Millennial-driven changes to office and technology culture

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The millennial generation is shaking up the workplace with different priorities and expectations. Teamwork and work-life balance, particularly with remote work and a flexible schedule, rate high on their list when choosing and staying with a career, as well as the ability to remain connected whether on-the-road, working from home, or in the office. Catering to these new demands will be paramount for companies who want to hire and retain millennial talent, which is quickly becoming the dominant generation in the workforce.

A survey by Ernst & Young’s Global Generations Research of nearly 10,000 full-time employees across generations in eight countries including the U.S. showed that millennials are more likely to take a pay decrease, move, or pass on a promotion to better manage work-life demands. In contrast, they’re also more likely to quit because of flexibility issues: Sixty-nine per cent of all full-time workers cited a “boss who doesn’t allow [me] to work flexibly” as a leading reason for leaving a job. Millennials rated workplace flexibility with higher importance than every other generation.

This generation values collaboration more than any other. Considering the ubiquitous use of social media by these digital natives and their engagement in larger global online communities over the course of their entire lives, millennials are uniquely, and unsurprisingly, social. Sharing ideas, learning from others, and co-producing is a generational hallmark that they’re accustomed to, with technology as the anchor point.

Millennials are more productive and content when able to collaborate easily with their team or clients from their personal work space — whether in the office, on the road, or at home — and they want to have the same ease-of-use for technology that they have in their personal lives with smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Effective collaboration requires tools that allow people to work together and complete projects as if they were together in front of a whiteboard or sitting at the huddle room table, even if they’re physically scattered across time zones and the globe. Millennials embrace using collaboration technology and virtual workspaces, and are ten per cent more tech-oriented and collaborative than the norm.

By 2025, millennials will comprise seventy-five per cent of the workforce. Many of them are already our business managers: Sixty-two per cent of full-time millennials currently manage the work of others, according to EY. Given these statistics, companies must invest in the tools that will attract and retain millennial talent. Millennial managers will continue to climb the corporate ladder, and they will have different views on the definition of managerial perks and benefits than the generations before them. Companies need to be ready for this shift of workplace culture and technological expectations.

Attitudes toward flexible work and the technology to support it need to change

There is a distinct disconnect between the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials about remote and flexible work. Boomers particularly tend to foster a traditional 8-to-5 workday inside an office. They also adopt less of the kind of new technology required for successful virtual teamwork in a 24/7 workplace that extends beyond four walls.

Millennials sense the negativity or have experienced concrete blowback from their older management colleagues. The EY survey shows that 67 per cent of millennials perceive a “flexibility stigma” and one in six millennials report having “suffered negative consequences as a result of a flexible work schedule.”

That blowback may partially stem from Boomer fear that flexible work will diminish productivity. Research shows this concern is largely unwarranted; for example, Stanford Professor Nick Bloom and colleagues found that allowing individuals to work from home results in increased productivity and increased employee personal happiness. Happy workers may also be more productive; in fact, economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness can be quantified in terms of productivity and that happy workers are 12 per cent more productive.

The perceived learning curve associated with the technology needed to meet the new way of work may be adding on top of scepticism of a different work flow. The millennial generation is known for being early adopters of emerging technology, largely because it’s how they’ve communicated their entire lives, using FaceTime, Skype, Snapchat, Periscope and myriad other apps. For this reason, tools such as HD video conferencing as a part of any meeting is something they embrace as a powerful connection and productivity tool. According to eMarketer.com, 54 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds visit YouTube at least once per day; however, generations who have not spent their entire lives on camera, working with collaborative technology tools like high-definition video conferencing can feel intimidating. The hyper-real environment, perfect for creating the shoulder-to-shoulder feeling of actually being in the room together, can be jarring at first. Getting over that initial intimidation and diving into these powerful tools, however, will prove a win-win for all generations. Successful companies who find harmony with millennials and their vast talent will embrace these workplace evolutions, while those that ignore this generation’s preferences and priorities do so at their own peril, and perhaps the peril of company bottom lines.

Technology must meet the demands of emerging work practices

The new reality of work is clearly moving toward the virtual. The application of visual communications collaboration technologies will continue to grow in support of ever larger numbers of people working remotely: Fifty-two per cent of the global workforce spends at least some of its time working remote already, according to Dell and Intel. When they do come into the office, huddle spaces and meeting rooms with video conferencing capabilities are improving meeting productivity, team and client relationships, and supporting the flexibility that millennials seek by allowing them to join from anywhere via video.

To provide this environment, companies will need to ensure their technology is robust and collaborative enough to meet employee and company requirements. Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangouts work for friends for one-to-one casual conversations, but businesses require far more stability and advanced features to create an atmosphere of true collaboration, which allows multiple people view something, understand it and interact with it, in real-time, at the same time. Far beyond the technology used by teens to visually connect, HD collaboration tools allow every member of a business team to have the same meeting experience, including seeing every meeting participant and their nonverbal cues and simultaneously viewing, manipulating, saving, and sharing data in real time, regardless of where they are.

Understanding non-verbal cues is important; team members must be able to see and hear each other clearly and reliably to ascertain the important non-verbal cues expressed through in-person interaction. Compared to an audio-only conference call, video conferencing offers participants an experience that rivals that of actual face-to-face interaction, with one of the main advantages being the ability to observe facial nuance, which can be critical in reading a colleague’s or customer’s (or adversary’s) true feelings. While tone of voice and volume level can be used to understand someone’s unspoken thoughts, crucial nonverbal signals used in communication would be completely lost in an audio-only exchange and they take on almost cinematic inflections in high definition. High definition, high frame rate video conferencing provide users a substantial advantage over those working on an audio-only conference call, and beyond that, the best systems allow users to save and print the work they create collaboratively, and share it with others who were unable to attend the session.

Technology solutions designed for collaboration, such as those with HD video-conferencing, digital whiteboards, projection, and interactive touchscreens and touchpads make it easier than ever before to offer millennials exactly what they want and businesses the competitive advantage they need.

With a combination of video conferencing products and state-of-the-art collaboration tools, the barriers to virtual team collaboration are eliminated. Just as important, the presumed disconnect between flexible work and true collaborative productivity can be eliminated, removing obstacles to being responsive to millennial desires for more control over their work schedule and environment. Millennials are the future of business – both as employees and consumers. In many ways, they are already the current reality. Making sure that corporate attitudes and technological infrastructure align with their operational preferences is the key to a business’ success in recruiting the next-generation workforce and winning in an ever more competitive marketplace.

Loren Shaw, VP of Marketing, InFocus
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