These days, it’s hard to not talk about Millennials when trying to understand how the workplace is evolving. Everyone has their own idea of what this demographic represents, but the starting point should be based on the numbers. In terms of age, Millennials are generally classified as being born between 1980 and 2000, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, they account for 27% of the overall population. Not only does this make them the largest segment by age grouping, but they are now coming into their prime both as users of technology, and in due time, technology decision-makers inside their places of work.
Commonly referred to as digital natives, their relationship with technology is different from earlier generations that reflect pre-Internet times, effectively making them digital immigrants. That’s a pretty important dividing line, and if you’re a decision-maker from the latter cohort, you’d better understand what these differences mean.
Understanding Millennial values
In terms of optimizing productivity from Millennials, a good starting point is recognizing their values. Every generation has its own defining characteristics, and much has been written about how Millennials value flexibility, and given their connectedness, are also very social. Furthermore, they have come of age in an economy that is more oriented to project-based work than linear career paths, and that gives them more latitude for striking a work/life balance in their always-on world.
Even from these select examples, it should be clear that their work styles will be different than previous generations. When thinking about the Next Generation Workplace, their values dictate a need for flexible options to communicate on their terms rather than those dictated by IT. Many IT environments still have legacy roots where thinking about communications remains telephony-centric, and thinking about workspaces means being in the office. Conversely, Millennials are both mobile and Web-centric, and this allows them to work from any location, using any device, and multiple modes of communication.
These divergent expectations present a fundamental challenge, and for enterprises that want to be on the right side of history they better find ways to accommodate Millennials. It’s not uncommon for Millennials to be more adaptive with today’s technologies than what IT can support, and working from home is one way to leverage that. A recent PwC study found that 64% of Millennials want to “occasionally” work from home, and another study just published from a study by WorldatWork and Boulder, Colorado-based FlexJobs Inc. of human resource managers that revealed a full 85 percent of them include ad hoc telecommuting in their policy handbooks.
How to make home-based working a win-win
These are just two examples that show how working from home can be a win-win for enterprises and Millennials. This environment provides them with more flexibility to work in ways that provides better work/life balance. Not all forms of work need to be done during office hours, and for those accustomed to project or contract-based employer arrangements, this allows them to be productive on their terms. When provided with the right capabilities – namely unified communications (UC) – they can work just as effectively as in the office, especially for collaborating with co-workers.
The latter point is really the key making home-based working pay off, since it’s clear that Millennials have a preference to work this way, and enterprises increasingly support this model. Not only does this help keep Millennials motivated, but there are several valid business drivers, such as reducing operational costs by scaling back office space.
All of this is moot, however, if home-based workers cannot engage effectively with the office as well as external parties such as customers and partners. This is where the business needs to be strategic in terms of IT having a comfort level with network access from remote workers, along with providing the right conditions for Millennials to be productive.
UC can be an ideal solution, but only if considered holistically. IT no longer has control over how employees use communications applications, and Millennials won’t be happy if their preferences are not supported. The needs of both groups must be addressed, and when that happens, IT will come to accept and perhaps embrace home-based working. And likewise, Millennials will hold IT in higher regard by providing a platform that allows them to collaborate on their terms rather than someone else’s.