How do you spot a millennial employee? You may be familiar with the stereotype of lazy, entitled, job-hopping youngsters that don't respect their more experienced colleagues. In reality, they're not merely the bratty, avocado toast-obsessed youngsters they're so often portrayed as in the media.
This cohort can best be characterized as being the first digital natives, well-known for taking a more agile approach to problem-solving and displaying a higher degree of tech-savvy compared to the generations that came before them.
When it comes to the most impactful digital workplace trends, you can't overlook the influence millennials have had on modernizing the way we work. This isn’t exactly breaking news for business leaders or HR departments, who have been scrambling for several years to understand what this generational shift means for the workplace.
But with new data showing 1 in 3 millennials plan to quit their jobs after the pandemic, employers can attract and retain their millennial talent by focusing on the modern workplace trends this generation cares about the most.
While businesses were trying to get a handle on what the future workplace will look like, experts and media headlines attributed millennials with “the death of the workplace” and offered advice about how to manage this mysterious new generation.
A YouTube comedy skit from 2013 guides leaders with a workplace training video, saying "A new type of worker has entered the workforce — they're called millennials and they're terrible". It has upwards of 6 million views. In 2016, CBS aired a “millennial workplace comedy” about a guy in his 40s who’s forced to take a job “surrounded by a team of millennials who view him as an exotic and ancient oddity.” Even Time magazine accused millennials of being "The Me Me Me Generation".
Let’s face it: We got a little carried away.
Your millennial workforce consists of those turning ages 25 to 40 this year — which, as of last year was 56 million millennials in the U.S. labor force. The majority of millennials will reach the ages of 35 to 44 over this decade, increasing that age group by nearly 4.5 million and outnumbering all other age groups in the labor force by the year 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Millennials have an affinity for technology, convenience, accessibility, and social connection. As the largest generation in the American labor force, evidence of their influence can be seen in the boom of digital workplace trends impacting how and where we work.
If your company benefitted — as most did after the outbreak of COVID-19 — from being able to rapidly move their operations online with minimal disruption and shift to virtual work quickly, you can thank a millennial for that.
Recently, news headlines have started to calm down a bit as people realize that millennials want a lot of the same things out of their jobs as everyone else. They want to make an impact where they’re working, while still maintaining a work-life balance. They want opportunities to get better at what they do. They want flexibility and options for various hybrid work arrangements.
But many companies are still running into hurdles when it comes to building a happy workforce that includes a heavy concentration of millennials. One workforce survey showed that the majority (53%) of hiring managers report difficulty finding and retaining millennial talent.
If that sounds familiar, you might want to take a good, hard look at one key area of your business: workplace technology.
The way millennials use technology is what really sets them apart from other generations. They’re comfortable using technology because they’ve grown up with it, and because it has always been available to them, they’re used to having instant access to whatever information they want and staying connected to the outside world no matter where they are. And they expect that to be the norm with their work life.
Seth Mattison, an expert on workforce trends and generational dynamics, summed it up nicely: “We now have a whole generation of youth that has been the chief technology officer in their homes for the last decade.”
“Millennials have grown up with unprecedented access to information and people across long distances and boundaries,” he added.
"Millennials have grown up with unprecedented access to information and people across long distances and boundaries."
- Seth Mattison, Expert on Workforce Trends and Generational Dynamics
So it’s not surprising that technology is as important to millennials at work as it is in their personal lives. In fact, 41% prefer digital communication at work rather than face-to-face conversations or even phone calls.
According to a report titled Millennials at Work, 59% of the millennials surveyed said that employer-provisioned, state-of-the-art technology was important to them when considering a job. And nearly half of those questioned felt that their use of technology was not always understood. Some felt held back by outdated and rigid work styles.
So what digital workplace trends can help you address these issues in your own office?
In an era when 70% of millennials — and roughly two-thirds of Gen Z workers — say the option of working from home post-pandemic would help relieve stress, it’s critical for employees to be able to easily and effectively connect with coworkers who are working from someplace other than the office.
Conference calls by phone are better for communication than email or messaging, for certain situations. But as we know, it’s even better with videoconferencing, when you can see the people you’re talking to. The conversation flows more smoothly and there’s less chance for misunderstanding because visual cues count for a lot in conversation.
There's quite a bit of data that indicates that employees want to return to having face-to-face meetings once it's safe to do so. With that being said, if people come back to the office and are reminded of how inefficient and time-consuming it can be to get anything done, they're more likely to want to work from home.
If your company was still using Excel and paper signs as its conference room management system pre-pandemic, consider implementing a company-wide shared calendar and a conference room reservation software solution that integrates with that calendar to help the transition back into your offices. It’ll cut the time your employees spend scheduling meetings in half and stop grumblings along the lines of “He stole my conference room” or “I can never get a room for my meetings.”
How do your employees store and access the content they need to do their jobs, whether that’s presentations, manuals, or marketing materials? Is it scattered among various managers’ hard drives, or trapped in an archaic intranet system that can’t be accessed from workers’ homes or mobile devices?
That’s not going to fly with millennials, who are used to being able to instantly connect, engage, and collaborate while they're on the go. Check out cloud-based file storage platforms, project management solutions, and internal content management systems. Remember: Accessibility matters.
When you have a distributed workforce, managing office resources can become more difficult. Self-service solutions give your workforce the power and autonomy to make the most of their time in the workplace.
An employee who divides their time between working remotely and from the office, what happens if they come into the office and realize they can't find any available desks? Using a self-service desk reservation system, they'd be able to view a shared schedule of seat availability, book a desk in a preferred location, and ensure they have a saved spot to work when they arrive in the office.
Millennials aren’t the only workers who will benefit when you implement new digital workplace tools at your company. All employees should be more productive when they have access to tools that let them work from anywhere, be more efficient at collaborating, and communicate better with their coworkers.
Given that only 37% of millennials (vs. 60% of senior executives) said they believe their organization's leadership is highly proficient at using technology to achieve a competitive advantage in Oxford Economics' Leaders 2020 report, offering a well-thought-out digital workplace may make the difference between that energetic, innovative job candidate accepting your offer or turning it down.
After all, people from other generations also get excited about new technology and a flexible workplace. A Nielsen study of who uses technology during meals found that Baby Boomers were more guilty of the behavior: 52% of them started at their devices while eating, compared to 45% for Gen Xers and 38% of people aged 15 to 20.
Being comfortable with technology may be more a matter of opportunity than a generational trait. As one AdWeek writer pointed out, flexwork and mobility simply weren’t options for previous generations:
“Don't tell me about how ‘we’ didn't get to mix business with pleasure. Fact is we mostly couldn't. If we were lucky enough to have a computer, we didn't have email yet. And if we had a phone on our desk, it didn't dial long distance unless we punched in a code. Let's face it, when we went to work, we were stuck there. Our desks were where we sat, and we worked (or at least did a good job faking it)."
"Why won't our young colleagues sit still? Because they have more computer firepower in their front jeans pocket than we did in our entire server closet."
- Scott Hess, AdWeek, April 2016
"Why won't our young colleagues sit still? Because they have more computer firepower in their front jeans pocket than we did in our entire server closet. Because they have more connectivity in the coffee shop next door than we did in the executive video-conference suite upstairs."
We believe there's more behind changing workforce trends than just millennials’ preferences. It’s truly just that mobility is one of the biggest drivers of disruption.
Ultimately, it's about becoming a more dynamic workplace and identifying the tools that'll help you succeed. Get our recent eBook to learn more about emerging digital workplace trends and how to make them work for your organization.