Generations & Communications

office_interiorI’m fascinated by William Strauss & Neil Howe’s generational theory. Their theory retells American history as a series of sequential generational archetypes: prophets, nomads, heroes and artists. Applied to today’s generations; Baby Boomers are prophets, Gen X are nomads, Millennials are heroes and both today’s infants, and the Silent generation born between 1925-1942, are artists. The basic idea is that each generational archetype adds particular qualities to society:

  • Prophets are idealists concerned with vision and values. Famous Americans of this generational type include Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.
  • Nomads are pragmatists who champion liberty and survival. Famous American nomads are George Washington and Harry Truman.
  • Heroes are optimists known for energy and community. Famous American heroes are Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan.
  • Artists are thoughtful leaders interested in fairness and process. Famous American artists include Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

(Hypothetical aside – quick think about your favorite American President. Odds are that they are in the same generational type as you).

Their books examine these generations in terms of everything from national crises to pop culture to the workplace.

With the huge Millennial generation poised to dominate American offices for the foreseeable future, a number of articles advocate for a dramatic workplace shift. A recent Inc. article goes so far as to say:

Get rid of all offices, including yours, and let everyone work in an open space to foster collaboration. Get rid of any rules around hours in the office (except for call centers and stuff like that), and eliminate your antiquated vacation policy. Let them take “vacation” whenever they want.

Understanding generational theory, I can see where the author is coming from. Millennials are stereotypically all about community and collaboration, so let’s structure the workplace around that and everything will be wonderful!

Not so fast! What about the introverted geniuses who find their best ideas in solitude? What about the Gen Xers who just want to “git ‘er done” as efficiently as possible and call it a day? What about the Boomers who want to foster a cohesive culture around the company’s mission?

I think the solution isn’t to simply replace one rigid workplace structure with another. It’s to provide the kind of flexibility that enables everyone to do the best job possible. As a member of Generation X, I’m naturally drawn to the ideas of ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment), because the focus is on production, not presence. As the founders say:

In 1950, ‘being there’ meant being in the office. [Now], ‘being there’ means residing on planet Earth. When you need to talk to other members, pick up the phone. Send an email. IM. Text. Just because someone is not in the physical office does not mean they are not working or focusing on results.

Some people still don’t get it. In a recent Mashable article about how to manage virtual teams, the author brings up some common management concerns like:

For example, if a boss can’t see his or her remote employees, it is difficult for him or her to determine if they are energized.

I wonder how my current manager determines if I’m “energized”? Is it the spring in my step? Is it based on how much black I’m wearing? Does he have some kind of profanity index that measures my level of frustration vs. enthusiasm? Or is it just a certain je ne sais quoi acquired after only years of management experience? Nah, I think he probably measures it by the work I do. In other words, it’s results not presence.

Unless they’re literally coming to your door (or vice versa) your customers don’t care where you are. They care that you get the job done. As the ROWE folks point out:

My kids can make things happen in a few minutes by ‘collaborating’ using all forms of communication technology. They do not drive to a specific location to meet to bounce ideas off of each other.

Happily, kids aren’t the only ones who can embrace modern communication technology. VoIP for business enables the remote worker revolution, but ultimately the point isn’t just that workplace flexibility is better for employees, regardless of generation, it’s that it’s better for businesses too. While it’s great that your employees, could, in theory, work from nearly anywhere – the real benefit of business VoIP features is that they make it easier for your customers to talk to you how and when they want to – with benefits like reduced hold times, simultaneous rings and clear, static-free calls.

Best of all, a hosted VoIP solution, allows your business to grow and adapt to the needs of both your employees and customers. Believe it or not, consultants are already speculating about the workplace and communications needs of the next generation. With no need to worry about obsolete equipment and capital equipment upgrades, your business will have the communication technology you need today and tomorrow.

About Kris Prusynski

Kris works on the Commercial Marketing team at TDS Telecom and helps TDS achieve their online objectives through digital marketing and website optimization. She has worked in the digital marketing space for over 15 years, in product categories as diverse as shoes, banking, beds and pig farming supplies (really!). Kris has both undergraduate degrees and an MBA from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and therefore bleeds Badger red. She’s a veteran blogger on topics ranging from digital marketing to Wisconsin fish frys to the sweet necessity of ugly office sweaters. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find her on Twitter or Google+ trying to decipher the mysteries of A Song of Ice and Fire. In her spare time, you can find Kris kayaking, hanging out at the dog park, or thinking about lawn care.


2 Responses to Generations & Communications

  1. kris July 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    I’m reminded of an anecdote a fellow Gen X friend of mine shared. She manages a group of Millennial workers and was dismayed that what some of her employees really wanted (based on evaluations and feedback she received) were more social opportunities and interactions in the workplace. She didn’t necessarily agree with them, but recognized that it was a legitimate difference in generational workplace expectations and did what she could.

    I imagine that Baby Boomer managers went through the same thing when Gen Xers rolled their eyes at mission statements.


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