How to get the different generations to collaborate online

Posted by John Glover

02-Dec-2014 10:59:00

How to get the different generations to collaborate onlineAs technology moves on, different generations of workers often develop very different attitudes towards it.

It has always been so.  Imagine the reaction of a medieval scribe, trained to copy books by hand, being confronted by new editions produced on a 'new-fangled' printing press. More recently, you may remember when the print unions dug their heels in during the 1980's, as newspapers moved from hot-metal printing to electronic composition. Today, even the future of mass-market books is in doubt as e-books gobble up an increasing proportion of market share.

In each of these instances (and many others throughout history), the generations were at loggerheads for two reasons. The older generations saw skills and livelihoods being replaced by new (and in their eyes, inferior) technology. The newer ones saw new opportunities in emerging industries or working practices.

In more recent times, business analysts have taken a deep interest in how different generations of workers perform and adapt to changes in the workplace. This has been partly to discover broad patterns of strengths and weaknesses for each, but also to find ways of making the generations work more effectively together – creating shared understanding rather than division.

Of course, the problem with such broad-brush analysis of different age groups is that the definition of what constitutes a generation can be rather arbitrary, as you can see from this list of popular groupings and approximate dates:

  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
  • Generation X (born 1965 – 1979)
  • Generation Y / Millennials (born 1980 – early 2000s)

Research into each of these generations has ascribed each with a variety of character traits, likes, dislikes and other attributes – ranging from their attitudes to using credit to their views on free love!

From a workplace perspective, however, there are rather more useful traits to take into account. For example, this chart from McCrindle Research contains useful information on each generation’s preferred learning style, learning environment, training focus and ideal leaders.

 

Baby Boomers

Generation X

Generation Y

Training focus

Technical
Data
Evidence

Practical
Case studies
Applications

Emotional
Stories
Participative

Learning format

Relaxed
Structured

Spontaneous
Interactive

Multi-sensory
Visual

Learning environment

Classroom style
Quiet atmosphere

Round-table style
Relaxed ambience

Café-style
Music and Multi-modal

Ideal leaders

Commanding
Thinkers

Co-ordinating
Doers

Empowering
Collaborators

As you can see, the three generations in the workforce today have different needs and attitudes to learning and work. On the one hand, your organisation may employ a significant number of highly experienced Baby Boomers who view technology as requiring a learning process. On the other you may also employ a number of digitally literate Generation Y / Millennial colleagues who have never known a world without computers.

So how do you help these different generations collaborate together?

To answer this question, it’s helpful to flip it on its head – and ask what would prevent them working together. For example, while Baby Boomers may have originally collaborated in the workplace by using paper memoranda, paper-based project management systems and making large number of phone calls to find convenient times to schedule meetings, you wouldn’t want to stop the clock and make all generations step 20 or 30 years backwards to use these methods.

In the same way, you wouldn’t source a cloud collaboration solution that was designed exclusively to play to the strengths of Generation Y users, with huge amounts of functionality but very little in the way of user friendliness. If you did, user adoption among Baby Boomer and Generation X staff would be poor, effectively undermining the whole point of collaboration.

Instead you need to aim for a solution that allows older generations to contribute their breadth of experience while bringing them together with younger colleagues who have both digital working and collaboration in their veins.

Therefore, the hallmarks of a cloud collaboration system that works for all generations and learning styles are:

  • Ease of use – with a familiar interface that reflects common software used by all generations
  • Platform agnostic – can be used on PCs, tablets, smartphones and other internet enabled devices
  • Puts purpose before technology – a collaborative workspace needs to be focused on shared work, not the interface or tools themselves
  • Integrates working styles – whether during traditional 9-5 office hours, or 'always on' working from different locations.

In short, whatever the mix of generations you employ, take them as a useful reminder that different people have different skills, working and learning styles, and a whole range of divergent qualities to contribute to collaboration. To bring out the best in all of them, cloud collaboration software needs to be simple to use, have a strong focus on purpose, and be adaptable enough to fit into every person’s working patterns.

The best way to do that is to put any solution through its paces via a free trial. To get you started, why not try a full-featured version of Kahootz cloud collaboration software to see how you can get the generations working together – on their own terms.

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Topics: collaboration tools