A tremendous change is taking place in the American workforce, thanks to the generational makeup of employees. The rising age of retirement, combined with an increasingly tight labor market, means that in many businesses four generations are now working side-by-side. One of the biggest challenges facing businesses, both large and small, is managing that changing and dynamic workforce as it evolves, grows, and demands more.

Over the years, we have seen the uprising of workspace sharing--everything from "hoteling" where workers are scheduled for a specific time at a specific desk, to hot-desking, where workers can plant themselves at any available desk, at any time, and shared office spaces with open floor plans. Once heralded as the future of the workplace, in many cases, these configurations have not been well received by the workers called upon to adapt to them.

Nevertheless, what's at the heart of these varied approaches is the goal of improving collaboration while still meeting the needs of individual workers. There's a delicate balance to strike between managing the demands of the collective with the requirements of the individual. Here are three tips for gracefully managing the new multigenerational workforce.

1. Know Your Workforce

The workforce of today is made up of four distinct generations. Baby Boomers--those born between 1946 and 1964 and the first generation to grow up with television. Generation Xers--born between 1965 and 1980; they are the first generation to grow up with the advent of the home PC. Those born between 1981 and 2000 are Millennials, the first generation to grow up in the age of the internet.  Anyone born after 2001 is part of Generation Z. They are the mobile generation who have grown up with a smartphone or tablet in their hands.

Though generational stereotypes are often misleading, each generation does have different characteristics that make it unique in its own way. While Boomers may have a reputation for aspiring to the corner offices and being lifelong employees, Gen Xers are often associated with being more entrepreneurial and individualistic. Millennials, on the other hand, have a reputation for being flighty and over-parented. Generation Z is stereotyped as the generation attached to social media, for better or worse.

The truth is that each generation that makes up today's workforce can bring different and valuable attributes to any business, large or small. The key is to understand your workforce and their values so that you can manage them effectively.

2. Choose the Right Communication Tools for the Right Generation

Because each generation grew up with different communication tools at their disposal, it's essential that you tailor your communication method to your audience.

While Boomers grew up in workplaces where meetings were held in person or via the telephone, Millennial and Generation Z workers are comfortable having meetings via video chat. This is where the adage "the medium is the message" rings true. While quick interactions through text or chat are part of everyday lives for most Gen Z workers, they can often come off as rude or blunt to older workers. 

By keeping this in mind, you can utilize the right technology tools to help find a middle ground amongst the seemingly disparate generations. Just because Boomers may tend to prefer in-person interactions, doesn't mean that they don't want to embrace new technology that can make their work lives easier. While Generation Z may prefer Snapchat over email, it doesn't mean that there aren't rich conversations to be had during an in-person meeting.

The key is to make whatever communication tools you choose accessible to all employees--regardless of their age.

3. Flexible Technology is King

Millennials and Generation Zers say that having up-to-date technology is crucial in choosing a workplace. Collaboration is still at the top of the list, but the way it happens often depends on the technology involved. Gone are the days of bad connections and static-filled conference calls. Today, technology has to be flexible enough to meet everyone's needs. That means it needs to be user-friendly, easy to operate, and robust enough to handle multiple complex connections with remote teams in real-time.

In Conclusion: Collaboration is the Heart of Success

By employing all or some of these tips, you are positioned to create a better, more inclusive, and more productive workspace for your multigenerational workers. Each one comes to the table with a wealth of life experience, opinions, and insights and they can all be valuable to both your bottom line and the future of your small business.

"The new workforce, which is a mix of multiple generations, has a new set of expectations," notes Marshae Mansfield, Lenovo's VP and chief customer officer. "Each generation is looking for the environment and technologies that adapt and understand their work style--not vice versa."

Published on: Jan 21, 2020