In a remote-working future, young people have so much to lose

31 August 2020 by CITY A.M.
City Am

Boris once again rolled up his sleeves for a fight last week as he put pressure on employers to bring their teams back to the office. 

It won’t be easy – the business world is at loggerheads. JP Morgan and Schroeders, the most corporate of employers, have committed to remote working on a permanent basis and tech companies are now advocating never coming back to the office.

I for one am backing the PM this time – because there is far too much at stake.

The most passionate argument for our return is to save the already buckling British high street. But the more pressing and devastating impact of moving to remote-first will be on the youngest generation in our workforce.

Ask anyone over 40 about work from home and they will probably advocate it. They have become jaded by office politics and worn down by the commute. But remember the excitement and adventure of going into a new job, starting a career, meeting people?

There are practical problems young workers face working from home, where many Gen Zers will be stuck in a shared house, without the technological benefits or peace of a home office. 

Then there is the impact on emotional and professional development. The experience anyone has in the early days of learning on the job is a foundation for how they perform throughout the rest of their career. Many young people form lifelong friendships in those early years – friendships which are not only emotionally necessary and stabilising, but later become powerful professional networks.

They miss that coffee shop trip. They want a chat with their workmates, and yes, maybe even a flirt. Many relationships start at work, with marriages and families to follow. It is a right of passage and it is being taken away. 

This is a generation starting their careers in the middle of the worst recession in living memory. And without having access to the professional tools and personal development that are gained from being in an office, they do not stand a chance. And we have to take very seriously the negative impact this way of working can have on their mental health.

I am about to launch my fourth business – a recruitment venture called Life Science People. The success of each of my companies has been driven in part by the energy of graduates and young professionals. I have hired thousands of first jobbers and I feel a deep sense of responsibility to this generation. So should every employer. 

Management should not be squirrelled away in their suburban family homes. The office environment requires input from every level, as the greenest team members absorb the cultural and professional tools they need from senior people in the company. 

I am not opposed to flexibility, especially given the current environment. Employers must be sensitive to an individual’s needs. But we cannot and should not sound the death knell for the office. 

The employees who need the tools and professional acumen to navigate the decades to come are the ones who need our support most today. The alternative is a dark lonely future for a whole generation of young workers and that will be a huge loss to the world.

David Spencer-Percival is the founder of Life Science People.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.