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Research Shows Grads’ Post-Pandemic Workplace Views, Preferences

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many facets of the world of work.

For those currently employed, changes occurred. On the reverse, post-secondary graduates transitioning into the workforce must navigate the professional world amid an abrupt shift in which norms are transformed, expectations are altered and workplace culture remains a work in progress.

Over the past two years, governing bodies across the world unintentionally helped facilitate a new way to work: outside the office and often from any location where remote work is viable.

The impact resulted in a surge of office vacancies, particularly in urban cores. Canada was not immune to this and is returning to pace, with an overall office vacancy rate of 12.9 per cent in Q2 of this year.

With a new line of workers ready to enter the labour market, property management firms and landlords are looking to evolve with their users to provide spaces that better serve their needs.

Research by JED Consulting with Colliers Canada offers insight on how STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), business, law, and arts graduates regard the post-pandemic working world, its modalities and the trends it suggests, as well as their preferences as they enter the industry sector of their choice.

This information is condensed from JED Consulting and Colliers Canada Research’s full report, Post-Pandemic Student Workplace Preferences.

Strong demand for hybrid modality

Impact: An expedited transition to remote work for white-collar workers during the pandemic highlighted the benefits and drawbacks of working from home, with cost savings as a positive and decreased productivity as a negative for 42 per cent of employees.

Post-pandemic and following a remote working taster, employees need incentives to return to working on-site. Designing the “office of the future” has become a component of balancing work effectiveness and the employee experience and it is a key priority for business leaders.

Some 66 per cent of office leaders are redesigning their offices with hybrid work in mind.

Most students entering the workforce expect a hybrid modality, with 79 per cent noting a preference to work in office two to three days per week and remotely for the remainder of the week.

Students acknowledge that while in-person work facilitates relationship-building, it results in time lost while commuting. And while remote work offers flexibility, it comes at the cost of less work-life separation.

Considerations: The modality of work can have an impact on multiple levels for students, including productivity, mental health and professional development.

Being surrounded by co-workers (33 per cent) and having a comfortable workstation (22 per cent) were cited by students as boosters for productivity when working in person.

While productivity can vary depending on the task and nature of work, a focused environment where others are working diligently can improve productivity.

The loss of social interaction spurred on by remote work has had implications for students’ mental health. Almost half (49 per cent) of respondents said hybrid work is better for their mental health, while 34 per cent preferred working in person.

Tasks that are repetitive and do not rely on other co-workers are expected to be completed from home. However, employers of post-secondary graduates should encourage events and meetings that benefit from in-person collaboration.

Over three-quarters of students (78 per cent) are more likely to come into the office if they have their own dedicated desk versus unassigned seating.

Food-related amenities an attractive feature

Impact: Prior to the pandemic, companies leveraged on-site amenity offerings in job postings. In today’s competitive ‘candidate’s market,’ there is a greater urgency to do so, with remote and hybrid job-seekers actively filtering out potential employers.

When evaluating job offers, 74 per cent of students take amenities into consideration.

Post-secondary graduates (64 per cent) reported a willingness to return to the office four or five days per week — if given their desired amenities; with amenities adding value on top of compensation.

Most likely to return to the office four or five days per week are STEM students. For the remaining students, access to amenities would incentivize over 50 per cent to return to on-site work at this same level.

Considerations: The overall quality of the workplace has long been an essential factor to employees; the same consideration applies to students. Of the student respondents, 78 per cent said workplace quality has a high impact on their well-being and 69 per cent said it has a high impact on productivity.

Food-related amenities (cafeteria, coffee, snacks) are strongly valued by students, with 76 per cent of respondents stating they would work in person five days per week if it meant receiving free food.

Following closely are collaborative workspaces (72 per cent) and comfortable office furniture (66 per cent).

Amenities in the lifestyle category (office bar, gym, nap room) emerged as less important, as students prefer to keep work and life separate. A distinction between work and home life is salient to achieving a work-life balance for students across STEM, business, law and arts fields.

Proximity to office, daily services important to students

Impact: In considering what it takes to attract an inexperienced staff to an ever-evolving workplace, the location of a desired or ‘dream job’ is significant. It also comes into play as travel and cross-country moves become more prevalent.

Student respondents showed a strong preference for their ideal job (57 per cent) rather than their ideal city, highlighting that students (74 per cent of business/economics majors) will apply to specific office locations should their dream job become available.

In terms of location, the majority of students would prefer downtown offices over suburban office locations. A total of 82 per cent of respondents would prefer to live downtown and close to their office.

Considerations: The proximity to daily services (grocery, gym, parking, shops) were a draw for 67 per cent of students to come into the office more often.

While commuting was identified as one of the major drawbacks to returning to in-person work, it was viewed as less of an issue for students if the office is located close to services.

The amount of time students are willing to spend commuting depends on the available modes of transportation. Meanwhile, the average time employees are willing to spend commuting to their ideal job — five days per week in a downtown office — is 15 to 30 minutes.

As more organizations invite employees to return to the office, facilitating the process through transport-related amenities and subsidies or minimizing travel times can reduce the negative impact of commuting.

Needs, preferences vary with career stage

Impact: In a tight talent market where graduates hold the bargaining power, candidates are consistently ranking salary (40 per cent), daily responsibilities (21 per cent) and prospects for professional development (14 per cent) among the top three factors when accepting or rejecting a job offer.

More than half of students (58 per cent) would reject a job offer if the role was expected to be fully remote post-pandemic.

Considerations: At the start of their careers, students are focused on landing an interesting position that pays well, offers growth opportunities and provides valuable on-the-job training.

It appears that matters of comfort are more relevant later in their career cycles; however, talent retention relies on modalities, benefits and amenities.

With the pandemic’s impact continuing, the world of work is subject to further change.

While employers may not have the ability to predict the future of the workplace, they can respond to the preferences of the next generation of workers now.

This may involve providing hybrid work environments, creating thoughtful collaboration spaces for in-office work and reducing the impact of commuting for on-site work.

Employers must ultimately pay attention to fostering the growth and development of employees at each career stage to attract and retain top talent.

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