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How Multiple Generations Can Work Together in a Changing Workplace

June 08, 2020

Teamwork via videocall

Working from home is nothing new. For decades, many businesses—especially tech companies—have offered remote working options. In recent years, that popularity has grown even more.

It stood to reason that remote work would continue its upward trajectory. Eventually, working from home could become the rule rather than the exception.

COVID-19 condensed that timeline. From 2017 to 2018, only about 29% of U.S. workers were able to work from home. Compare that to 57% of Americans in March this year who reported they now work remotely due to current events.

Making the Switch to Remote Work

The global health situation forced businesses to install telecommute policies almost overnight. Now they must support employees adapting to a new way of working, especially in industries where working from home wasn’t an option to begin with.

Interpersonal relationships may be harder to manage online than by the water cooler.

Shifting from office life to working from home has allowed a multitude of businesses to survive during a time of economic uncertainty and health risks. But it doesn’t come without a cost.

Interpersonal relationships may be harder to manage online than by the water cooler. Those not used to working completely via phone, video chat, or email may miss face-to-face office interaction. Workers and businesses had to establish entirely new ways of getting work done, and that came with a steep learning curve.

For some employees perhaps, but not all. Gen Z and Millennials have been getting work done and nurturing interpersonal relationships online for years. This way of working may not be as new to them as it might be for generations like Gen X and Baby Boomers.

This mass exodus from the corporate office to the home office is an opportunity for all generations to learn from each other. Baby Boomers and Gen X watched the workplace change around them for years, while many Millennials entered the workplace during a recession. They're all used to working through tough periods of change and know how to adapt to a "new now."

We can leverage the strengths of each generation to grow and transform the modern workplace.

Boomers Bring Experience and People Skills

During their careers, Boomers have seen the working landscape evolve in dramatic ways. Most technology we now use every day did not exist at all during their formative years. They’ve had to learn how to work through multiple recessions and constantly evolving tech.  

Boomers bring a significant amount of experience to the table. They know how to manage people and business relationships. How to work through periods of great change. When to have a face-to-face conversation versus shooting off an email. These lessons, learned and honed over time, can be taught to younger generations through mentorship or other educational means.

Gen X Navigates Economic and Technological Change

Statistically, Gen Xers  tend to be loyal to their companies and therefore hold institutional knowledge.  Though they may not have grown up with as much technology as their younger counterparts, they see the value in it and navigate the digital workspace with confidence.

Along with Boomers, Gen X brings people skills and traditional leadership honed throughout their careers. They can serve as a bridge between the younger Millennials and Gen Zers to the Boomers.

Millennials Push for Use of Tech in the Workplace

Growing up as older kids and teens when the internet and smart phones first became widely used, Millennials already know the value of technology. They drive the use of collaboration tools that make working with a remote team easier.

With many entering the workforce during the 2008 recession, it gave them skills to not just survive but thrive during difficult circumstances. They share this experience with Boomers and Gen X, who were already well into their careers at the time.

Millennials have had to learn to be resourceful enough to find new opportunities both for themselves and the businesses they work in.

Gen Z is the Technological Multitasker, Eager to Grow

Gen Z is the newest generation to enter the workforce and has a natural affinity with technology. The grew up as toddlers playing on smart phones while Millennials were already young adults. Technology is almost a natural extension of themselves.

Gen Z is the expert multitasker. They're naturals at navigating multiple apps, communication tools, and digital tasks. Because of this, Gen Z employees can wear many hats. Companies needing to operate “lean and mean” through unexpected disruptions lean into the value of workers with these skills.

Because Gen Z entered the workforce during a time of drastic change, it's going to shape what they expect from employers in the future. As the first generation of "digital natives,” they're used to personalization in the tools they use—and this extends to the world around them. They are the generation that can think beyond the current status quo of the company’s tools, and develop sharp, streamlined, and individualized technology for future growth. 

Multi-Generational Collaboration in the Future Workplace

Each generation faces different challenges when it comes to working from home; Gen Zers may fight for elbow room alongside family or housemates. Millennials and Gen Xers may balance work with educating young children at home. And Boomers, while most likely to have dedicated office space, could have less digital experience.

Because all generations are becoming more comfortable working from home, there may be a big push for this way of working to continue. From reducing overhead costs of facilities to protecting employees from public health issues, some believe it’s highly unlikely we'll see things go back to exactly how they were.

Some Boomers and Gen Xers might have a learning curve when it comes to online collaboration while Millennials and Gen Z thrive in a remote environment. Generational trends aside, intentionally building collaboration between the more and less tech-savvy employees is critical while adapting to the massive change current events wrought on the traditional workplace.

A Transforming Workforce

While having face-to-face time in a physical office still has undeniable benefits, flexible working has evolved from a desire into a necessity. And it’s not going to go away.

The merging of generational experiences during this global shift in working practices is something that will create stronger team bonds, now and in the future. A broad range of new skills are both taught and learned through collaboration. This is the perfect way to ensure the workplace of the future is full of close-knit teams leading a cultural change. Each generation brings something new to the table, and they're already proving that the benefits of a blended team remain--even when working remotely.

Recognizing each individual’s strengths and value to the team—regardless of meeting in person or over the internet—is the best way forward to build a strong working culture.