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From college to the working world, a ‘hybrid’ life has become the norm for many 20-somethings

Graduates this spring are stepping into a working world that may be just as remote as their college experience was

Gen-Z workers hesitant about remote work
WATCH: Reporter Diti Kohli explains why members of Gen Z have not fully bought into remote work.

Most weekday mornings, Hayley Kalukin wakes up in her Brighton apartment at 8 a.m. and pops over to the nearby Dunkin’. Then she launches into her day as a Web designer for Boston Medical Center — at home, seated at a desk near her guava mango candle, Polaroid camera, and collection of “Heartstopper” books.

There are occasional in-person workdays, where Kalukin takes two buses to BMC’s South End campus before sunrise. But the majority of her professional life imitates her pandemic-plagued sophomore and junior years of college in upstate New York.

Wake up, roll over, log on.

“Most days, my office is my bedroom. My bedroom is my office,” said the 22-year-old. “And that is just how it is.”

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Indeed it is for a growing crop of 20-somethings, who have lived their entire young adult lives in an amorphous virtual world.

Throngs of office-based workers transitioned to remote work during the initial months of COVID lockdowns in 2020, and many have retained a version of the practice since. By this February, almost 75 percent of US companies were using a permanent hybrid work model, or planning to implement one, according to the job hunting site Zippia. Over 50 million Americans now work from home at least part of the time.

But for many young people, a “hybrid life” — where their job or school exists chiefly within the bounds of the Internet — is all they have ever known. Most of this spring’s college graduates were freshmen when chaos first struck and received their diplomas less than a month after Governor Maura Healey ended the public health emergency. They will now follow a stream of pandemic-era university students who entered the workforce these past three years.

Workplace expert Selena Rezvani said those experiences could be a boon for the newest generation of adults. They’re tech savvy — “more comfortable on Google Meet, Zoom, Slack and Teams than most” — and willing to set more work-life boundaries in the virtual world than their predecessors often are. In some ways, she added, Gen Z is “poised to be the ultimate hybrid worker.”

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And some young people are taking that in stride.

Take Jolie Chaleff. The 23-year-old said her laptop became the center of her universe when the pandemic rattled through everyday life. Her classes at University of Maryland were taught online for a semester, and in the two years of a virtual internship, she never met her supervisor in person.

Still, Chaleff accepted a remote job based in Maryland and moved to Boston, where she had initially intended to attend graduate school.

“Most days, my office is my bedroom. My bedroom is my office,” said Kalukin, a Brighton resident. “And that is just how it is.” Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Now she hunkers down in her Fenway apartment daily or works from coffee shops and friends’ apartments.

“I always say, ‘Yeah, I can come over. I just have to work,’” she said. “It’s the perfect set-up.”

(Her other escape? Semi-regular dog walking gigs she takes through the Wag app “that gets me out of the house in the middle of the day.”)

Still, the long-term effects of remote work on young employees is an open question.

The majority of Americans prefer to log in virtually, largely because of the flexibility it offers, according to a host of research conducted since 2020. Yet entry-level employees are on the fence about it. Certain polls have shown that as many as 40 percent of Gen Z employees prefer in-person work.

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And in April, a working paper from economists at Harvard, the University of Iowa, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York even found that new workers may get less feedback or attention from supervisors and colleagues when they only exist on the other side of the screen.

Rezvani, the workplace expert, likened Gen Z’s experience with remote white-collar work to “putting Ikea furniture together in the dark without the instructions.”

“Even with light and the instructions, there’s a lot [to] overwhelm [them], a lot to decipher and a lot of hope involved,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “But without a guide and a line of sight, you can feel clueless.”

Then there’s the mental health component, said Erin Sulva, 24.

The Woburn resident was despondent after COVID impacted her senior year track season and graduation celebrations at Castleton University in Vermont. She’s making up for it now with a different routine: working out in the mornings, taking the 354 bus to Government Center, and chatting with attorneys at the law firm where she works as a legal assistant. She said she would not have taken a fully remote job after college.

“Physically going to a job and interacting with others is beneficial personally,” Sulva added. “You’re seen. There’s an in-person presence, and it’s way easier to collaborate and ask questions. And honestly, I feel happier.”

Scout Estrazulas-Gullick, 22, said the same. Her tenure at Northeastern University was dotted with online experience: virtual summer classes, a hybrid learning semester, and a co-op for a California company, while Estrazulas-Gullick stayed in Boston.

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But she’s moving to New York in July for a public relations job with a hybrid approach to the office that she hopes will offer the camaraderie she missed in college.

“I’ll actually be going in, interacting with the world, going to events,” Estrazulas-Gullick said. “And when I’m home, I can feel more comfortable and get the work done that I need to.”

What is yet to be determined is the consequences of hybrid work on younger workers’ future, said Kweilin Ellingrud, director of the McKinsey Global Institute. Historically, early years in the workforce influence behavior, she added. For example, people who got their first job during the 2008 recession have tended to be more risk averse in the long run.

“When we’re thinking about what this all means for the newest workers,” Ellingrud said, “the jury is still out.”

Kalukin working at her desk, which is decorated with a guava mango candle, Polaroid camera, and collection of “Heartstopper” books. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her @ditikohli_.