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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

What does the workplace of tomorrow look like?

A person at work.
An employee at work.

What will work look like in a post-pandemic future, where trends like hybrid work seem permanent and employers are still struggling to figure out things like how to mentor new employees? And what can employers and employees do right now to prepare? The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter is devoting its coverage this week to the future of work and questions like these. And The Ledger’s Tony Mecia joins me now for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: We'll get to what you found in just a moment. But first, what made you want to tackle this topic now?

Tony Mecia: Marshall, this is really a compilation of a lot of the things that you and I have talked about over the last few months and years. And we've seen bits and pieces of it playing out. You know, I think there was this thought during COVID when a lot of people started working from home and having Zoom meetings that ‘OK once COVID is in the rearview mirror, things are gonna get back to normal,’ and they couldn't wait for them to get back to normal. Well, it's becoming clear that that old normal is not really coming back. Remote and hybrid work is here to stay. And so we just wanted to look at the ripple effects of that across a lot of different areas and how that's changing Charlotte and changing our society.

Terry: All right. Well, let's get into what you found. You point out that soon Gen Z, who are in their early and mid-20s now, will make up one-third of the workforce. You looked into what they want in an office setting and also bosses and colleagues. What did you find?

Mecia: Well, everybody wants something different, of course. And you don't like to generalize, but if you look at what Gen Z in the aggregate is saying that they want out of their work — although a lot of people want flexibility — a lot of the data is showing that people in their 20s are, for example, less likely to apply for remote work roles. That they crave a lot of that mentoring, that they crave a lot of that feedback, that when they're early in their careers they want to develop those skills. And those aren't all just doing the work in a silo, you know, from a coffee shop — that a lot of those take place in informal interactions, you know, in the hallways of offices, or you're going out to lunch with a more seasoned colleague, for example.

And so a lot of companies are kind of looking at how they can make sure that Gen Z gets that kind of mentoring. These are going to be leaders of the future, future managers, future executives. And so they need to make sure that these folks are trained and that they have those sort of experiences that can position them for the future.

Terry: You report the office of tomorrow is already here. What is it?

Mecia: You know, there was a trend even before COVID in some industries like the tech industry, of having a lot of amenities in the workplace. And that's really taken off in the last few years. Companies are doing all kinds of things to try to get workers back into the office and to make the office more of a place that's more like your living room. Some of them have beer fridges, beer taps, golf simulators, selfie walls. And the design of offices is really changing a lot, too, Marshall. A lot of workspaces are becoming more collaborative. They have these spaces where you can have meetings, they have nice couches, small meeting rooms. They're really nice. I think these days of beige carpeting and fluorescent lights and being stuck in a cubicle — those are, sort of, a thing of the past because employers really want to make their offices somewhere that's welcoming and somewhere where workers want to be.

Terry: As I mentioned at the beginning, hybrid work appears to be here to stay. What does that mean for places like Charlotte that have a ton of office space that's now sitting empty?

Mecia: We've seen in Charlotte, and in a lot of cities, really high delinquency rates on office buildings. Charlotte is one of the highest in the nation as far as owners of office buildings owing a lot of money on their loans and being late to pay them. The vacancy rate here is a lot higher than it was. I think it's around 12% now. It had been 6-7% a few years ago, and so this has all kinds of ripple effects. It has ripple effects on traffic, it has ripple effects on small businesses that depend on office workers. You know, you think of burrito places uptown or you think of people who clean offices. If those offices are empty, there's not as much need to clean. The ripple effects are pretty astounding. But, you know, this is a problem a lot of places are dealing with so it's definitely a conundrum.

Terry: So what should employers and employees do to prepare now for a future that's already here, like it or not?

Mecia: I would say, if you're an employer, just understanding that your workers have options that these days of mandating that people come in to work, that's a lot harder to do nowadays because the unemployment rate is still very low. And for workers, it's understanding that they have options that if you don't like your job currently, you might be able to find something else, either in Charlotte or elsewhere. There are a lot of remote positions. You know, they're an increasing number of people whose companies are in some other city. So if you can work from anywhere, is that anywhere going to be Charlotte? Could it be the North Carolina mountains? Could it be the coast? Could it be somewhere else? So all these things, these work and living patterns really are in a state of flux and it looks like a lot of these trends are here to stay.

Support for WFAE's BizWorthy comes from Sharon View Federal Credit Union and our listeners.

Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.