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As of October 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures place national unemploymentworkshifting-poolside.jpg numbers at 9.8%. These numbers are that much more pronounced and dire for young people. BLS says the unemployment rate has increased among 20-24 year olds by 50% since August 2008. In August of this year, roughly 15% of people in that same age bracket and 10% of 25-34 year olds were out of work.

Indeed, Generation Y, also known as the “‘Net Generation” or “Millennials,” face the toughest job market in decades. That’s a tough pill for a group of young people who were raised during boom times and for whom invincibility has been a common and cohesive feeling.

These 76 million Americans born between 1979 and 1995 tend to have distinctive attitudes toward work, including where and when it ought to be performed.

  • Sixty-three percent of Gen Y women placed the highest importance on accomplishing personal goals; 23% who stated professional goals were tops.

  • Fully one-fourth of these women indicated that they would prefer to have flex scheduling and the ability to set their own work hours in lieu of a 10% increase in salary.

While unemployment has hit this ‘Net cohort harder than others, they may bounce back faster than older workers would; as technology is their native tongue, which allows them to work remotely, saving employers money on overhead, sick pay and losses related to traffic and weather-induced delays for traditional employees.

Some companies are jumping on the remote working and flex-time bandwagon, with a program called “ROWE,” or “results only work environment.” Businesses on board with ROWE included Best Buy and Gap Outlet headquarters, and the City of Minneapolis. Workers at these companies “work wherever they want whenever they want, as long as the work gets done.”

Under ROWE, “productivity isn’t judged by how many hours someone puts in the chair but rather the quality and quantity of their work.”  This attitude was echoed across all age groups in data from a survey conducted late last year by the polling company™, inc./WomanTrend for Citrix Online.  More than half (56%) of respondents revealed that they were never able to work remotely, also referred to as “Webcommuting,” though nearly three-fourths (73%) of American employees wanted the ability to do so at their current or next job. Gen Y workers (those aged 18-29) were more likely than most to “never” be able to work from a location other than the office (60% vs. 56% overall).  In addition 18% of Gen Yers were willing to sacrifice up to 5% of their salary to work remotely, an astonishing figure considering the year-long economic downturn and bleak employment prospects for that age group.

Gen Y has grown up doing what they want from where they want, and being “forced” to commute and work from the same place at the same time each day belies both their flexibility and productivity.   However, in the aforementioned survey, 56% of 18-29 year olds said they were unable to work remotely as their “job functionality required them to be on site.” This was the most of any age group. At the same time, 62% agreed, either “strongly” or “somewhat” with the statement “I would benefit from a fast and affordable way to meet over the Internet with colleagues located anywhere, and share our computer files, presentations and other information just as if we were in the same room.” This indicates a strong desire to work from somewhere other than the office.

According to “career doctor” Randall S. Hansen, PhD , this newest crop of workers “has no interest whatsoever in working in a cubicle — not because it is beneath them, but because they feel advances in technology should let them be able to choose to work from home, Starbucks, or anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection.”

Another tremendous advantage of shifting work from a traditional brick-and-mortar to an alternative and more convenient venue for the employee (if not the employer) is that talent can be recruited from around the world, not just around the corner. Additionally, there is evidence that the type of flexibility achieved through Webcommuting increases employee satisfaction and retention. With Generation Y remaining informed and entertained, communicating and transacting on the computer, working seems the next natural step.

Photo by: Justin Levy

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  • Vincent Roman

    We all talk about flexibility, but very few practice it. As a 30yo with experience working for myself for 6 years, with clients in my own and other timezone I know all about the need to bend over backwards.
    I have also worked in cool startups where abuse of sick days amongst the young (20-30ys) was rampant, and if you didn’t take them yourselves you were only getting screwed.
    Most importantly you get the work done to the timeline but the bigger the team, the more you rely on each other, and when working in IT the agile process with it’s scrum methodology brings people TOGETHER for a reason.
    These days I benefit from a 2 minute walk to work in Central London and I consider myself exceedingly lucky. That being said I would rather not return to the days of working for myself and putting in 24/7 hours and when, although I got out what I put in, it made it impossible to separate between home and work at the expensive of my personal life.
    The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. Granted, the flexibility to work out of the office with VPNs etc should be fully-utilitised, but even the most ardent home-worker needs to accept that every now and then a F2F is a essential.

  • zgrossbart.myopenid.com

    It makes sense that employees of any age want to work where they feel most comfortable. It is more productive, causes fewer sick days, and costs less. The key is working with the team. If someone from generation Y wants to workshift they need to talk about how they’ll integrate with the team, when they’ll be available, and how communicating with them will work.
    There are many more options in our communication tool boxes than there were 20 years ago, but we still have to use them well.