‘Digital Natives’ Value In-Person Collaboration

By Roy Maurer Oct 17, 2016
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Millennial and Generation Z workers raised as "digital natives"—people born or brought up during the age of digital technology—are not ready to throw out corporate offices and face-to-face collaboration just yet, according to recently released survey results.

The study of 4,066 full-time Generation Z (age 22 or younger) and Millennial (23- to 34-year-olds) employees in 10 countries, including the U.S., the United Kingdom, China and India, found that about 4 in 10 respondents prefer working in a corporate office and prefer in-person communication over digital alternatives, such as e-mail, social networking and videoconferencing.

The study was released by Future Workplace, an HR executive network and research firm, and Randstad US, one of the largest HR services and staffing companies in the United States. It is a follow-up to a previous study conducted in 2014.

Respondents also said they want collaborative tools and processes integrated into their organizations' workflows, abundant professional development and career advancement opportunities, and formal workplace flexibility programs.

"Despite the introduction and proliferation of new technologies at work, Millennials and Gen Z value the in-person communication that comes with a traditional corporate office much like older generations do," said Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace. "At the same time, they also seek flexible hours and telecommuting that two-thirds of companies still fail to offer. Companies that want to successfully recruit, retain and grow their young talent must look to corporate culture as their competitive advantage moving forward."

According to the study, communication and collaboration with co-workers and managers is a key driver to Millennial and Generation Z satisfaction on the job.

"Gen Z workers named 'co-workers who like to collaborate' as the type of worker who would help them do their best work, second only to co-workers who work as hard as they do," said Jim Link, chief human resources officer at Randstad North America. "Companies seeking to be an employer of choice must leverage the collaborative revolution taking place and provide the technology, tools and processes that facilitate and encourage it."

Younger workers value communication and collaboration over business performance. They want frequent and ongoing conversations and feedback regarding their own performance as well. The study found more evidence that the annual performance review is coming to an end, as Generation Z and Millennials who work for outperforming companies named regular feedback as the best way to engage with managers.

Additional findings from the survey include the following:

  • Generation Z and Millennials both said "communication" was the most important quality of a leader, compared to "honesty" in 2014. "If you've got a leader who can talk about mission, vison and values and connect the work these individuals will be doing every day to those things, you will be well along to being able to attract and retain the next generation of workers," Link said.
  • Workplace flexibility was chosen as the most desirable employment benefit (cited by 19 percent of respondents), followed by health care coverage (17 percent)—the top pick in 2014—and training (14 percent). "With Millennials and Gen Z, we seem to be reaching a tipping point where flexible work is not a perk but a necessity," said Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance and part-time jobs. "These groups are reaching the professional phase of their lives and, in the case of Millennials, moving into managerial roles. They're finding that the majority of jobs are in the knowledge economy, where flexible work options are prevalent and growing. And surveys have also shown that these generations have different priorities for their lives—family, travel, work/life balance, hobbies. These generations don't want those parts of their lives to take a back seat to work, and flexible work options help them reach those priorities."
  • Both generations want to see more social media (cited by 41 percent of respondents), wearables (27 percent), virtual reality (26 percent) and robotics (20 percent) incorporated into the workplace.
  • 45 percent of respondents ranked technology as the sector of choice to work in.
  • 49 percent said they intend to work in their current industry for their entire career.

That probably doesn't mean staying with the same company, however. Employers should not expect to hang on to these employees for the long haul, Link said, but instead should focus on offering workers career maps and "tours of duty."

"[Employees] want the opportunity to grow a skill in one place and then to grow a skill in another place," he explained. "Organizations will probably get more comfortable with that when we get OK with the idea that we can be a promoter of talent from our organization into another and still be successful."

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