My first job out of college was as a Receptionist at a boutique printing house. The biggest team was the Sales Team, and I was the youngest on staff. Looking back, my boss was probably about the same age I am now. Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo were…startups. So, was Amazon. Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram weren’t even a glimmer in their creators’ eyes. (read: didn’t exist yet).
That Was Then. This is Now.
Fast forward toward to today. Microsoft and Apple fight for computer system dominance. Cloud hosting is a thing. Social media is how we get our news and connect with…well, everyone. Data is a currency, and Amazon is king of the world.
And the one-time Receptionist is running her own business. I’ve learned a lot along the way from bosses I wanted to emulate and from those whom I learned what NOT to do. Though I fall toward the older end of Generation X, I’ve been blessed to have friends in camps a decade or more after mine. From them, I’ve learned even more about working with other, specifically younger generations, and working with a virtual team.
You know those people who say, “oh, I’ll just figure it out” and do? I used to be one those. Give me a task, a new project, whatever, and anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and I could get you results. Fast forward to today, and there’s just too much. Plus, it moves so fast, I can hardly keep up.
Enter the first member of my dream team, Rachel, who has helped me realize dreams and ideas I’ve had for years with no idea how to execute them. Here’s what she had to say about the perception of Millenials, and how Inter-generational teams can contribute to our own successes.
Be Adaptable and Flexible
As a member of today’s youth, I’ll be the first to agree we prefer working in a flexible environment. If you ask students what an employer could do to make their chosen career more attractive, you’ll more than likely get responses involving flexible hours, the ability to work from home, or work location independently.
The “work-life balance” desired by us may not actually be related to the distribution of the hours worked. Our desire for flexibility makes us more willing than older generations to work odd hours, which accommodates our time-zone distributed team members.
My two cents: We’ve been conditioned that 8 AM-5 PM is a traditional workday or some variant thereof, with a delineated half hour or hour for lunch. Well, in the U.S., anyway.
Having lived, traveled, and worked abroad, exposure to different work habits has helped set the tone for the way I prefer to work; which is when I decide I’m at my best, not when a clock tells me my work hours are. I’m unusual in that regard as an American, but four years of working in a virtual environment for clients around the globe has given me another stick by which to measure my productivity.
My colleague, and co-author of this article, based in South Africa, has this to say:
“We’re quick to adapt to virtual team environments and often request for this type of structure, bringing different perspectives and synergies to the team. We’re generally effective because we believe in a results-based approach. We focus more on producing the work correctly and on time, and less on how or when we complete the work. This, in turn, enhances our performance and can often maximize productivity.”
An Inter-generational, Virtual team in action
Imagine this scenario: You’ve got 3 projects, all high priority, and all with similar deadlines. You won’t have time to do all the necessary prep work or research or get royalty free images sourced, so you send the project to your Millenial colleague and ask for something to be created or sourced. Maybe I’m lucky, but not only do I get back exactly what I need, but additional suggestions to add value for my client. Want results-driven? This is it.
Interaction is Key
The key for co-workers from older generations is to interact with us Millennials with a desire to understand, rather than with the aim of criticizing how we’re different. Trust and support encourages us to become more involved, committed, and perform better. We work well in teams, enjoy open and frequent communication with our supervisors, thrive off making an impact on organizations, and are comfortable with communication technologies.
My two cents: At 27, an older colleague took me under her wing. I didn’t work for her directly, but I learned how I wanted to be should I ever get to her position. Think of the “Golden Rule.” Treat others how you want to be treated. So, I ask questions. I ask advice. I don’t know it all, and I know I don’t know it all. Don’t get caught in the bubble of “we’ve always done it this way, why change”. Be open to change.
Different generations prefer different forms of communication technologies over others. Baby boomers and Generation X often prefer virtual meetings or calls as primary communication tools. Us millennials, on the other hand, feel as though technological communications are just as effective as face to face meetings. We enjoy multitasking and prefer communicating through quick emails rather than having a virtual face to face meeting.
My two cents: We have communicated entirely by email or a messaging system, and I have never heard her voice, but somehow, we just “clicked.”
How to Keep and Retain Top Talent in a Multi-Generational Workforce
Rather than favoring a generation, institutions are finally starting to realize the benefits of multi-generational virtual teams. They offer the opportunity of leveraging differences and celebrating the strengths of the various generations in today’s workforce.
Working from home, once seen as a privilege, not a right, has changed. The older generation has always believed only high performers or seniors of an institution should be able to work remotely. In today’s world, the formation of global virtual teams isn’t necessarily a luxury. Those who meet the lifestyle demands of a multi-generational workforce are in the best position to attract and retain the most desirable talent.
You might say, Google started it, with their open office plans. Or maybe it was McKinsey with their cross-training, cross-cultural programs. But, the impetus remains — to retain and keep top talent, it’s important to realize:
- Multi-generational teams can learn from each other once communication lines are opened.
- Worry less about WHEN the work gets done and focus on results
- Worry less about WHERE it gets done and focus on results.
- Be flexible and adaptable
- Be supportive and encouraging
- Share your goals, successes, worries, and failures — the more your team knows, the better they can help you move forward from whichever square you find yourself in.
- Ask questions. Ask advice.
Learn from your team members, no matter their age. It’s about the results, not how old someone is, right?