Monday morning. My iPhone alarm prompts me to take the five steps from bed to desk before I am fully awake. Another seamless commute.

Within five minutes, I’m dressed for the day. Collared shirt for the camera, track pants and Uggs for hidden comfort. Coffee in hand, I comb through overnight emails.

This working routine is now the norm, as we live through a period of mass digital transformation – a business experiment unlike anything that has come before. Flexible, simple, efficient, easy.

The good life, right?

For knowledge workers, remote working should be a step in the right direction for Australian organisations and their employees. Whether its improving productivity or attracting and retaining the best staff, remote and flexible working arrangements may be here to stay. They’re certainly set to save real estate portfolio managers billions.

I can understand the benefits, particularly when it comes to establishing work-life balance. I don’t have to wake up at an ungodly hour to exercise, my commute has gone from 50 minutes each way to five seconds, and I can spend more time with friends and family after work. From a media and thought leadership perspective, COVID-19 was the best thing that ever happened to working arrangements.

So why was I opposed to working from home?

Mainly because it is not what I signed up for.

As a recent graduate, working from home doesn’t motivate me. I just spent nearly two decades confined to the four white walls of my bedroom, studying hours of seemingly-meaningless content, so I was excited to enter the professional world.

There is something ceremonial about dressing in formal attire, travelling to a professional working environment and spending your days learning and contributing in a profession about which you’re passionate.

Collaboration on projects, your first client call or going for a post-work beverage with your colleagues are all rights-of-passage for young people. They’re fun and exciting. Now, the closest comparison is a brief and awkward Friday evening Zoom drinks.

As a new starter, I feel that the remote working experience is almost damaging to the passion and professional aspirations of young Australians. Even with the best intentions of managers, there is also an increasing hindrance on learning and professional development opportunities, which are so important for both young professionals.  

If remote working continues to grow in the post-pandemic era, we may have a very real problem on our hands. Young Australians are already among the loneliest of cohorts and society is becoming less social. Why exacerbate it?

The next generation of Australian workers may be less qualified, less motivated and less enthusiastic, unless we recognise these potential problems and address them.

With these risks in mind – as the fourth industrial revolution continues – what steps can tomorrow’s leaders take to prepare themselves for future challenges, and how can young people try to emulate that exciting, ‘new job’ experience?

First, stop prioritising comfort (i.e., get out of your PJs). It is hard to feel like you’re at work, doing something important and worthwhile, in Uggs.

Second, be more proactive in finding exciting ways to engage with colleagues and managers in a virtual world. Aren’t we the digital native generation?

Third, don’t wait for learning opportunities, openly pursue them in every capacity possible. Whether it’s raising your hand for new work or asking teammates to give you a crash course in a new sector or area of expertise, we need to use our newfound spare time more effectively than watching Netflix.

Finally, establish a more effective balance between the physical and digital workspaces, and at the first available opportunity, get back into the office. Re-establishing face-to-face connections with colleagues, senior leaders and industry peers will energise you and begin to re-join critical dots.

As we continue to understand how to work in a COVID-19-defined era, young leaders must focus on factors that in their control, and learn to embrace the new future of work.