The incoming workforce is demanding hybrid working and lower screen time...Katie Heggs with permission for Varsity

In our post-pandemic dystopia, offices have become graveyards mourning a bygone era. The high-rise “ghost towns” are struggling to be repurposed and fit current needs. The way we work has changed forever. This is what some reports seem to have envisaged; the reality may be much more nuanced.

“Offices have become graveyards mourning a bygone era”

In the next few years, “Gen Z″ will be slowly entering the workplace as the first generation raised online pretty much since childhood. However, just because we were raised on screens, it doesn’t mean that we want to spend our whole working lives behind one. The 2021 Work Trend Index plotted the risk of digital isolation across all age groups, but especially Gen Z, who are more likely to report feeling disengaged from work or unable to contribute. Further research in 2022 suggests that Gen Z are also more likely to want to return to the office to connect and socialise with others.

If employers are set on online working, then soon each aspect of our lives will become dominated by online activity and the room for reduced screen time will disappear (yes, I’m talking to you, iPad babies). This distinct cultural shift will make successfully switching off from work even harder. As our inboxes and Teams chats become constantly accessible, the struggle to separate ‘work’ and ‘home’ has the potential to be even more damaging to our interpersonal relationships.

After years of online school, we seem to have had a collective nightmare about the awkwardness of Zoom meetings – the game of guessing when to chime in, inevitably interrupting someone and reverting back to secondary school muteness anyway. Even if employers manage to do what teachers couldn’t and get everyone to have their cameras on, it could put us back into a virtual hierarchy, where it is overly clear who is leading the meeting and who listens.

Individual circumstances need to be taken into account in other ways too. If I decide to move to the big city after graduation, how the hell will I find somewhere to live, not just in terms of rent but a work desk set-up? Equally, I might end up saving hundreds of pounds on transport costs by choosing to work from home. But there is not one size fits all, and employers need to remember this. We shouldn’t accept a lack of flexibility and limited protection of wellbeing in the name of corporate profits, in any context.

“There is not one size fits all, and employers need to remember this”

This principle is even more pertinent when it comes to neurodivergent needs in the workplace. For many, especially those who are autistic, working from home means being able to personally regulate their sensory environment, instead of having to deal with unpredictable social dynamics and overwhelming office commutes, and this is something that employers also must take into account. Once again, it is all about awareness, empathy, and flexibility, when it comes to the ways in which people need to manage their own space and wellbeing.

As the younger generation are integrating into formal workplace environments, there is a renewed opportunity for open dialogue and an active recognition of individual needs. The practice runs that we have are provided through our societies and student leadership at Oxbridge can allow us an opportunity to practise this dialogue, and get used to communicating our needs, whatever they may be. They act as a model for how working arrangements can be flexible even if there is, by necessity, an online foundation.

A lot of employers are operating based on hybrid models that would allow for both the online and in-person, yet I wonder how flexible the ratios are between the two. If our student projects can adjust their communication based on individual circumstances, then so can employers. I’ve co-edited a zine with another student who is based in the highlands of Scotland, while simultaneously attending in-person meetings in the SU building. There is a chance for us to maximise online opportunities, while still making the most of common areas and meeting spaces across the university so they stay available for us to use.

“Students are poised to ensure that these accommodations can be put into place”

All of the considerations highlighted here return to the same risks: inflexibility, and ignorance. The structure of working environments are in flux; it is more important than ever to make sure our personal circumstances and needs are integrated into these environments. Students are poised to ensure that these accommodations can be put into place. In turn, employers must remember our unique circumstances, or soon we’ll be back in the online classroom instead of the hybrid workplace.


Mountain View

Student spaces are what we make of them

Careers advisors always say that we are being trained for jobs that don’t exist yet. Employers need to be equally ready for an influx of staff that instead might want to amend how these jobs are done. The physical workplace is not a graveyard quite yet, but it has changed and is changing all the time. I just hope that these changes will be made with everyone in mind.