Millennials and Generation Zers are making up a growing percentage of the workforce, including here at BairesDev. But Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are still a big part of it too, especially given certain cultural factors like people living longer and wanting to be productive for more years. This can lead to a single team having people on it with very different ideas about how to do things based on their age and the historical periods that shaped them.
To make decisions that will benefit the business and everyone in it, leaders must balance diverse technological needs and the overall company goals. For example, many in younger generations prefer text over email for regular communication. But older workers might not be comfortable with frequent texting. The company’s customers might prefer instant messaging. So, what is the right method to standardize daily communications?
There’s no one right answer. Each team and its leader must consider a variety of factors — including employee preferences, customer demands, technology trends, and budgets — to determine the best approach, which should also include laying the groundwork for future technology transitions.
Here we examine some of these factors and offer tips for managing technology within a multigenerational environment.
Preferences by Age
It’s natural for different generations to feel differently about the technology they use at work, given their unique experiences with both technology and work. The following sections list typical technological preferences of each generation:
- Digital-native generation, more tech-competent and tech-reliant
- More likely to want to work in a variety of locations, such as co-working spaces
- Concerned about their company accessing personal data on personal devices they use for work
- Prefer digital communication over face-to-face communication
- May be less productive and less satisfied when working from home
- Look for methods and tools to work collaboratively on teams rather than individually
- Prefer working from home and are less bothered than other generations by doing so
- Value productivity and the tools that can help them achieve it
- More likely than other generations to quit a job due to bad technology
- Less comfortable with new technology
- Value structure and the tools that can help them achieve it
- More accepting of working from home than younger generations
The following video summarizes each generation’s understanding of technology:
It’s important to note that generation isn’t the only factor that determines technology preferences. Role, geography, seniority, and economic status also play a part. Education and income may also influence how people use technology. For example, those making more than $150,000 per year are more likely to prefer a macOS laptop for work.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the way people prefer to use technology. For instance, those who might have been camera-shy before now think nothing of getting on several Zoom calls per day.
Tips for Managing Tech in a Multigenerational Environment
Creating a technology plan is a complex process with more considerations than what we have space for here. But you can use these suggestions as a starting point when managing technology for a multigenerational workforce:
- Don’t assume. While information about generational preferences is helpful, use it as a starting point rather than the final word on what people need. Read articles like this one to get an idea of some of the important issues. Then survey your employees to understand how their thoughts are the same as or different from the general wisdom.
- Create personas. Once you survey your employees, you can start to make personas — that is, descriptions of groups with similar views. For example, you might create Lisa, who represents Gen Xers who like working from home, dislike texting, and prefer the Android ecosystem over Apple products. Use personas to help you make specific technology decisions, as in, “How would this change impact Lisa’s ability to do her job?”
- Give people options. Even while you must make certain decisions that impact everyone, you can also offer choices. For example, many companies use the Bring Your Own Device (BYOB) strategy to allow workers to use their own technology in the workplace. Just make sure you have robust security measures in place to prevent cybersecurity breaches.
- Offer training. Sometimes dislike of a particular technology comes from a lack of understanding about it. Again, think about how many people, regardless of generation, didn’t know how to use Zoom prior to the pandemic. Their need for a way to conduct meetings that formerly took place in person was an incentive to learn how to use the application and learn to like it. Offer training for any new technology.
- Create a plan and monitor progress. Use everything you know about your workers’ preferences and other factors to create a technology plan. But don’t just let your plan be a one-and-done operation. Rather, monitor the progress of each decision you make to learn what to do better in the future and update your plan.
- Extend compassion. You can offer understanding, ask people for their opinions, and give them options, but in the end, some people simply won’t like some decisions you make. At that point, all you can do is offer compassion and let them know you’ll keep their challenges in mind when it comes time to make future decisions.
Technology Can Unite Generations
While there may be differences in tech preferences between generations, technology can also unite them, given that it can be used to help everyone achieve mutual goals. Additionally, all the generations we’ve discussed share many attitudes about technology.
For example, all of them are concerned about staying on top of technology trends and using the tools they have to their greatest advantage, having options and being able to work from anywhere, and effectively connecting with others. Because of these similarities, leaders should beware of relying on stereotypes of each generation, such as Millennials’ addiction to social media or Baby Boomers’ ineptitude with technology in general.
Rather, the differences in each generation’s attitudes about technology should be used as a learning opportunity. Understanding these preferences can help create the best technological environment for all employees.