Many employees who started working at home during the pandemic have adjusted nicely and several recent surveys reveal that the majority of employees prefer remote work. In fact, a PwC survey from June reveals that 83% of office workers want to work from home at least one day a week.

However, digital natives (under the age of 26) who used to work in an office, store, worksite, or other physical workplace and are now working remotely are eager to return to work. That’s one of the findings of a Perceptyx series of surveys containing comments from employees working for more than 100 large enterprises, including CVS Health, Nike, S&P Global, and Comcast.

Since digital natives have spent over half of their lives on digital devices like tablets and smartphones, it seems that they would be the group most likely to enjoy working remotely. However, this isn’t the case. The surveys reveal that among those under the age of 26, only 13.4% preferred to work remotely, while 30.1% preferred to work in the office (and 56.5% preferred a mix of physical and remote work).

As a point of comparison, 24% of those between the ages of 26-35, and 26.7% of those between the ages of 36-45, preferred a physical workplace.

Why digital natives want to go back to the office

The findings were surprising and counterintuitive, according to Brett Wells, Ph.D., the director of people analytics at Perceptyx. “A lack of awareness or expertise of remote technology is clearly not the issue, as digital natives are the savviest with social media, video calling, and direct messaging.” However, he says they’re significantly less likely to say their remote work environment allows them to work effectively. Wells points to three issues in particular:

  • The physical limitations of working in small starter apartments, often with roommates, missing the large desk and dual-monitor setup of the physical workplace.
  • Personal and social isolation.
  • The lack of visibility to leaders and their teams.

He also shares some of the comments written by digital natives. For example, one person wrote the following: “I do not feel as productive at my home as I do when I am in the office. It is now difficult to separate my personal life and my work because I have to work in my bedroom. There is not a place for me to go to unwind after a long day ‘at the office.’”

Another digital native said, “My main issue is the lack of workspace while working at home. This does not seem to be something that can easily be resolved without being onsite.”

Other concerns among digital natives

However, a lack of space and separation aren’t the only problems that many digital natives face. “These younger employees, in particular, feel vulnerable when it comes to career progress and continued employment with their organizations,” Wells says. For example, 20% don’t think their company will do everything it can to support job security. “There is fear and anxiety around losing their jobs, as they are concerned about their ability to deliver quality performance at a distance.” And when it’s time to let employees go, he says they worry about the “last in, first out,” philosophy. Wells says this fear is compounded by the fact that working in a less than optimal remote work setting doesn’t allow them to put their best foot forward.

Digital natives were also less likely to agree with these statements:

  • If I do not feel well, I can take off from work without fear of negative consequences
  • My work gives me a sense of personal accomplishment

How to help digital natives feel more connected and supported

Companies have a vested interest in trying to provide a more supportive environment to these young workers. “We are also finding digital natives are the least likely to intend to stay at their companies for the next 12 months (76%), compared to all other age groups, where the range is between 80% and 85%.”

To understand how to connect with digital natives, support well-being, and increase productivity, Wells says Perceptyx compared responses of the young employees who did feel supported.

The top three actions emerged as good strategies:

  • Frequent conversations with younger employees to alleviate stress, build a connection, and enable problem solving. “Ask about the challenges they face and offer to provide help,” Wells said.
  • Support for individual employee decisions about the return to the workplace. “Digital natives may help organizations ramp up office occupancy quickly.”
  • Open communication to build trust. “Reach out purposefully and regularly.”