At this year’s ITEXPO, Andy Abramson, CMO of SkySwitch, and the founder of value-creation communications agency, Comunicano, convened a panel of experts in enterprise communications to share their insights and predictions associated with the impact of the next generation of Millennial workers on collaboration and productivity real-time tools. According to the Pew Research definition, anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 24 to 39 in 2020) is considered a Millennial, and over the next several years, nearly three-quarters of the workforce will be comprised of them.
Businesses and organizations are working harder than ever to attract the most talented and committed individuals to join existing teams, and to build leaders for future growth as the “Baby Boomers,” then “GenX” workforce prepares to retire. They are increasingly aware that the ways Millennials work, use technology, and incorporate other tools such as AI and the cloud into their daily routines, is strikingly different from previous generations.
“The modern business should be making plans to adapt to their increasingly Millennial workforce if they aren’t already in the process,” Abramson said while introducing the panel including Brent Barbara, SVP of Business Development, Phone.com; Mick Miralis, EVP Channel Sales, Star2Star Communications; Jeff Singman, VP Sales, Innovation and Customer Success, Ribbon’s Kandy; Steve Smith, Founder & CEO, Fonative; Zack Taylor, Director Strategic Communications, Cisco Contact Center, Cisco.
"Millennials are the first group to enter the workforce as true digital natives,” Abramson explained. “They grew up with messaging, while the predecessors were email centric. They are very comfortable with video and photos where their elders were less so en masse. Enterprise technology and culture need to shift to what's coming, not what's been. A great example is the healthcare industry where no millennial age medical school grad would want to work in an "unconnected" practice or hospital. This all means the tools for working together need to be focused more on what can work for the millennials, without forcing a change in behavior by those they work with who have been in the workplace longer."
"Millennials can be divided into two groups,” said Jeff Singman, “those who grew up with smartphones and those who didn’t. If you graduated college after 2009, it’s likely your tech view is dominated by a smartphone. Prior to that, you were more PC-centric. Regardless, Millennials grew up as digital natives, and believe they are more digitally literate than previous generations, expect the freedom to work remotely and to set their own hours. We’re seeing the most successful enterprise communications transformations happening when the human resources and recruiting teams work together with IT and business managers to select and put in place the kinds of communications tools that will appeal to Millennials while also ensuring productivity and governance. Working together, these companies are collectively developing a collaborative and professional environment that motivates and supports getting work done while also protecting the company's assets and brand and, in many cases, reducing costs.”
Singman also said Millennials expect to have their data follow them wherever they go, which is driving the inevitable move to cloud-based services and storage. “Millennials have grown up with multi-modal communications, where messaging, chat, and video is just as important as voice while also using a wide variety of channels, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, and more, all services which are super intuitive and fun to use. That said, tools constantly evolve, and in highly productive organizations, the future will be more about changing workflows and engagement models. Today, most of us still think of communications in silos – I’ll text someone, I’ll do a conference call, I’ll look something up in Salesforce and then call them. That paradigm is slowly fading away. In time we will see a model where communications of all types are available on any platform or any tool. Our generation is still OK with the idea that you can use this tool for calling and this one has e-mail and text, but it has no voice or video. When the kids in elementary school today join the workforce, they will think of those sorts of divisions as completely arbitrary and odd. It will seem as out of place as a seeing a typewriter in a modern office, a tool that 25 years ago would have seemed impossible to completely eliminate.”
“Millennials are not only our co-workers, but they are increasingly our customers with high expectations for how they are served.” Added Zack Taylor. “Topping their list is a strong affinity for self-service, with a preference for a multi-experience method of access with high levels of personalization. Millennials have an aversion to calling contact centers, and value speed of response. With their emerging buying power, they are also capable of becoming strong brand advocates through social media posts and other forms of influence. It pays to serve them well from any number of perspectives.”
“Communication and collaborations are more than just voice. Current Enterprise tools are often disjointed and outdated, lacking the seamless user experience that Millennials are used to or expecting. If Enterprises are serious about driving employee Productivity, then they need also to be serious about the End-User Experience and User Adoption.” Clarified Mick Miralis. “Tools and features like texting capabilities, chat, integrated video and responsive interfaces for a seamless experience across a range of devices will enhance the overall Millennial response to enterprise technologies and help encourage adoption. But it doesn’t end there; critical is also the ability to seamlessly and securely integrate with business applications and to provide access to these tools in an increasingly highly mobile and distributed workforce. The bottom line; it’s all about providing Millennials with a flexible workspace, enables collaboration, easy to use and secure.”
Steve Smith, Founder, and CEO, Fonative, had this to say on the increasing usage of messaging platforms like Slack. "With millennials entering our workforce, we've observed the increased use of text and messaging platforms and a trend to shorter and informal communication. These messaging channels permit and encourage a playfulness via the use of emojis, gifs, and memes, and they have a different feel than email, voice calls, and conference calls. I think a smart enterprise will go with this flow as opposed to a rigid insistence on formal structured communications."
"An area of concern is whether the messaging culture enhances an organization's productivity or detracts from it via an overload of interrupts.” Smith continued. “There was a well-publicized critique of Slack written a couple of years ago, from a company that left the platform because they decided they weren't mature enough to use it wisely. Too many employees simply messaged a group channel for help before trying to find information or solve a problem themselves. This isn't a problem limited to Slack. However, it's inherent in the always-connected, always-on world. I believe the solution is that AI can help -- by categorizing and indexing the contents of all communications and automatically responding to simpler queries. This will be an exciting area of innovation over the next several years."
The panel was summarized by Abramson, saying that “the one weakness of the panel was the absence of any millennials on it, so I drafted a couple from the audience and had them validate, confirm, as well as refute some of the opinions that some of the old grey-haired guys had who were up on stage. They really helped provide real-world insight from those who are actually millennials, as they are the ones growing up as digital natives and know exactly what millennials need.”
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