Before the pandemic, millennials were at the front end of changes to the workplace that included greater flexibility like working from home. But it turns out that during COVID-19 lockdowns they missed the office more than anyone else.
In a survey across five countries in the Asia Pacific region – Singapore, Australia, India, China and Japan – two-thirds of employees under 35 years old said they missed the office, higher than the two older age-groups surveyed.
Productivity wasn’t the main reason why they miss working in the office, as over half of those under 35 years felt more productive at home, according to the JLL survey.
“The top reason millennials cited for missing office is human interaction,” says Kamya Miglani, Director of Corporate Solutions Research, JLL Asia Pacific. “The social aspect of the office is very important for office workers, especially for millennials.”
It’s not just the social aspects that millennials missed. The survey showed that a clear distinction between personal and professional lives mattered a lot, too.
Getting out and about
Homes in Asia are among the smallest in the world. In Hong Kong, many young professionals live in micro-apartments which measure as little as 201 square foot. In Tokyo, more than 1.4 million households live in spaces which are less than 212 square foot.
“In many parts of Asia Pacific, homes are small, and many have multiple generations living under one roof,” says Miglani. “While millennials may still be able to be productive for the short-term, working from home would not be preferred choice for the long haul.”
Cheong Kamei, an editor and copy writer in Singapore who lives in the same house with her parents, siblings and their children, says the office is her “safe and sane space,” and less disruptive to work in compared to being at home. Before COVID-19 she used to work out of a co-working space.
“The office is designed to be an office – it helps people be productive,” she says.
In Japan, remote working fell to 20 percent after the country lifted its state of emergency status in early July, compared to 31.5 percent of the work force telecommuting in May, according to a survey by the Japan Productivity Center.
This suggests that employees were eager to get back to work the moment they could. Japanese workers also missed socialising with drinks after work. As one 26-year-old Japanese millennial employee puts it, “it was nice to hang out with colleagues after work, so it's sad the culture is shrinking (due to the pandemic).”
“Asia has the highest young-employee population in the world” says Miglani at JLL. “And it’s telling that there’s a central role that the office plays for them, given that this is a tech savvy generation who can stay productive remotely. The office gives them a place to connect with their teams, to collaborate, to share ideas and unleash their potential and creativity.”
Impact on the office
Even pre-pandemic, millennials indicated that social engagement at work was key to their happiness. There is no denying that the office will have to evolve to reflect new requirements around flexibility, health and safety.
Miglani says office space will become less dense, and going into the office will co-exist along with working from home, or satellite spaces closer to homes for greater convenience and mobility.
“We would see some re-designing of the office space to provide most conducive infrastructure to support the different employee types – not just millennials – to work together and stay most optimally productive,” says Miglani.