by Sarah K. White

Millennials are shaking up workplace communication

Jun 13, 2016
Collaboration SoftwareIT LeadershipProductivity Software

Generation Y is driving digital transformation in the workplace, especially when it comes to communication.

group of diverse millennials
Credit: Thinkstock

Millennials are now the largest generation in America, and as they work their way into the corporate world, they are driving change in business communication, says Jeff Corbin, CEO and founder of APPrise Mobile, a provider of mobile communication apps.

“As the workplace evolves and millennials continue to comprise the vast majority of the workforce, the importance of communicating and engaging with employees has never been more important. There is definitely a shift taking place from ‘old school’ and legacy communications solutions like email and corporate intranets to newer, more mobile friendly tools,” Corbin says.

A 2016 Digital Workplace Communications Survey conducted by the PRSA Employee Communication Section and APPrise Mobile discovered that, while communication is a top concern for most businesses, they aren’t being as effective as possible in the area. And millennials are forcing businesses to catch up, as these digital natives enter the workplace armed with an arsenal of mobile communication tools and expecting the same from their employers.

[ Related story: Millennials force CIOs to rethink tech, training processes ]

Millennial expectations

For millennials, digital communication is second nature as they grew up using laptops, tablets and smartphones, and this is a group of individuals who are – for the most part – used to instantaneous communication. Whether its texting, Snapchat, email or Facebook, they have come to expect “immediate gratification,” says Corbin. What that means for your business, he says, is that you can expect your millennial employees to be frustrated with older, legacy systems that lack speed and a modern touch.

Millennials are used to using the latest technology and it’s become inherent to their communication styles, whether personal or professional, especially since most have more than one mobile device, says Corbin. But it’s not easy to get an entire company on board with a new form of communication, he says. Therefore, you will need to spend time considering what initiatives you put in place and what will work best for your company.

Most importantly, you’ll need to approach new digital communication tools with an open mind and involve your employees in the decision. Corbin says business leaders should listen to their employees and figure out what they want to increase productivity and encourage engagement. Investing in communication tools can be expensive, but the last thing you want is to waste money by introducing a new tool that nobody wants to use – millennial or not.

Employee engagement

Communication tools might not be at the top of the list of things you want to fix in your company, but business leaders need to realize that it’s about more than instant messenger tools and email providers. Microsoft partnered with SurveyMonkey and polled more than 1,000 millennials in the U.S. to find out what helped them “thrive in the workplace.” The results showed that 93 percent of millennials polled cited modern and up-to-date technology as one of the most important aspects of a workplace.

And if millennials aren’t be happy with your business technology they might just leave your company. A report from Nimble Storage in collaboration with Oxford Economics found that 77 percent of millennials felt that “sub-optimal application performance” affected their productivity and “personal best,” while only half of baby boomers said the same. Half of the millennial respondents also reported that they ceased using an application because it ran too slowly, while 78 percent said when using business software they “occasionally or constantly experienced delays.”

“Companies now realize the importance that communications and employee engagement have to worker productivity and their overall business success. As a result, they no longer have a choice but to ‘go digital.’ As nearly half of the respondents indicated, their company needs to rethink their digital workplace communications,” says Corbin.

[ Related story: How to retain your millennial workforce ]

No “one-size-fits-all”

But APPrise Mobile found in its study that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to digital communication, and that employees favor multiple tools, using different apps or software depending on the type of communication. If you only offer workers only one communication tool, such as email or company intranet, it can serve to isolate any employees who aren’t comfortable using those tools, according to Corbin. “Companies should create a mix of communications tactics that support their desired objectives,” he says.

Lindsey Pollak, New York Times best-seller and millennial workforce expert, says that another key consideration is how millennials expect technology to evolve. Just as technology is rapidly changing, your youngest employees will also expect the tools they use to grow and adapt the same way. You don’t want to choose a new tool and then leave it be, because your millennial workers don’t expect the tools to remain “static,” according to Pollak. But, at the same time, avoid jumping on trends in technology, says Jeff Vijungco, vice president of Global Talent at Adobe. He suggests focusing on technology that makes sense for your business, enables your employees to be more productive and can be deployed quickly and efficiently.

Pollak also points out how it is naïve to expect that millennials workers to automatically understand how to use new technology because of their age. You should offer training to all generations in your workforce rather than assume the younger employees will inherently know how to use the new tools. “Millennials may need guidance on when to use the technology and when not to, such as when it’s appropriate to send a text versus when a phone call or in-person meeting is needed,” she says.

Overblown stereotypes

Millennials have been the subject of questions on everything from whether they make bad employees to whether or not they actually value similar perks as past generations. But Pollock for one doesn’t buy into the stereotypes, saying that millennials have been a driving force in the workplace, bringing perks for everyone along the way. They’ve pushed boundaries in the workplace, including championing for flexible schedules, better benefits, improved parental leave and fostering the idea that work should feel meaningful. “Millennials want what all generations want,” she says. “They simply will ask for it sooner than previous generations.” The same goes for communication, they’re going to want the best tools to do their job, and they aren’t afraid to ask. In the end, your company might even benefit from the shove towards modern technology.

But if you think millennials would rather be glued to their screen than book an in-person meeting, think again. A study from Adobe found that millennials value interpersonal interaction over digital interaction at work. While 81 percent of millennials said “state of the art technology” was paramount to an ideal working environment over perks or amenities, 55 percent they valued in-person communication at work over digital. But it seems even millennials buy into some of the hype about their generation; 46 percent of respondents anticipated their peers to value IM and texts over interpersonal communication, but the real number ended up being just 11 percent.

“We all want to do more meaningful work in less or with the same amount of time. Technology enables us to optimize how we spend our days. Companies can have the most amazing perks but if you’re not able to produce work efficiently with the help of great people and technology, then massage rooms and roaming ‘cookie cart’ are meaningless,” says Jeff Vijungco, vice president, Global Talent at Adobe.

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