Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat
This month we are doing a series on Collaboration, the calibrated process of building as a team. It occurs when multiple minds work together to generate ideas, and then take action to realize a shared goal. We’ll be publishing a few posts from several members of our team who have chosen an aspect of Collaboration to elaborate on. This is part one in that series.
As more and more millennials are entering the workforce, the office dynamics are quickly changing to accommodate everyone. The shift in corporate culture is predictable, but we as engaged as we could be?
I was hired to work at an obscure internet startup company a few years ago. Not surprisingly, most of my coworkers were at least 20 years my senior and almost all of them were married and had kids. For a long time, I was the only woman working there. It was my first full time job since leaving college, and I was going into a field that was completely outside of my area of study (anthropology & women’s studies). I was nervous– here I was suddenly part of a team of seasoned programmers, quality assurance specialists, and tech entrepreneurs, and I was not really any of those things yet. The anxiety and doubt I internalized came from that universal insecurity of feeling “unqualified”. Looking back, I find it funny how close I came to quitting (more times than I’ll admit), before my first year. I had gone from feeling “unqualified” to “unappreciated” in just a matter of months.
I think this kind of trajectory is a common one; you might even be experiencing this now, in your own corporate culture. Even though I worked in an office that could very easily have been collaborative, I felt flustered and directionless. It surprised me, how difficult it became to ask simple, clarifying questions or just get feedback on a task. Ad despite our proximity to each other–there was a mere 10 feet between my desk and my boss’s glass-panel office–I would rarely get a chance to engage a conversation, both in person and online. Our communication was so often 1-way, I never knew if I was doing a good job, or if I was handling the problems that came through efficiently. I would even come in to work on holidays, only to find the doors locked, because I never knew which ones we had off. Is this normal? I’d wonder.
Maybe it is. Collaboration, after all, has come to take on a very specific definition for the millennial worker. According to PWC’s global generational study in 2013, millennials place a greater value on being supported and appreciated in their work environment than almost any other factor. Of course we do! We want to be part of a flexible and team-oriented culture. We crave opportunities for interesting work. We are hyper self aware (or we want you to think we are) and we want to be independent. We are constantly consuming, creating, & critiquing online content. We want to be seen as authentic and culturally relevant. And we’re obsessed with that new show on HBO! How would you know this, though? I’m not saying that all of these quirks are exclusive to 20-something year olds, either. Interestingly, millennials attitudes are actually not that much different from everyone else’s. Non-Millennials want to have interesting careers too. And research shows that (all) workers are happier and more satisfied when they have greater flexibility in their work space. What we are really seeing is that the biggest differences lie in what importance each generation has placed on various aspects of their daily workplace happiness. For our younger, less experienced coworkers, that happiness is greatly influenced by being part of a team-oriented culture. And I think there’s a lot of value in taking a closer look at that one tendency that so often presents itself in our millennial mentees: an aptitude for collaboration.
When I say collaboration, I’m talking about both formal and informal collaboration. From the obligatory weekly conference room meeting or call, to the early morning pep talk with your fellow coworker, to the quick ping on Google chat to a supervisor–the seeds of cooperation are probably already a part of every office dynamic. The generations preceding millennials are often described as being individualists and tend to have an ‘inward looking perspective’. These were the generations of the early cell phone, but before the internet was as accessible as it is today (x). Millennials, on the other hand, are natural collaborators because they aren’t used to constraints. They have grown up with technology and constant access to information; not only are they tech savvy, they are natural multitaskers. The best ways to collaborate, according to a millennial: chat, text, online meeting applications (Skype, Slack, Facebook’s Workplace etc.), & cloud-based document management (like Dropbox, iCloud, etc.). And don’t forget, these methods need to be easy to use.
So, there’s definitely a learning curve–and keeping up with all of the new technology is half the battle. Fortunately, these methods are just tools, and the tools are supposed to become more powerful and more intuitive. But the method of communication is not as important as the communication itself. These are just vehicles for reaching out to each other, sharing information, building on each other’s ideas, following up, checking in. Forging a cohesive, cooperative, passionate team requires this kind of thoroughness. But does implementing this level of engagement have value for the company as a whole, or are we just indulging our millennial coworkers and employees?
Let us consider the bigger picture. Employee turnover rate is a problem for a lot of companies. You may have heard that millennials play a big part of that. A recent Gallup report suggested that millennials are the “least engaged generation in the workplace”. But, wait! That’s not even the whole story. It turns out, employee turnover is actually a phenomena that takes place in every generation. Historically, younger workers have always changed jobs more frequently than older workers. So, a better, simpler question to ask would be, how do we engage our younger employees? It’s not so hard to see why a young person would be craving that emotional link when they’re first assimilating into the workplace. You might, perhaps, remember feeling this way yourself. When you were an entry level employee, what helped you feel more part of a team?
I want to be clear, I think we millennials have a long way to go before we’re ready to be the leaders, mentors, and coaches that are very much needed in the current corporate structure. That said, our contribution to the corporate culture goes beyond knowing how to work the printer, or figure out the new operating system update. We are looking to be part of a team that is ready to collaborate to build an efficient, effective, (and maybe even fun) environment.