If the Technology Revolution began in 1991, with the advent of the World Wide Web, some who were comfortable in the conventional office space were confounded by the new ephemeral atmosphere. Competitive advantages that historically required hardscape for traction — sex discrimination, institutional racism, nepotism, retaliation and legacy — were virtually illusive in the more transparent climate of office politics where both the great and small were consigned to their own quadrangle box. COVID-19 further shunted the vast majority of the world into remote work and learning effectively turning many industries and institutions into a virtual landscape.
Remote working arrangements are not new, contrary to popular belief, and prior to the pandemic nearly 350 million people worked from home around the world. In March 2020, that number surged to 1/3 of the global workforce effectively shunting 1 billion employees into remote work globally. Those numbers have stabilized, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research who observes that “approximately 85% of those who worked remotely during the pandemic will continue to work either remotely or in hybrid arrangements permanently.” Moreover, they now want the option to choose.
With over 56 million among their ranks, Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force and represent the majority of remote workers. According to Gallup, they represent 52% of the U.S. labor force and at 47% nearly half work from home. Once criticized as the least engaged, showing the most turnover, and having the lowest rates of wellbeing within the traditional workspace, the Millennials now seem to be thriving! Can it last?
While the internet and COVID-19 combined to accelerate existing trends of remote work, e-commerce and automation, the outcome of the collision has created three trends that stand to reshape work after the pandemic recedes. First, remote work and virtual meetings are likely to continue after Covid-19. Second, the pandemic will propel the adoption of automation and AI, especially in work arenas with high physical proximity. Finally, a whopping 25% of the labor force will need to shift occupations to survive in the new virtual space.
The National Bureau of Economic Research observes that “approximately 40% of jobs can actually be done remotely,” and companies appear to be renovating their networks to support the new remote reality by digitalizing processes, moving data and applications to the cloud, and utilizing cutting-edge collaboration platforms. As the professional world settles into a new norm of working from home, soft skills have come to the forefront in hiring, job performance, recruiting and success. Here, Millennials are shinning above and beyond their colleagues.
Despite the economic carnage wrought by the pandemic, the competitive landscape for the recruitment and retention of employees is effectively a war for talent. Millennials have different expectations of employment and politics than their successors and for obvious reasons. For the Millennial, it was impossible to delete a bully from the playground or ‘friend’ a complete stranger or simply link-in with the right crowd. They had to work at it with applied social skills that hinged on accountability. While Gen Z conduct their relationships in the ether, and Baby Boomers remain averse, Millennials are well versed in both in-person and remote languages and combine what’s best in the physical and virtual worlds.
While they’re the largest demographic in the U.S. labor force, they’re also the last to ever live in the purely physical world. Flexibility > communication > work-life balance may be their creed, but it’s worth mentioning that 84% of millennial employees made a charitable donation in 2021, according to the Deloitte Millennial Survey, and 100% did so through their companies. The Millennials surveyed all agree “business can and should be a force for positive social impact” and they were the dominant demographic supporting #MeToo, Green Politics, and Black Lives Matter. They’re also the largest consumer and drivers of the electric vehicle revolution. Quite unlike their predecessors the Baby Boomers, accountability to economic markets isn’t coming at the cost of the public square. “If you’re looking for talent,” Henry Ford once said, “you needn’t look further than the applicant’s tax exemptions for the brightest and best among them.”
Restructuring commonly held cannons of belief to accommodate a different result is called “Statecraft.” In her memoir, Margret Thatcher wrote “the task of a statesman is to create a different result, not to re-create man.” Yet “statecraft” was that very word Tim Berners-Lee used to describe his new invention called the world wide web. Will mankind become increasingly indifferent as they block and delete their way toward the digital future? Or will they salvage deference and democracy from the old-world order? Merging onto the commons of e-commerce, social media, remote work and learning, the Millennials are the indefatigable flag barriers of both worlds.