Gen Z Employees Love Remote Work (Until They Have to Manage a Team!)

Working at home - remote work and studying

No other generation is as deeply familiar with remote work as Generation Z. Whether at home or school, Gen Z have grown up with tablets and smartphones in their hands, and most can’t imagine a world where their friends aren’t a tap or click away. And thanks to the pandemic, many Gen Z knowledge workers’ first “real” jobs were remote.

Given this, it’s hardly surprising that most Gen Z workers feel at home using digital productivity tools. In fact, 55% of recent graduates strongly prefer remote or hybrid work over coming into an office and 73% are more likely to apply to a job if it allows them to work from home. 

But now that the older members of Gen Z are moving into management roles, many have found that their experience with remote work doesn’t magically translate into confidence leading remote teams. Compared to more experienced people managers, newly promoted Gen Z managers are twice as likely to doubt their ability to lead remote teams effectively, and 76% of Gen Z managers feel they need more training on leading remote teams, specifically.  

And this isn’t just about new managers’ career development: their struggles can put entire teams at risk. According to a survey of over 2000 people, 34% of employees who have poor experiences with first-time managers end up wanting to quit their job.

In this article we’ll take a look at the key challenges that face Gen Z managers leading remote teams, and identify some ways to address those challenges.

Remote Teams Present a Steeper Learning Curve for New Managers

While a few exceptional young managers might excel from the moment they start a position, decades of research shows that it’s normal for most new managers to have early stumbles or skill gaps that they need to address. Indeed, many of us have encountered a new manager who desperately wants to do a good job but isn’t comfortable with delegating work to their team, so they burn themselves out by trying to do everything themselves.

However, first-time managers on remote and hybrid teams face additional challenges – like having to learn how to lead people they can’t see. 

Where previous generations of new managers could casually knock on a senior colleague’s door for advice or approach them in the lunchroom, today’s remote managers might feel less comfortable reaching out. And because a remote manager’s own supervisor might not be monitoring them effectively, their struggles might not be detected as quickly.  

Organizations Struggle to Train and Mentor Young Managers Remotely

Generally, remote workers need a more deliberate and structured approach to training.  However, when it comes to new managers on remote teams, most employers are so accustomed to informal ‘on-the-job’ training approaches that they completely neglect to train them.  

Research from the Seton Hall Leadership Institute shows that most Gen Z workers feel that remote work limits their leadership development opportunities.  But while underinvestment in leadership development is a long-standing trend, today’s remote team managers also lack training in leading virtual teams.  According to one survey, less than 40% of remote managers received any guidance at all from their employers about working in remote environments – not even a ‘Tips and Tricks’ sheet. 

For Gen Z managers, this lack of training can be exacerbated by assumptions that everyone in Gen Z is tech savvy and therefore doesn’t need training on remote work technologies and management approaches.  And this stereotype can prevent Gen Z remote managers who struggle from reaching out.  Research by HP has found that many Gen Z workers will avoid using technology they don’t understand because they feel uncomfortable asking for help–a phenomenon dubbed “tech shame.”

Remote-Specific Initiatives That Prepare Gen Z Managers for Success  

So what are some of the things that your organization can do to prepare new managers for leading remote teams?

  • As mentioned before, it can start by shifting towards more structured training and mentoring programs.  Assigning new managers a mentor and scheduling regular check-ins can be a huge help.  Meanwhile, if you have a hybrid workplace, it’s a good idea to devote that time together largely to mentoring and on-the-job training instead of tasks like updating project plans, which people can do just as effectively working remotely. 

  • You can also give all of your newly promoted managers a dedicated channel in your virtual workspace to provide each other peer support and guidance. We once saw a situation where new team leaders at a financial services firm spontaneously started their own support group using a chat app.  While the IT department wasn’t happy when they discovered it (because the app wasn’t within the company firewall), we convinced them to create a new channel on their approved platform so that these new managers could continue to support each other, and set up a second channel which included their mentors.

  • When it comes to actual training courses, be sure to include soft skills development.  Gen Z has faced a number of obstacles that have limited their ability to learn soft skills–the pandemic isolated them from their peers, and their social interactions have increasingly been offloaded into online spaces.  Addressing the “soft skill gap” that has resulted from these factors is crucial to ensuring Gen Z’s success as leaders.

  • And again, it’s important to ensure that your new manager training program accounts for the specific needs of remote team managers, including how to leverage technology and create a strong culture even when team members are dispersed, physically. 

New Remote Team Managers Need a Supportive Remote Work Culture

New managers are impressionable, and their attitude towards leading a remote team will be influenced by the attitudes of their more experienced peers. If senior managers view remote work arrangements as a problem or inherently inferior to on-site teams, it’s likely that new hires will feel the same way.  Meanwhile, creating a culture where remote work is seen as a productivity multiplier and benefit, not as an obstacle, will go a long way towards helping new managers feel comfortable as remote team leaders.

If your organization has a lot of new managers leading remote and hybrid teams, hopefully this article was able to provide some helpful insights.  And if you need support with remote work policies or training, please reach out to Sonata Learning for a consultation.


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