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This original article appeared on B2C on 02/23/2016.
The combined forces of the digital revolution and the millennial generation’s transition into adulthood will bring exciting new changes to the workplace. As the first generation of digital natives, millennials bring a lot to the table, and building an office around their updated communication and work styles offers exciting possibilities. Although they don’t always laugh at my Seinfeld references (and never want to borrow my CDs), putting in the right framework and processes to maximize their potential can be a game-changer.
Specifically, business leaders today have a great opportunity to rethink the way they structure their organizations, especially when it comes to communication technology and interactions between employees and their managers. The future workplace will require more real-time information, more user-friendly applications and processes, and more varied opportunities for interaction.
Having grown up in the digital age, millennials are accustomed to getting the information they need without going much further than a Google search. They know what everyone in their network is up to because social media platforms, such as Snapchat and Instagram, provide a constant feed of information about what people around them are doing. Monthly reports and newsletters are history; if it happened last week, it’s not relevant.
However, businesses have not usually been so quick to share information. It’s common for a business to keep access to company-wide data restricted to executives only, and to keep other information siloed within specific departments. Most companies put little effort into making data quickly and easily accessible, instead relying on arcane systems that require workers to make tedious requests for access rather than presenting it on demand.
So how will this change in the future workplace? I believe companies on the cutting edge will adapt to make big data about everything from employee performance to in-app data usage statistics accessible across the organization. In addition, communication between employees, teams and offices will also become more automated: the result will be fewer status meetings and more information-sharing platforms, like Slack and real-time leaderboards that track employee activity, increasing employee productivity and engagement.
In the future workplace, usability will be a key driver of performance. Business leaders can make the most of this trend by updating their day-to-day business technologies to be more user-friendly. In other words, stop thinking like a CIO or VP of IT and start thinking like a consumer app customer support rep. For example, make everything mobile-accessible. Give employees the ability to snap a selfie and upload that as their user photo to an enterprise app. Empower millennials with the option to update enterprise apps from their phones anytime, anywhere.
Millennials are accustomed to organizations without formal rules for engagement: they want free-flowing discussion rather than having conversations initiated mainly by senior management. The new paradigm looks more like Reddit-style news sites where people play an active role in consuming news rather than picking up a newspaper or turning on the TV at 10 p.m. for a nightly broadcast. On top of that, the modern workforce is becoming more geographically disparate, meaning there’s less time for conventional face-to-face meetings and even email can be a painfully slow communication method.
Instead, millennials feel at home connecting across wide networks, both social and professional (from Snapchat to LinkedIn), where they can easily converse among a crowd of millions of people in real-time. Taking on this new perspective, the modern business will be more social, but not in the typical “hanging around the water cooler” sense. Rather, digital gathering places and social collaboration and measurement tools will define interactions between employees – not only among peers but also in how they relate to managers.
Millennials perform best on long-term projects when they have regularly updated goals and metrics. From middle school through college, they could regularly track how they measured up throughout the semester. Everything was put online. Before their final exams they would know exactly how they needed to do on the final to get an A in the class.
However, when they get to their first company, it’s often difficult for them find out if they are doing a good job, or they only get that feedback much later. There are no frameworks from which to measure their progress towards a bonus or promotion. This is why leaderboards, KPIs and other real-time metrics will become very important for the future workplace. Not only does this provide constant guidance, it also plays into the competitive nature of millennials. For the new workforce, challenges, awards, or being named among the top 10 percent of performers can be especially effective sources of motivation.
Businesses have a fantastic opportunity to transform themselves in order to get the most out of the digital revolution and the rise of the millennial workforce. Much of this adaptation will take place in the technological realm, which has become the site of more and more business activities. Ultimately, the changes in business technology will follow the changes we’ve seen in consumer tech – applications will become faster, more user-friendly and sociable. It’s a brave new world out there – why not join the fun?