Collaborating Across the Generational Gap

Seth Robinson, Senior director of technology Analysis, CompTIA
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Collaboration is a sort of Holy Grail for business, and the quest is becoming more urgent. Companies are under pressure to do more with less, and the desire to find the best talent drives a demand for smooth communication across different locations. To complicate matters, attitudes around communication and collaboration are shifting dramatically, as new generations enter the workforce and bring new perspectives to well-established routines.

There are a couple important ground rules to set before diving into the current state of collaboration. First, some of the characteristics displayed by Millennials or later generations are simply characteristics of young people in the workplace. The need for feedback and the desire to share new ideas might be exacerbated by social media and news stories, but these are issues that every generation has dealt with in early career stages. Second, stereotypes of different generations might not be as absolute as some reports suggest. CompTIA’s Managing the Multigenerational Workforce study found a balanced approach by most workers rather than a contentious relationship.

With that said, there are definitely differences in technology usage, simply because younger generations are growing up with technology embedded into everyday life. CompTIA’s study found that 30 percent of Millennials consider themselves on the cutting edge of technology, compared to 21 percent of Gen X and just 4percent of Baby Boomers. As new technology opens new possibilities for communication and collaboration, existing systems will need to adapt to accommodate the modern workforce.

  ‚ÄčAs new technology opens new possibilities for communication and collaboration, existing systems will need to adapt to accommodate the modern workforce  

Even as the collaboration toolbox is growing, email remains a standard option for most companies and most employees. It may not be everyone’s preferred method of communication, but it has incredibly broad adoption and is a strong choice for a system of identity and record-keeping. Texting and instant messaging tools are also popular options, especially among employees less than 50 years old. New messaging tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams are gaining traction as they add functionality around group chats and offline support.

Social media is another tool used more prominently by younger workers. Here, in addition to differences in the style of communication, there are differences in the willingness to blur lines between the professional and the personal. 31 percent of 20-something workers and 28 of 30-something workers use Facebook for work and personal purposes. Many companies are building policies around social media usage to help define boundaries as information sharing becomes more commonplace.

Beyond the tools, though, there is a bigger issue at play as collaboration is redefined. Behavior is a key factor in building a communications strategy, and the IT world has been learning about behavioral impact as unified communications suites have had mixed results and as the overlap between traditional IT and traditional telecom has grown larger. As digital tools become more accessible and more capable, the prevailing attitude toward communications is one of efficiency.

On one hand, this is a good thing. The ability to keep a process moving with a simple message eliminates delay. The opportunity to communicate from any location enhances productivity. Many companies want to capture these benefits and will continue to explore the software and the workflow that can deliver these kinds of results.

But many companies are also interested in innovation, and innovation does not necessarily lend itself to efficiency. Brainstorming and collaborative efforts can certainly happen across new tools, but something may get lost in the process. The drive for efficiency creates several risks, and these risks are not felt only by older workers who are experiencing disruption to their routine. In fact, Millennials edge out other cohorts in the level of concern over various downsides, especially information overload (17 percent of Millennials show serious concern), disjointed communications (17 percent), and decline of face to face communications (20 percent).

The challenge for businesses today is to blend tools and behaviors for the optimal outcome. New techniques are bringing greater efficiency, and specific focus may be needed to create collaborative environments for innovation as traditional methods fade. The good news is that most stereotypes around generational segments are not set in stone. Workers of all ages are willing to try new things, learn about both technology and business practices, and improves collaboration as their companies transform into digital organizations.

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