The digital workplace: not just for millennials

author Brett Dixon, March 9, 2017

It’s official. Millennials – the generation born in the early 1980s and leaving high school at the turn of the century – are now the biggest demographic in the multi-generational workforce. And it’s this generation that is driving the transformation of work from physical offices to infinite digital spaces. Millennials are not just steeped in technology, they’re social creatures who’ve grown up in a culture of instant messaging and YouTube. By demanding the same flexibility and social technology at work, they’re driving the digital workplace revolution.

Or are they? Most workplaces have been digital for some time, but they’re digital in silos with a work culture that favours legacy technology and work practice. Intranet software is commonplace for routine tasks, but millennials demand the opportunity to collaborate without hierarchies, using responsive software that allows all employees the connectivity to access the physical workplace anytime and from anywhere. 1 in 3 millennials would prioritise a job offer that gave them mobility, flexibility and digital freedom.

However, a 2016 survey for the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) across the entire workforce found that 60% of employees felt mobile technology made them more productive, and 45% that it made them more creative. Creating employee satisfaction seems to be broader than simply responding to the needs of the new kids in the workplace.

What’s driving digital adoption?

The ability to work anytime and anywhere has had a huge impact on employee satisfaction and productivity. The ability to use improved collaboration tools and to have instant access to relevant information are other drivers that are attracting other generations to the digital workplace. A third of employees see the freedom and flexibility of the digital workplace and the way it has transformed the physical office through hot-desking and break-out areas as supportive of their creativity.

In fact, the only way in which millennials and other generations diverge is in the numbers who view access to mobile working as a must have. Where 40% of millennials say they would never consider working for an organisation that didn’t offer them the flexibility of a digital workplace, only 22% of other workers agreed. The ‘loyalty lite’ nature of the millennial workforce may have implications for onboarding and retaining talent that go beyond the fitness of your digital workplace, however.

Influencing the employee experience

The fact that mobile working is embraced by the wider workforce moves digital workplace strategy and implementation beyond efficiency targets and cost optimisation towards strategies that enhance the employee experience as that relates to creativity, productivity and loyalty in a shared business culture focused on outcomes not processes.

Millennials may be reshaping the workplace, but the desire for seamless connection, communication and collaboration is present even in the Baby Boomer generation, half of whom believe that poor performance of technology inhibits their personal productivity. And when implementing new technology, never take a one-size-fits-all approach or assume that millennials will grasp technology instantly and Baby Boomers won’t. By offering comprehensive training whenever new intranet software is implemented, the different generations are given the opportunity to come together to mentor each other.

And-and not either-or

What the EIU survey made clear is that the millennial stereotypes don’t hold up and that these characteristics are shared by the wider workforce. By pushing boundaries for flexible and mobile working that has real meaning, millennials have introduced perks into the workplace that are appreciated across the multi-generational workforce. Millennials are simply the latest generation to transition into work, bringing with them a particular set of demands that can be seen as an opportunity not a threat and even giving organisations a well-needed nudge towards the deployment of collaboration and communication tools that are fit for a variety of purposes. And if it’s millennials that are making demands, then Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have the savvy to know when a particular tool or method is more appropriate.

In fact, for millennials, just as for other generations, face-to-face communication remains at the heart of their work experience with 55% valuing in-person feedback over digital communication. And the drive towards digital has opened up innovation in communication – the use of video for impactful leadership messages, for example, or investments in video conferencing and appification – that are appreciated by all employees. By driving employers to adopt familiar and easy-to-use social intranet software, millennials have allowed all employees the freedom to optimise their time and efficiency.

If you build it, they will come

Build a digital workplace that attracts millennials with sticky collaboration and communication tools and any organisation will stand a chance of attracting and retaining their talent. Deliver a rewarding employee experience across the generations where all employees feel valued and trusted to deliver outcomes that benefit the business as a whole and the workforce will be energised, motivated and engaged. Rather than balancing one set of expectations against another, a well-designed digital workplace will make sense to everyone.