Flexible working: no generation left behind

Flexible working: no generation left behind

MAIN IMAGE: Joanne Bushell, managing director of IWG Plc

In the next five years, there will be five generations in the workplace. Each of these bring their own strengths and weaknesses.

If only we had a workforce of people who could communicate with the elegance of a Baby Boomer, the thoughtfulness of a Gen-Xer, and the speed of a Millennial, that would be perfect. Whilst those individuals are rare, there are ways to maximise the diversity of the different generations in the workplace and become a digital winner

Organisations that will thrive in the future are called digital winners — those that embrace technologies, streamline decision making and purposefully build a digital workforce. Digital winners are leaders that embrace the diverse strengths of the different generations.

Technology is evolving and employers are faced with the challenge of developing employees at the same pace, which is proving challenging in a diverse workforce. Digital transformation has brought about renewed innovation and efficiency in delivering products and services to consumers. At the same time, it has introduced several changes in the workplace — in the way work is done, communication is delivered, and the way processes are executed. Alongside this digital journey, the workplace has become increasingly multigenerational.

Each generation thinks differently, communicates differently, and values very different things. Each generation brings its own unique strengths to the table and it’s important for leadership to capitalise on these strengths.

A recent survey done by Fuze, cloud specialists, indicated that nearly 50% of workers across all generations want to be more mobile at work, rising to 70% for those aged 16-44.

“Employees want to be able to pick up their kids from school, start and finish early if they have international calls first thing in the morning, or be able to head to a doctor’s appointment without fear that they may be considered to be slacking.” says Joanne Bushell, managing director of IWG Plc. (Regus and Spaces in SA).

Businesses would, therefore, be wise to consider a more flexible model to their workplace.

Flexibility is key

Ascertain the employee clusters and their preferences. This includes their preferred working styles, communication mediums, inclinations for workplace flexibility and what they value. According to IWG Plc., the largest flexible workspace provider globally, “the Hybrid model is catering for the entire workforce giving those who enjoy the office the opportunity to keep coming in, while those who thrive while working from home, stay at home and those who enjoy both choose freely.”

Flexible workspaces will allow a multi-generational workforce to thrive and is key to accommodating everyone. Identifying that there are differences in employees’ preferences is the first step. Implementation comes about in personalising digital transformation changes and communicating to each employee’s preference — and not according to their generation group.

Create a culture of inclusion

We talk a lot about culture in the digital transformation age, and when it comes to generational differences, culture is just as important. Intentionally building a culture that values and includes employees’ knowledge, strengths, and experience will help all employees feel happier at work and will assist companies to move towards their mission.

Focus on the consumer — not the age gaps

Generation C — or the consumer generation — is not defined by age. Today, people of every generation are working and buying online, and as such, they all understand the increased expectations of your customer base. Rather than focus on the differences in generation, keep everyone focused on a mission they understand, serving the business purpose.

Acknowledge differences

It is best to not make assumptions of an employee based on the generation in which they were born. To accelerate digital transformation and change, organisation leaders should purposefully place those employees that are digitally and technologically savvy – irrespective of age – and purposefully position them at the forefront of digital transformation as change champions. A digital mindset is the cornerstone of an employee who can navigate changes.

Encourage peer to peer learning

Encouraging a culture of learning across different generations can be an organisation’s competitive edge. Millennials, for example, are likely to be digital natives given the era in which they grew up in. Their ability to navigate technology and embrace digital changes is perhaps faster than their peers.

On the other hand, a study by Oxford Economics revealed that millennials lack the confidence in leadership skills needed for digital transformation. Learning and mentorship programs should therefore not follow the traditional matching process (i.e., matching an older employee with a younger employee).

Instead, development programs and mentorships should use ‘skills’ as the focal point and outcomes of the intervention. Millennials, for example, are therefore able to mentor someone much older than them, such as a baby boomer, to impart knowledge of digital skills. On the other hand, baby boomers can mentor millennials in terms of what is required to be a leader in the digital era. This approach allows for natural relationships to be developed across the generation groups.

Painting all employees with the same brush based on the characteristics assigned to each generation, will cause frustration and discomfort. The best approach is to allow for transparency, encourage peer to peer learning and personalise all digital transformation efforts in an environment that fosters individuality and flexibility.

Flexible workspaces are providing this environment globally and cutting-edge technology allows for learning and the opportunity for a diverse multigenerational workforce.

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