Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary says Gen Z has ‘no intention’ of ever coming to the office. He’s almost definitely wrong

March 7, 2023, 7:05 PM UTC
The younger generation isn’t interested in the office, says Kevin O'Leary. But research shows Gen Z recognizes the value of in-person work.
Valerie Plesch—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The pandemic has given life to a new generation of workers who have “no intention” of working in an office, says Kevin O’Leary, billionaire investor and Shark Tank star.

“They never have, they never will. People keep saying, ‘Oh, they’re gonna all come back.’ They’re not,” O’Leary told CNN on Friday. Nearly half of the workers across O’Leary’s venture portfolio work remotely, he said, adding that “they ain’t coming into the office, period. That’s it. That’s just the way it’s gonna be.”

But countless data shows that Mr. Wonderful might be slightly off the mark. He’s not wrong about younger workers’ interest in working remotely: The past three years have given Gen Z a reputation for being noncommittal, disloyal, or flighty toward their workplaces, but they really just want more autonomy. Much data suggests that they’ve led the Great Resignation, job-hopping mere months after starting work in search of better pay, more flexibility, and more comprehensive benefits

But this doesn’t mean they have no interest in being in the office at all. For all their alleged anti-work stance, Gen Z recognizes the value of going into the office for at least a few days a week, especially to hone their skills and connect with their peers. More than four in five Gen Zers report feeling disconnected when they work from home, and nearly two-thirds strongly support a hybrid arrangement. (Some will even travel five hours a day to get the in-person experience.)

“Younger workers are really looking for a sense of belonging in the onboarding process, especially with so many hybrid or fully remote roles,” Dave Carhart, VP of people at software firm Lattice, told Fortune in May. “Everything companies can do to really support new hires and help them make connections will be particularly important.”

Less than a quarter (23%) of Gen Zers feel remote work is “very” or “extremely” important to them, the National Society of High School Scholars’ 2022 Career Interest Survey found. The nearly 11,500 high school and college-age respondents said pandemic-era remote school turned them off. Remote work doesn’t even crack the top three things Gen Z is looking for in a job, the NSHSS survey found: fair treatment of all employees, quality of life and flexibility, and corporate social responsibility.

“People want to grow quickly, [and] mentorship—being able to connect with the manager or director on a more personal level—is extremely important,” Oliver Pour, a 2022 college graduate, told Fortune last year. Companies that ignore Gen Z’s expectations for personalized support and growth “are going to lose out on great talent,” he added.

It’s the work, not the setting, that matters 

Gen Z aren’t the only workers prioritizing hybrid work. For employees who can work from home, hybrid work is by far their preferred setup, finds the latest data from WFH Research. Nearly half (45.5%) will opt to split their time; 34.6% will still go into the office every day, and 19.9% will stay home. 

But as WFH Research’s founders, professors Nick Bloom and Jose Maria Barrero, have said countless times, productivity is all that matters—and you’ll find the most productive workers are the ones who have choice.

Research from Slack’s think tank, Future Forum, backs them up: Workers with full schedule flexibility are more productive than employees with no flexibility at all. Scores of further research find that even full remote work has no impact on productivity at all and, if anything, may improve it slightly. 

Even O’Leary admitted that ultimately, flexibility is a no-brainer if it keeps workers loyal. It doesn’t matter where someone works, so long as their output is timely, quality, and consistent. “You say to somebody, ‘Look, you gotta get this done by next Friday at noon.’ You don’t really care when they do it…as long as it gets done.”

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