How Technology Can Help Bridge Generational Divides
Workplaces across the country are adjusting to a new reality. Baby boomers and those who came before them, frequently called traditionalists, are remaining in the workforce for longer. Meanwhile, the first members of Generation Z, roughly defined as those born after the mid-1990s, are beginning their careers and will make up a large share of the labor market soon. Now that four — and in many cases, five — generations are working together, how will we all get along?
The answer to bringing these disparate generations together lies in the digital workplace. While it's easy to assume “digital” excludes older generations, a true digital workplace enables employees to communicate across channels, however they prefer. And when it comes to dealing with employees of multiple generations, that’s key. You want to give each generation the tools to communicate in the manner they prefer, while bridging the divide by centralizing content so no one is left out.
Let’s take a look at some ways that technology can help bring all your employees together, regardless of if they prefer texting, Twitter or telephones.
Understanding the Generational Tech Divide
Even if you don’t know what the generational tech divide is, you instinctively understand it. It’s why some folks in your office prefer face-to-face meetings or phone calls, some prefer emails and others can only be reached by chat because they don’t answer the phone. Understanding these digital habits — and respecting them — is key to managing the generational gap and attracting multigenerational talent.
Especially if you’re heading a tech initiative and you’re catering to a different generation, try to step out of your preferences and consider what other generations might prefer.
Fundamentally, these behaviors and preferred technologies combine to create a technological generation gap, where employees, shaped by their personal experiences, demonstrate different levels of ability (and willingness) to adopt new tech. Constantly chasing the next update or device, switched on millennials and Gen Z are quick to lap up the latest apps, games, and platforms, while Gen X and boomers are generally slower to embrace technology — both at home and in the workplace.
Addressing Generational Preferences
To younger generations, technology means flexibility. From the cloud and video conferencing to mobile apps and chat, millennials have embraced the freedom of remote work. How a company embraces technology is so important to millennials that 71% say it influences whether or not they take a job. Like millennials, members of Gen Z want a sophisticated digital work environment. According to a Dell report, 80% want to work with cutting-edge technology.
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But technology is more than just apps and high-tech phones. As we standardize processes and implement technology, we define clear communication channels. So, for common interactions the mode of communication is standardized. This is where things like e-forms can come in handy. When everyone is submitting a form, there isn’t a debate over who said what or who approved what. And you can even address generational preferences by allowing approval through an app, by email or via web.
You can also engage millennials and Gen Z with business process improvement initiatives. Encourage millennials to diagram business processes to ensure they are as simple, logical and consistent as possible, then let them work with organizational stakeholders to translate them into automated workflows. Cutting out the busywork associated with expense report submission, invoice and purchase approval, travel request submission and contract approval is one way to support efficient-minded millennials that will satisfy Gen X and boomers, too.
Related Article: How Your Digital Workplace Can Help Bridge the Digital Divide
3 Ways Tech Can Unite Generations
For so many of us, technology is the main tool we use to get work done. In today’s multigenerational workforce, the different attitudes and experiences of baby boomers, Gen X and millennials represent great diversity in the adoption and use of technology. Many things can drive generations apart, but technology doesn’t have to be one of them.
The best way to support and engage your entire workforce is to not only acknowledge diverse communication preferences, but also the overlap among them. Here are three ways that technology can help unite a multigenerational workforce.
- Engagement: Members of all generations see value in more personal contact. An effective communication strategy will consider that, for example, while an instant message is an efficient way to check in about a specific detail, one-on-ones are better suited for longer discussions. Set corporate guidelines about what are the best modes to communicate specific types of information.
- Collaboration: Collaboration tools like chat, video conferencing, content management and project management platforms can have a big influence on multigenerational teams. They can help older workers document and share their knowledge while giving younger workers an understanding of how they fit into the big picture. Collaboration is more successful when it fits into business processes and doesn’t stand alone. Consider how it can enhance existing processes like hiring, expense report submission or invoice approval.
- Flexibility: If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that work isn’t about where it gets done but about how it happens. All generations appreciate the flexibility they get from being able to work remotely. Boomers could be caring for aging parents. Gen X and millennials are likely balancing work with an active family life. Flexibility appeals to Gen Z so they can have more control over how they spend their time. Think about how you can use tech to offer all generations the flexibility they crave.
The ability to work productively with colleagues in order to meet personal and professional goals is the second most important factor for employees — across all generations — when seeking a job. A great digital workplace offers employees of all generations a variety of technology to choose from, whether it’s chat apps like Microsoft Teams or Slack, mobile apps, audio calling, video calling, in-person or video conferencing or any other variety of the technology available. When you’re building your digital workplace, actively consider the needs of multiple generations to bring your workforce together. It will help build a stronger team overall.
About the Author
Melissa Henley is Senior Director of Customer Experience at KeyShot, the global leader of product design rendering software. Customers are at the heart of all Melissa does, and her passion is around connecting people to content that can have a genuine positive impact on their lives.