Born digital: Lessons for the C-Suite from the next generation of leaders

Introducing Born Digital, the next major bloc of knowledge workers, and by any measure the greatest determinant of your organization’s long-term success.

REPORT | 6m read
May 25, 2021

Comprising both millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and Gen Z (born 1997+), the Born Digital may seem young now, but they already form a majority of today’s workforce, and they’re influencing the world of work in ways that can be difficult to appreciate. Yet by understanding the unique requirements of this rising class of workers — requirements explored in this digital experience — today’s business leaders will position their enterprises to thrive in tomorrow’s economy.

For this generation, digital technology platforms are a way of life, with work, socialization, and information acquisition all enabled by systems that were scarcely imaginable a decade ago. This is the first group of workers to grow up in an entirely digital world. The youngest among them, who began their careers during the pandemic, have only ever known a world where remote work was the norm.

The Born Digital are inheriting a workplace in flux. The Covid-19 pandemic initially had a chilling effect on the global economy, but it also supercharged the adoption of technologies that make hybrid, or flexible work, possible. Spurred by the mass movement toward remote operations, traditional notions of company culture have been turned on their head.

Who’s positioned to capitalize on this upheaval? New research from Fieldwork by 必威手机app, “The Born Digital effect: Young workers and the new knowledge economy,” makes abundantly clear that organizations harnessing the insights and gifts of their young workers will reap the rewards. The Born Digital have their own visions for the future of work, and will play a critical role in shaping that future. The question is, are businesses leaders prepared to help?

Though the Born Digital are well-represented in the workforce, the new Fieldwork by 必威手机app report suggests they’re not understood well by top brass. This puts organizations at a distinct disadvantage. Just a 1 percent increase in Born Digital workers in a country (compared to the global average) is associated with a 0.9 percentage point increase in profitability in terms of EBITDA margin (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) for the firms based there. Leaders who fail to attract, retain, and engage the Born Digital effectively turn their backs on billions or even trillions of dollars in potential revenue.

Increase in EBITDA margin for every 1% of above-average access to Born Digital talent.

So, let’s take a closer look. “The Born Digital effect” derives from two opinion surveys — one conducted among business leaders and one among Born Digital employees, backed up with a custom-built economic model. Within the latter group, we identified Generation Remote — Gen Z workers who entered the workforce during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

During the course of this research, Fieldwork by 必威手机app began to appreciate that these groups operate worlds apart. Much as we learned in “Work 2035: How people and technology will pioneer new ways of working,” there’s a difference between how leaders and employees envision the future of work. While leaders anticipate a workforce where humans will be augmented by technology, Born Digital workers fear a world in which they will be replaced by it. And while many business leaders feel they must work out of an office, the Born Digital are ambivalent about physical workspaces entirely. What’s more, Born Digital workers are divided among themselves, with a portion of them having never set foot inside a traditional corporate office.

These gaps must be proactively managed for organizations to thrive, and for the Born Digital to inherit a future they want. But inherit they shall. Although they may be young, the Born Digital will occupy the C-Suite soon enough. Before they get there, though, let’s look at how leaders can start meeting these future leaders’ needs — and by doing so, helping ensure their organizations’ vitality deep into the future.

Our methodology

We conducted 3,000 quantitative interviews across two groups of knowledge workers between November 2020 and February 2021:

  • 2,000 Born Digital workers ​(age 18-40​) within large, established corporations and mid-market businesses. This cohort consisted of 750 Gen Z respondents and 1,250 Gen Y respondents (online survey).
  • 1,000 Business Leaders​ within large, established corporations and mid-market businesses (phone and online survey).

Three key opportunities

Our research identified three opportunities that, once addressed, can help Born Digital reach their fullest potential — and organizations reach new heights of success. Read on to learn how to meet this digital cohort on its own terms, and unlock a new chapter in your innovation story.

Understanding generation remote
The born digital and business leaders
The future-fit workplace

Understanding generation remote

How do you create an office culture for a generation that has never worked in the office?

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The born digital and business leaders

How can today’s top brass best support the leaders of tomorrow?

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The future-fit workplace

How can you promote a more fluid, flexible idea around where and how work gets done?

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The new way to office

The fight for a more flexible working environment did not begin with Born Digital, nor will it end with them. Employees have pushed for remote work for a long time, but prior to the pandemic, corporate policy held them back. Born Digital workers are not the inventors of these demands; they are, however, the tipping point. Their needs — now felt by many — overturn the old assumptions. Meeting these needs means rethinking how and where work gets done.

Business leaders must acknowledge that good, even great, work can happen outside of office walls, as well as within them. They must build employee experiences that provide Born Digital workers with flexible virtual and physical environments. These environments should be intuitive, intelligent, and personalized.

Remote work will remain a key part of Born Digital’s future. But just because younger employees are more comfortable with remote work doesn’t mean physical offices will disappear. Provided they offer a space to collaborate, traditional workspaces will continue to be valued. The pandemic has reshaped the status quo, and the office is not being spared the makeover, but predictions of traditional workspaces’ demise are premature.

Creating a better, more equitable work environment is a shared project, not one built from the top down. The Born Digital have managed to adapt to the present. There’s much they can teach about what the future should look like — and help their organizations prosper for decades to come.

Related resources


The Born Digital effect: Young workers and the new knowledge economy


The critical case for employee experience: Apply three principles to fuel EX that unlocks your organization’s potential


Work 2035: How people and technology will pioneer new ways of working