The Workplace Of The Future Is More Flexible, Adaptable: Panel

With the growing presence of Gen Z, the continued demand for remote work options and the need to empower neurodiverse employees, workplaces will increasingly need to be flexible to thrive, according to experts who spoke at XChange August 2023.


Long considered to be valuable traits for employees, flexibility and adaptability are increasingly becoming necessities for workplaces themselves as a result of several converging dynamics, a panel of IT channel executives and experts said Tuesday.

The growing presence of Gen Z members of the workforce, the continued demand for remote work options and the need to empower neurodiverse employees all require businesses to be more flexible and adaptable than they’ve been in the past, according to the panel on the future of work, which took place at XChange August 2023. The conference, held this week in Nashville, Tenn., is hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

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For attracting and retaining the 20 percent of the U.S. workforce who belongs to Gen Z, businesses will want to take a more personalized approach with employees than they’ve taken with workers from earlier generations, panelists said.

When it comes to Gen Z members of the workforce, “we’re trying to do better at showing them, what’s the next step? What are they going to do after they do the grunt work?” said Michael Villa, executive project manager at San Antonio-based solution provider VIA Technology. “[We] try to just show them the career path and what it’s going to look like five, 10, 15 years down the road.”

3rd Element Consulting, a Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based MSP, has overhauled its recruitment and on-boarding strategies to better enable the hiring of Gen Z talent, according to CEO Dawn Sizer.

In contrast to the typical HR template for a certain role, “the more-inclusive language that you use tends to draw [Gen Z employees] to the company a little bit more,” she said.

The MSP has also changed it on-boarding program so that it’s more “tailored to the individual” than it was previously, Sizer said. “So it’s not just a one-size-fits-all,” which Gen Z employees appreciate, she said.

Overall, there’s no question that Gen Z employees expect “greater personalization on their career journey,” said Andrea Medeiros, senior director of content strategy at The Channel Company.

Hybrid Work

Being flexible also remains the key when it comes to the continued demand for remote and hybrid work options among employees, according to the panelists.

For technology vendors and solution providers, “I think that’s the biggest piece,” said Gina Narcisi, senior editor at CRN. “I keep hearing it helps them attract new employees and also keep the employees that they have happy.”

Ultimately, “is everybody going to require people to come back to the office? No, I don’t think so,” Sizer said. “Is everybody going to still be working remotely? No, I don’t think so. I think we’re all going to find that really good sweet spot in our own culture and make that work.”

It’s not just about where employees are allowed to work, however—it’s also about when, panelists said.

At LAN Infotech, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based MSP, flexible hours are among the benefits offered to staff, CEO Michael Goldstein said.

For instance, if an employee needs to leave for a few hours for an emergency or other reason, they’re allowed to do it—with the understanding that they’ll accomplish their required work at a later point, Goldstein said.

“I think that the point that we always bring across is that the work has to get done,” he said. “If you took those four hours, I need those four hours back because those customers need those tickets closed. So we just have to be flexible.”

Likewise, in situations where an employee is feeling unwell, 3rd Element Consulting actually has a policy that “if you’re sick, stay home,” Sizer said. “Don’t come into the office and make everyone else sick because that’s kind of silly.”

Workplace flexibility is particularly important when it comes to Gen Z talent, although companies are finding that it’s helpful with attracting and retaining employees across the board, Narcisi said. “I think everyone appreciates the flexibility.”

Giving Employees A ‘Path’

At Cedarburg, Wis.-based TSR Solutions, the notion of adapting recruitment and retention strategies for Gen Z talent resonates strongly, said CTO Tommy Radtke, who spoke with CRN following the panel Tuesday.

Several of the company’s IT technicians are part of Gen Z, a result of TSR’s focus on recruiting entry-level IT technicians out of college, he said. Radtke is just one generation ahead of Gen Z, as a part of the millennial generation, but said he’s seen major differences in what members of Gen Z are looking for out of a job.

“They don’t necessarily want to work just for the sake of work. They want to be a part of something,” he said.

Radtke said he also agrees that it’s more important to be clear on career development opportunities with Gen Z employees. “Giving them a path” is key, he said, as is being transparent about how they can advance on the path.

For Gen Z talent, “giving them direct feedback on how they can achieve” their goals is critical, Radtke said.

Chelsea Skinner, president and CEO of Lewisville, Texas-based Oversee My IT, told CRN that her company has also embraced the concept of flexible hours and has found that to be a valuable approach.

“As long as you’re meeting your deadlines, and your job is getting done, then it really doesn’t matter to us how you do it or when you do it,” Skinner said. “It just needs to be done.”

Empowering Neurodiverse Employees

Meanwhile, the ability for businesses to adapt to the differences between employees who are neurodiverse, and those who are not, will be the key to enabling all employees to reach their full potential, panelists said.

Having individuals on the staff who “think a little differently” can have a major impact, Sizer said.

“It provides you with a completely different culture inside of your organization,” she said. In the ideal scenario, businesses will make the effort to “figure out how all of your staff think very differently,” Sizer said.

For her son, who is on the autistic spectrum, “he’s able to see patterns in things that we can’t, and be able to stay on task and focus for long periods of time on things that we don’t want to do,” she said.

“You really have to kind of tap into the way that they think, and how they feel about things—and then design a program around each person a little bit individually,” Sizer said.