Collaboration plays a critical role in helping businesses grow; from increasing productivity to developing new products, a team that collaborates is at the heart of a successful company. Yet collaboration requires a shared vision, values and complementary styles. Today’s workforce is the first in history to span five generations, so it is no surprise that organizations are facing challenges when it comes to intergenerational collaboration. Workplace communications are evolving rapidly, and each generation defines successful collaboration differently.
It is up to companies to assess their workforce and employ the right strategies and tools to bridge the generational gaps. Here’s a closer look at what business leaders need to know as their businesses grow.
The Importance of Unifying the Workforce
In a recent report, 56% of millennials felt they made better decisions when collaborating. While baby boomers pride themselves on thinking differently than earlier generations, a close 49% surveyed also prioritized collaboration. In other words, different age groups are more aligned in their skills and preferences than leaders assume. However, what may be different is how and when people believe communication works – and what tools they rely on to get it done.
Unifying the intergenerational workforce is important as America faces a massive exodus of workers over the next decade. There is an average of 10,000 baby boomers retiring per day, without showing any signs of slowing down. With critical talent retiring, companies risk what is known as “brain drain” while simultaneously facing the need to train, motivate, and retain millennials and Gen Zs.
With different generations come different perspectives. Managing a diverse workforce can sometimes present challenging biases and tensions. However, the right strategies can help companies create collaborative processes, develop an open culture, and support the needs of workers across generations. Some approaches to consider include:
- Intergenerational Board: Creating discussion groups that contain representatives from all age groups is a great way to start a dialogue on collaboration. When you assign everyone the same responsibility, you are creating a sense of unity and an equal playing field. When a group is working toward common goals, they tend to forget they are representing different generations. Not only can this approach help create opportunities for collaboration, but it can bring diverse perspectives to solving business challenges such as hiring, new product development or building morale.
- Formal Mentorship Relationships: Another group that encourages collaboration is a leadership committee comprised of your company’s most experienced workers. These workers represent a vast brain trust of institutional knowledge, industry connections and the potential for innovation. Encourage this committee to take an active role in determining what knowledge needs to be codified for new generations of workers – and to convey that in part through formal mentorship relationships.
- Data Analysis: Using technology to analyze employee data helps define the areas of priority for an organization. Metrics like age, skills, retirement losses, and longevity can all be taken into consideration when developing strategies for collaboration. For example, have you used analytics to evaluate which departments are most likely to be impacted by Baby Boomers retiring or which departments need access to mentoring relationships? Data-driven decision-making can help you focus your collaborative efforts where they’ll make the biggest difference.
Breaking down barriers that inhibit collaboration happen by creating opportunities for people to work together. By creating value for every generation, and encouraging collaboration among group representatives, companies have a solid plan for their rapidly changing workforce.
Technology Plays a Big Role
Technology can facilitate collaboration in many different ways. Millennials are often referred to as the collaboration generation, and technology is the reason why. They more readily adopt new applications and are open to diverse platforms for communication. There are several forms of technology that can help facilitate intergenerational collaboration, including:
- Project Management Software: One of the most effective collaboration tools, this type of technology is a prime vehicle for task management and collaboration. Employees can track their work as a team, analyze their data, and set group goals – all from a shared environment, with real-time visibility. Project management tools provide a fact-based approach to communication that cuts through each generation’s style and focuses instead on results.
- Team Collaboration Tools: Team collaboration applications often feature instant messaging and file sharing for documents. Features also allow users to work together in real time to contribute to projects and edit documents. Uniting a workforce under one platform, for all necessary forms of communication, is one way to encourage group collaboration. Companies have had success in facilitating intergenerational communication by showing how certain types of tools, such as instant messaging, can increase efficiency and enhances the likelihood of adopting these tools.
- Mobility: Younger workers – including Millennials and Gen Z – expect to be supplied with tools for mobility. Millennial workers value flexible schedules, and if Baby Boomers are going to reach them effectively, they have to be able to work with them on a remote basis. At the same time, it’s important to facilitate periodic face-to-face meetings to help build rapport and play to workers who prefer to communicate that way. It’s important to remember that while it’s great to encourage mobility within the workforce, not everyone is the same. You must make sure everyone is working in an environment that is beneficial to both them and their team. Platforms compatible with mobile devices yield faster communication among the intergenerational workforce. Companies can facilitate this by ensuring they choose platforms and programs that create a similar experience across devices, so workers remain productive no matter what device they’re working on.
- Cloud-based knowledge sharing: Mission-critical platforms should have cloud capabilities – and nowhere is this more accurate than creating a company knowledge bank. Without this online repository, file sharing, remote collaboration, and project management is not possible. In order to preserve the vast knowledge and experience of the older working generation, there has to be a shared and easily accessible place to utilize the company’s resources. The cloud enables people to collaborate at any time, from any place; and share real-time, critical data.
- Training: The final piece of successfully introducing new technology is a focus on training. Whether you’re introducing new devices or rolling out a new software program, integrating new technology into a business often causes a backlash. Take time to develop a comprehensive training initiative that gets everyone up to speed, and have IT resources available to help troubleshoot questions and ease the transition.
The landscape of the American labor force is changing rapidly. As companies find new ways to thrive against the backdrop of a growing Millennial and Gen Z workforce and the rapid departure of Baby Boomer talent, intergenerational communication is key to helping your business grow. From investing in the right collaborative technology to defining organizational priorities, this is an important issue for companies to address proactively.