The return-to-office debates show no sign of abating. While employees who violate Amazon’s return-to-office mandate will be blocked from promotions—or even fired—ones at Nvidia are free to work wherever they choose, be it at home or in the AI chipmaker’s lavish offices.
But beyond attention-grabbing differences among particular companies, a new norm has emerged. Asked whether the work-from-home debate has been settled, Nick Bloom, a remote work guru and economics professor at Stanford University, told Fortune:
“The debate is never settled, but I think practically, yes…Office occupancy on average is half what it was pre-pandemic. Separate research shows that about one-third of work days are happening at home. So on average, North Americans have decided they are in the new normal.”
In other words, hybrid work has emerged victorious. It allows for some days spent working at home and some in the office, whatever the ideal mix for a particular company or employee.
Often overlooked, however, is a generational divide on what the ideal mix looks like. Gen Zers and boomers—a rare alliance—want to work more in the office, while millennials place more value on working from home, according to new research from Bloom and others.
Whether someone is raising kids has a lot to do with it—and millennials are more likely to be doing just that.
“People in their 30s and early 40s are more likely to live with children and face long commutes, raising the appeal of work from home,” the researchers noted.
By contrast, they added, “People in their 20s have high returns to professional networking, on-the-job training, and mentoring—activities that benefit greatly from in-person interactions. Young workers may also place more value on socializing at the workplace or nearby. They are more likely to live in small or shared apartments, which reduces the appeal of work from home.”
From a younger employee’s perspective, work from home often means “you get to sit in your studio apartment in front of your laptop, and good luck—you’re cut off from everything else,” venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said last year at the American Dynamism Summit, warning that remote work has “detonated” the way we connect as a society.
As for older workers, they may be less keen to work from home “because they no longer have childcare responsibilities, or simply because they like to socialize at the workplace,” noted Bloom and his fellow researchers.
In the return-to-office debate, “we’ve treated things monolithically,” Hung Lee, founder of the Recruiting Brainfood newsletter, told the a16z podcast. “But we’re probably at the point now where we need to bring in the nuance, because what is positive for one group of people is negative for another.”
He pointed to surveys showing that, among university seniors entering the workforce, nearly 90% said they wanted to frequently meet in person with coworkers to network and build relationships. A third said they lack a dedicated workspace, and nearly 60% said they don’t have all the equipment they need at home. Only 2% said they wanted fully remote work.
The people who are most in favor of remote work, Lee added, are often senior workers with plenty of experience who’ve already built up social capital and have an effective workspace at home—and often have children they want to be near.
“They don’t feel they need to come to the office in order to make friends,” he noted.
As Bloom and his team observed, “People who live with children value the ability to work from home more highly…The effect holds for men and women and is pervasive across countries.”
That preference translates to more working from home among that demographic.
“Moving from preferences to outcomes,” they wrote, “we find that people with children do indeed work from home at higher rates.”