The population born between 1980 & 1995, known as the Millennial generation, are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with, within every work place in the US. The growing tide of roughly 80 million members (larger than the baby boomer generation) are becoming the fastest growing population of employees in companies all over the US. As more baby boomers retire, and give way to new hires, the Millennial generation will not only shape the workplace but will also bring about changes in everything to benefit how companies support and adopt technology. How can companies adapt to handle this change in corporate climate? More importantly, how can changes being made to accommodate a generation used to being connected 24-7, and more concerned about work/life balance than any generation prior? This paper hopes to address some of the concerns facing companies dealing with these questions, and offer up recommendations on both considerations to adapt to Millennials as well as technology solutions that can help the workplace, as well as the employees, work together in a more productive and enriching fashion.
Companies are quickly falling into a disruptive cycle, that looks to change every aspect of their business. Corporations have largely remained unchanged in the way they handle business since the 1950’s, even in the midst of the various technology revolutions that have swept through corporate America over the last several years. Org trees, cubicles, and weekly team meetings have become as much a mainstay in corporate America as the bad coffee in the break rooms and gossip that occurs at water coolers throughout the US. Though business has become more travel-intensive, with people getting more connected more quickly, power points and meeting driven projects have replaced what overhead projectors and office workshops once were.
With what’s occurring now with rise in Millennials however, corporations are spending upwards of 50 billion dollars a year to create incentives, offer free perks, and break down traditional hierarchies to appease the needs of younger, more driven employees with a strong sense of self worth, raised in a generation where Mr. Rogers taught you were special simply for showing up, and sports teams where everyone got a trophy since everyone was a winner. This has bred young workers to gain a sense of self entitlement, feeling as if they are prized commodities with more options than limitations, and can demand work conform to their terms or they’ll walk to a job with better pay and recognition. Where employees used to stay at a company for their entire career and sacrifice for the corporate good, a manager would be lucky to find a Millennial in the same company, let alone same job, 3-4 years from when they started. They’re willing to spend time figuring out what fits them best, and are not only spending more time in college trying out degrees, but will more than likely be non-committal on a given career path until well into their late 20’s.
In this case, the question for corporate America then becomes, how can a company adapt in a smart and cost-effective way without becoming too complacent and reminding everyone they still have a job to do at the end of the day? There are many factors to consider, in an increasingly complex scenario. This post hopes to bring up some of these considerations, from a purely technological perspective, and help to draw out some of the questions companies should be considering as this trend continues to grow.
Factors To Consider
Below is a list of factors to consider, based on research being conducted in this space, where companies are currently or soon will implement solutions around technology solutions in the next 3-5 years, driven by Millennials in the workplace.
Technology-Driven Work style
The one thing that unites all Millennials the world over, is the need to be constantly connected to the bigger world around them, and have all the solutions they use in the course of a day be driven by digital technology in some form or another. Not only one piece of technology will do though, as most Millennials are connected by a number of different gadgets. From laptops, smart phones, and mp3 players, to eReaders, Touch-enabled white boards, and teleconferencing, Millennials are driven by the ability to integrate everything they do into not only their own ecosystem but the corporate ecosystem at large.
Millennials love to stay not only connected to a constant stream of information and data, but also stay connected with one another. The ability to share, communicate, and discuss whatever it is that’s in front of them, either online or offline, in real time is vital towards felling a sense of connectedness and gain a sense of purpose and progress around the work they’re doing if they can collaborate on that topic with others the world over. This is especially true in team-based projects, where Millennials are very much prone to team work and completely dismissing individual progress over group-based achievement.
Social Networking in the Workplace
Millennials want to stay connected with their team mates, and social networks, throughout the entire day. Being able to multitask, focusing on twitter feeds while checking into Facebook, and sharing relevant information on their enterprise-wide Yammer network, is essential for maintaining a strong level of productivity as attention spans continue to evolve into a multi-faceted approach vs more traditional heads down work flows with a single area of focus.
Greater Diversity in Working Teams
With the changing culture, greater access to travel, as well as shifting workflows the world over, Millennials are more prone to embracing experiences that help broaden their awareness of other cultures, but also appreciate working on teams with a greater number of people with different backgrounds, and cultures. As work continues to grow into a worldwide work day, Millennials will continue to expect opportunities to not only work with different teams on a regular basis but also work in different projects, environments, and locations to continue expanding on their cultural understanding.
Flexibility in Working Conditions / Environments
With the growing need to embrace new experiences, Millennials that grew up climbing Mt Everest or helping to build homes in third world countries vs spending summers mowing lawns, will expect opportunities to not only have flexible work hours but also flexible work locations, along with the opportunity to work virtually and not be tied to a single desk or work environment. Furthermore, flexible work assignments along with ample opportunity for vertical and horizontal movement is also a growing demand.
Emphasis on Social Responsibility
Millennials grew up in a very social conscious culture, and are therefore very socially aware themselves. The need to demonstrate Social Responsibility has never been more important. From donation matching, to corporate non-profit events, the need to demonstrate social responsibility is fast becoming a requirement on the list of demands for Millennials.
Connected Gadgets, Connected Employees
Millennials are not only connected to more and more technologies, but also have increasing demands on how sophisticated the technology should be. Consumer technology is being brought in greater amounts into the workplace, and there is a strong demand that a person’s technology be allowed to interact with their corporate systems, to create a single set o tools to interact both at home and at work.
Training, Training, and More Training
Along with the need to advance and change work assignments, is the need to have ample training opportunities to learn and grow existing or new skills. Even though Millennials grew up with a strong sense of self-entitlement, it’s also one of the most achievement driven generations of all time. The need to keep hungry minds fed, with constant challenges put in front of Millennials, is the secret to keeping this new generation not only hungry, but happy, and will help drive greater productivity and output as more emphasis is put on practical training and increasingly challenging work assignments to match up to increasingly challenging training activities.
Based on the factors stated above, here are potential solutions to help address concerns around technology adoption in the midst of this disruptive corporate trend.
Mobile Device Strategy
Having a clear direction & strategy in place on how to handle personal & corporate owned devices is essential to address the needs of employees to be connected in the simplest way possible. Access to corporate resources over mobile devices, as well as having the ability to use mobile technology throughout the course of business, should no longer be considered a luxury but instead be considered an essential part of doing business. Having a mobile strategy to address concerns such as security, and governance is essential to work towards this.
Collaboration Tools & Programs
Having tools to not only help Millennial employees keep in touch, but also collaborate in a simple straight forward way will save employees time trying to get older tools to work the way they want them to, but will also help to increase crowd sourcing and collective brainstorming throughout the course of work, as well as create a better sense of belonging through established work-driven social networks.
Incentive-based Technology Adoption Initiatives
Building simple incentives, such as free corporate swag, in a competitive fashion is a great way to help roll out any new solution or communicate a change, as Millennials have a strong need to compete and be recognized accordingly. Not only that, but Millennials quickly become advocates for technologies they’re competitively working to promote and/or adopt within their work teams.
Digital Workspaces optimized for collaboration & community building
Creating online work places, such as Share point, that have a heavy emphasis on collaboration & community building will not only help to refine solutions with less IT-driven work, but will also help Millennials to gain a greater sense of belonging with the company as this is the most direct and effective way to help young employees gain a sense of belonging through contributing to corporate networks in a collaborative fashion. Adding features such as local community events, or allowing employees to advertise events such as open mic nights, will help draw out employees from all aspects of the company and allow for a greater sense of community while growing input on company-based requests such as surveys and employee feedback mechanisms.
Virtual Access Enablement
Allowing employees to work from wherever they’d like, and un-tether them from their desk, will offer up a greater sense of flexibility and help to create a culture of self driven productivity. Millennials that feel they’re on their own to perform, and make sure they get their work done, are more likely to work in difficult circumstances, such as pulling all nighters for a work assignment, vs if they’re mandated to show up during certain hours in a specific location. Not only that, but it’ll give them a greater sense of flexibility, keeping them in a position or company longer, than if they are forced into a confining and repetitive behavior. This means in investing in technologies, like remote desk topping or VPN support, to allow for connecting to workplace resources from any where.
Investing in Unified Communications
Allowing employees to connect on different devices, and be contacted in a streamlined fashion, can help to not only broaden access and collaboration between employees, but will also help to support different communication approaches, and support the demand to customize a work environment around an individuals way of interacting. There is also little tolerance for overly complicated, or cumbersome methods for reaching out to other employees, so developing methods to unify multiple communication methods will help to ease concerns no matter how or where an employee is being contacted.
Digital Workshops / Webcasts for Ideation
Developing regular methods to get employees more engaged in the product development lifecycle will not only help to generate greater brand promotion, but will also help to gain greater cultural inclusion and draw stronger ties between the company and the employee. Whether it’s an online idea submission form, or regular SkunkWorks projects to get employees sharing ideas they have, it’ll not only feed the need for Millennials to gain a sense of individual contribution to a project but also give them a greater sense of belonging.
Depending on where a company is to date, on technology adoption, size, fiscal year, etc will depend on how aggressive they can be on pursuing initiatives to help adapt to Millennial employees. However, at some level, every company can begin to meet at a stakeholder-level to build plans around diversity, and technology adoption to make sure initiatives are aligned with employee retention and recruiting, in light of growing numbers of attrition, through older employees leaving and mid-level employees transitioning in greater numbers. By addressing these solutions head on, and making a strategy for how to grow solutions in a cost-effective manner, companies won’t be caught in a jam when attrition grows beyond the ability to recruit and retain new employees.
*Daniel Maycock is Slalom Consulting’s National Lead for Technology Strategy. For more information about Slalom Consulting, please go to http://www.slalom.com/