As Baby Boomers begin to retire, their children – the so called ‘Generation X’ – are taking their place as the senior figures in today’s workplace. As a result, the shift in working practices is reflecting the needs of the new breed and presenting challenges of its own.
While not technically digital natives, we can safely say that Gen X’ers are a savvy bunch, just as reliant on their smartphones and as likely to Google everything as your average Millennial. But unlike their younger colleagues, they express a very real need to socially disconnect from the workplace. In fact, research has recently uncovered that the ‘Millennial working from a coffee shop’ stereotype is actually incorrect – they prefer to work alongside their teams in an office. It’s actually their bosses who are at the forefront of flexible working culture.
Our high expectations of technology in the workplace are making it easier to work and manage across geographically disparate teams. Investment in workplace communication and collaboration tools across multiple devices is the norm, as is working on the move or from home. But the responsibility for effective working doesn’t just lie with technology – teams are naturally comprised of different skills, ages and personalities. So, while tech might feel like wizardry, we still need some deeper personal skills to make the magic happen.
Working with our natural needs
Joy Palfery is a Business Psychologist and Executive Coach, working extensively with leaders who are experiencing increasingly pressured workloads. For her clients, regularly working from home is often simply an extension of the ‘closed door’ of the traditional office. “We may not be looking solely at ‘I want to work part time’ or ‘I want to work from home’, we may just be looking at ways to manage our energy. Today’s open plan offices can challenge that by having constant distractions.” This might mean something as simple as working from home once or twice a week, or something more dramatic, such as a shift in your overall working patterns.
The hard data tells us that we’re not seeing huge differences in personality between Millennials and Gen X.
Simple teamwork tips
However this increase in productivity manifests itself, it’s important to make sure that you share information and work with your team – not against them. Here she shares several straightforward ways in which everyone can be more effective, open and better equipped to contribute to a team environment – regardless of who you work with or where you are located.
1. We’re all different
The first step is awareness – simply the understanding that other people may think differently to you. It’s surprising what a radical concept that is and really surprising how people can get a long way into their working life before they realise “oh, not everyone thinks like me?”. It can be a revelation.
2. Remove assumptions and make social connections
Humans as social creatures make assumptions all the time, but we’re frequently wrong. We’re living in an information-saturated age and social media will often decide who and what you see, based upon what you’re interested in, so it won’t give you that more rounded view of people who are different to you. You need dialogue to buck perceptions, and while the open plan office can be an environment in which it’s easier for people to talk, it’s also about knowing what to say. Use open questions that begin ‘what, why, when and where?’ rather than ‘would you, are you, do you, have you?’
In dispersed teams, frequent points of social contact are really important. When people are talking on the phone or Skype, they are less likely to make small talk than when they are face to face – and there’s no reason why that should be the case. Obviously, we want to be respectful of people’s time, but that applies to when you walk up to someone’s desk as much as when you pick up the phone.
3. Open up your circle
Hobbies are great for wellbeing and taking your brain into a different place, but they are also a very positive way to socialise in mixed groups of people of different ages, abilities, lifestyles and opinions. Hobbies in the arts, in particular are easier when it comes to crossing age boundaries, but there are also plenty of sports where you can be put into a group with people who are of physically similar ability and across generations.
4. Share information up and down
I spend a fair amount of time reminding my clients that they need to manage downwards as well as up in terms of the perceptions – simply letting people know what they are doing. People hate the idea of boasting, but it’s actually important that your team understand what your function is. You might be spending a lot of time meeting with different stakeholders and dealing with internal politics that your team, rightly, need shielding from, but lack of information may make your team feel resentful. It’s important that they understand, perhaps without going into too much detail, that you’re adding something very valuable to the team.
5. Self-awareness and asking for help
Budget cuts and time pressures mean that there’s more onus on the individual in matters of personal and leadership development. You can be the one to initiate a positive conversation about the most productive way in which to do your job.
For leaders, it’s just good practice to manage by results and not hours spent in the office – find a way for your team to work in a way that suits everyone. It’s your basic 80/20 rule: If a team can spend 80% of their time working in a way that’s familiar and comfortable – to their strengths and their preferences – then they have so much more creative problem-solving energy to devote to work.