colleagues. There are simple ways to achieve this, such as new starters creating a profile to be shared on intranets or emailed to the relevant people. They also need to use online training materials and find ways to interact and engage with their peers, using virtual groups to share experiences, thoughts, and to make friends. Digital buddy systems are also a good idea.

Secondly, it’s vital to put clear processes in place, enabled by the tech. This means offering regular interactions, monitoring the quality of work and ensuring feedback is given in a timely and useful manner. This will allow effective supervision and ensure their development is managed.

Thirdly, if this group of workers wants to be in the office, let them! We need to find ways to bring the office and virtual workers closer together, wherever they are.

Parents, carers and gen Xers

While younger workers often have the freedom to have a truly flexible working pattern, those with caring responsibilities might not. This makes remote and flexible working an absolute must. But in taking advantage of these rights, they run the risk of being side-lined in the workplace if it’s not managed effectively by employers.

Parents are keenly aware of this with 29 per cent saying they were concerned their caring responsibilities would make them more vulnerable to redundancy when furlough ended. And they were right to be worried. Catherine Mann, a member of the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England recently said that women who work remotely will damage their careers and be stuck in the lower part of a two-tier system where the real decisions are made in the office.

Employers simply can’t let this cohort of workers suffer this fate. Again, a mix of technology and process needs to be put in place to solve the challenge. It has to be made clear from the very top that people cannot be shut out of conversations simply because they’re not in the office – and anyone seen to be exploiting someone’s physical absence needs to be a disciplinary issue.

Every step needs to be taken to ensure the gap between the office and the remote location is as narrow as possible. Whilst in its infancy, the metaverse might be one avenue to explore. Put simply, this is a virtual world that can mirror our own, experienced through a VR headset. Once in, workers can interact with each other in a manner close to a face-to-face experience.


It’s generally the case that older workers are more likely to want flexible and remote working than their younger peers. But at the same time, they’re perhaps less instantly capable of adopting new technologies and software to enable it. We need to be careful not to make wild generalisations, but YouGov data on multi-generational working shows that only 18 per cent of Baby Boomers say they feel informed and confident about new communication technology. In many cases, people like to stick with what they’re used to. This often ends up being email rather than Teams, SharePoint, Slack or any other collaboration platforms.

In this way, it seems that younger people favour the office environment yet are more capable of using remote collaboration software, and older people are more likely to ask for remote and flexible working yet are less able to use the tools that allow it. The irony of this situation underlines the stark need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. For Baby Boomers it’s vital to offer hands-on training opportunities, rather than the virtual training that under-25s often prefer. They also need the chance to engage with younger staff so they can share their experience and feel valued.

Flexible working calls for flexible implementation

This huge diversity of needs makes it crucial for businesses to understand people’s workplace preferences and then build flexible frameworks to suit. And while doing so, it’s vital that communication about decisions is crystal clear to avoid one group feeling like the other is getting special or even preferential treatment.

Remote, flexible and hybrid working are now part of life, and we have to make it work across ages and lifestyles. There are now four or even five distinct generations in the workforce, from Boomers to Zoomers. And let’s face it, what’s right for someone in their 50s or 60s is never going to be the same as what 20-somethings need.   

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Alex Graves

Alex is a co-founder at Silicon Reef with over a decade of experience working with Microsoft collaboration tools for Enterprise clients. As a non-technical person, Alex's focus is on people-led outcomes and is engaged with a variety of clients in digital strategy and increasing employee productivity and engagement using Microsoft technology solutions.

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