There are now Millennials over 40 years old. Born between 1981 and 1996, the Millennial Generation now ranges from 26 to 41 years old, making up more than a third of the global labor pool. The discussion around millennials is no longer one of a generation entering the workforce but about the generation that is beginning to lead our companies and industries. Generation after generation have taken over from each other but Millennials are different, they are the first generation considered to be “born digital” or raised in a digitally enabled world. As such, we should expect Millennial leadership to embrace workplace technology like never before.
“Millennials have had a long-standing reputation for altering how companies do business, from creating disruptive innovations to driving changes in the way companies operate. They have provided a fresh perspective on customer needs and how to fulfil them. Now, as millennials mature, many of those who once held entry-level roles are stepping into leadership,” reads a Bedford Transearch study. “The expectation is that the Millennial generation will consistently try to incorporate new technologies, understanding how to implement major technological evolutions that will produce fluid, yet stable organizational growth. Once applied, Millennial leaders will rely on technology to make better decisions and organize resources.”
Despite the pandemic trigger, is it hard to imagine our society making the current rapid shift to remote and hybrid work without a tech-savvy workforce. Millennials trust in and are comfortable with technology, namely remote communication, which has made the current evolution of work possible. Millennials, who were teased by older generations for being glued to their screens and virtually-chatting with people instead of talking in-person, have now proven the benefit of their culture by easily adapting to remote work and keeping our economies running. The pandemic forced us to rethink the way we work, and Millennials are perfectly positioned to drive their tech-first approach into the mainstream.
“The way we work has changed forever. Hybrid, flexible working is here to stay. Over half of Born Digital knowledge workers want to spend most or all of their time working-from-home post-pandemic, and although many believe that the office is the best place for productivity, the majority say that home-working is best for wellbeing,” says Tim Minahan CMO and EVP of Business Strategy at Citrix. “The future is hybrid or distributed work, and companies will need to find a way to simplify work and create the space their employees need to succeed in this environment.”
Millennials are now the key employee group and the future workspace will be designed around them, but that doesn’t mean the end of the physical workplace. Millennials’ comfort with technology does not translate directly to a desire to work remotely, but a greater understanding of what is possible remotely and what is better in-person for them. On average, Millennial workers will also be better able to adapt to new constant upgrading of systems, interfaces, and features that technology brings.
Furthermore, digital-first is not the only philosophy that Millennials have gifted to society. This is a generation that will also be defined by diversity, inclusivity, and freedom, by environmentalism, mindfulness, and wellbeing, and by smartphones, gaming, and social media. The new workplace will have to embody their values while utilizing their skills and motivations to drive productivity, loyalty, and company culture in the new landscape of work.
“Choice, flexibility, and autonomy are the three interconnected themes running through this generation’s wants at work. Organizations need to re-architect their employee experience around these guiding principles, whilst also considering the three key notions of individual progress, empathy and partnership. This can all be enabled by technology that is unified, intuitive and secure,” added Minahan. “Rather than adapting work to the way systems function, organizations and their technology infrastructure will need to adapt to the way employees work. Companies that achieve this will be on a path to faster, more sustainable growth, and a happier and better connected workforce.”
The real question employers should be asking themselves is not “how can we maintain traditional values in a hybrid work model?” but instead, “how can we make the most of this disruption to reshape the workplace to suit the dominant generation in the workforce?”. A Harvard Business Review study found that the average age of a first-time manager is 30, and the average age of those in leadership training is 42. The impact of the pandemic and lockdowns is not a barrier to the normal evolution of the workplace, it is a shortcut to skip slow evolutionary steps and redesign work and workplaces for the leaders of today and tomorrow.
We already see the change happening, a company’s carbon footprint now directly impacts their ability to retain staff and attract talent, so companies must strive to make their operations and workplaces as green as possible to maintain their competitive edge. Many of those companies will find that going green for their millennial workforce also improves their brand image in the face of an increasingly millennial dominated consumer base and increasingly millennial-led suppliers or partners.
These progressive firms will also get ahead of environmental regulation, which we can safely predict will continue to jump in severity as we near national targets, as natural disasters force policy decisions, or as each political campaign is won by an increasingly green agenda to reflect the values of millennials and the even greener, younger voter generations. By moving to smart buildings, employers can make a clear statement to Millennials’ green values while also providing a more flexible and tech-rich experience for this “hybrid work generation”.
A global Ernst & Young survey in 2021 found that 54% of employees would consider leaving their jobs post-pandemic if they’re not provided with some form of flexibility regarding when and where they work. Numerous studies during the pandemic find the same significant and direct relationship between flexibility and staff retention or talent acquisition. Progressive firms will now have no choice but to offer hybrid work as a means to succeed in all-important recruitment.
Employers should not see this hybrid work shift as an obligation, however, but as an opportunity to find new levels of productivity and collaboration by embracing technology in a more inclusive hybrid model. They should welcome the cost saving of office consolidation and embrace smart building technology to seize the benefits of a flexible and human-centric physical workplace designed for the Millennials at the heart of today’s workforce.
In the years to come, we will talk more and more about the “digital natives” of Generation Z (aka. Gen Z / Zoomers) born between 1997 and 2012, entering and influencing the workplace and the workforce. Then who knows how much more digitally native or “meta” the following Generations Alpha and Beta will be. However, technological history suggests that few generational shifts will be as great as the one that introduces new business leaders from the First Born Digital Generation. The timing of the pandemic at the brink of millennial leadership-hood and with technological development primed for a digital revolution, gives these digital pioneers a head start in building a greener, more inclusive, more mindful, more flexible, and smarter world.