For young adults in 2022, having a job has taken on a whole new meaning. Work from home is no longer an exception to the rule or some trendy start-up’s culture; in fact, it seems to be the reigning majority. For most standard corporate jobs, remote or hybrid work is almost expected at this point. If it isn’t an option, many people quickly sift it out of sight and continue to collect companies that are offering positions as flexible as a gymnast. When a completely customized daily schedule is no longer a far cry, how can in-person work compete?
The most obvious short-term negative effects of remote work on mental health are feelings of loneliness, depression and disconnection resulting from isolation. The lack of work-life balance and boundaries, coupled with a reduced social life, are symptoms of telecommuting that many of us experienced first-hand during the pandemic.
Remote work has many benefits — improved efficiency, saving time with zoom calls, not requiring an office space, more schedule flexibility and generally cutting a lot of business costs that are associated with working in person. Many people, mainly the younger part of the workforce, are more than happy to work from home. A dress shirt paired with PJs on the bottom – Gen-Z has no problems with a business in the front, party in the back model.
However, this is the first time we’re seeing remote work implemented on such a wide-scale, and humanity has never seen such a drastic change to what having a job means. Generations before us were shocked when desk jobs became the norm, but not being present physically at a job is a whole other ball game we’re talking about. Specifically, younger working-class people will face the brunt of the long-term consequences.
Remote work may have evident benefits, but the price we pay for convenience is far greater. Your ability to develop interpersonal skills suffers severely and without the soft skills to communicate, collaborate and connect with others, it is indefinitely harder to let technical skills shine. So much raw talent flies under the radar because people don’t know how to articulate and project themselves to the world.
Many college students will not get to take the “traditional” trajectory of a freshly graduated, young hopeful. Remote work rips down that dream — a new, much more “adult” world that they were promised by society as they were growing up — in such a stately manner that it feels hard to contest.
As a college student currently working part-time at an on-campus job with a physical office space, I’ve been getting a taste of what a full-time desk job might be like. Technically, I’m not required to be in the office; a lot of my work can be done remotely. To some students, this is the absolute dream — not having to get dressed, make the commute or interact with anyone while still getting paid the same. But through my observations over time, I see a drastic difference in how things get done on-site versus remotely. Workplaces, by nature, host much more than its workers. The typical day job is interlaced with idle chats between coworkers, smiles of mutual acknowledgement, nods of support from a boss and other trivial interactions. It’s the little things that add up — having that buddy at work to joke around with about nothing particularly important could possibly be what motivates someone to avoid calling out sick in the morning.
Virtual culture cuts these unessential elements down significantly; many virtual meetings tend to begin with some polite small-talk for the sake of it and then it’s straight down to the brass tacks. Everyone is looking to log off and jump back into bed as soon as they hear, “Ok everyone, that’s a wrap for today.” Older generations with families and other commitments to get back to see remote work as more time to live their lives outside of work. But for Gen Z and millennials, life is mostly work. The goal for most young adults after graduating is building a successful career and hopefully reaping the benefits of their hard-earned — and wallet-torching — degrees. Their main concern is doing whatever it takes to excel at their work, so if that means coming in early and staying up late, they’ll do it.
With remote work, the initial learning-curve at an entry-level job is severely stunted. In an on-site job, simple doubts can be easily cleared with a tap on your neighbor’s shoulder. If you work from home, there’s a zero percent chance that a senior higher-up or more experienced colleague will witness you struggling to navigate the company software and quickly offer a tip or trick that they learned the hard way when they were new. Being comfortable and knowing you have that kind of support from the community puts many inexperienced people at ease. If I have to incessantly email a colleague every time I have a trivial (but un-google-able) question, I’m much less inclined to ask for help and end up spinning my wheels into the ground and wasting time. It poses the question that a BBC work-life article aptly asks: “Can younger workers grow in the same way while working at their kitchen tables?” The lack of community, teamwork and collaboration is not only detrimental to the whole business function, but it also inhibits professional development individually.
The connections we make with our team when meetings run late at the office and the daily chit-chat with coworkers by the water cooler are not as inconsequential as we may think. For the next wave of workers entering the force, remote work will have a detrimental impact on the critical soft skills that are traditionally formed in the early stages of their career.