The following is a write-up of the speech given by Diane Danielson, COO, of Sperry Van Ness International Corp. at the 2014 Sperry Van Ness National Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
1. There are lots of different kinds of smart … and you probably have them all in your office.
For the first time in history we have up to four generations all working in a single office. This means that we have four completely different frames of reference for every issue, project and solution. When harnessed in the right way, this can yield truly innovative results; but it can also mean a lot of miscommunication in the short-term.
The chart below can help put the situation into proper perspective. The first thing you should notice is that the number of Millennials (also known as Gen Y) dwarfs the Generation X’ers, and eclipses the Boomers. So, if my fellow Gen X’ers (a/k/a the “Sandwich Generation” because we are often taking care of our parents and kids at the same time) ever felt ignored and outnumbered, you weren’t imagining things.
|1925-1945*||Silent Generation||50 million**||Neil Armstrong|
|1946-1964||Baby Boomers||76 million||Jobs/Gates (PCs)|
|1965-1979||Generation X||41 million||Page/Brin (Internet)|
|1980-2000||Millennial (Gen Y)||80 million||Zuckerberg (Mobile)|
*Generational breakdowns follow the Pew Internet Research Project’s breakdowns.
**Exact numbers are hotly debated but within +/- 5 million.
How do you increase the productivity of an intergenerational office? By understanding the basis for the different viewpoints. For example, consider how the four generations were introduced to the computer.
- The Silent Generation experienced the era where computers were something NASA used to put men like Neil Armstrong on the moon. They were scientific tools used by governments and research universities to further discovery and explore new worlds.
- It wasn’t until Baby Boomers Steve Jobs and Bill Gates came along, that computers became personal for use at the office and at home. For both the Silent Generation and the Boomers, the computer was a powerful machine that could process enormous amounts of data.
- Gen X’ers Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founders of Google, and Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, were the ones who helped usher in the Internet as our “go to” research tool. For their generation, the computer became the gateway to user generated content and endless information.
- Finally, Mark Zuckerberg and his Millennial cohorts transformed the internet into a communication source that we could take with us wherever we go.
Four different viewpoints, yet they reflect cumulative knowledge that complements and builds upon each other.
Many of us will have at a minimum 2 or 3 of the above generations in our offices. A team or company culture that respects, learns from, and is able to manage the different viewpoints and knowledge base will ultimately be the most productive.
2. Millennial life choices will affect us all.
As noted in the above chart, there are 80 milllion Millennials. Like any generation, they have their unique traits. The only difference is that even if only 1/3rd of Millennials do “something,” that is equal to nearly 60% of Generation X, in other words a majority. We can’t afford to not pay attention. In particular, here are a few major trends that we are seeing from Millennials with far reaching effects on businesses.
Millennials are in no rush to learn to drive.
This might seem strange for those of us who couldn’t wait to get behind that wheel at age 16. For many of us, a driver’s license meant freedom. But for this generation, it’s not as compelling. Below are a few of the reasons:
- They are broke. Recession, unemployment, and student loans make owning a car out of reach for many in this generation.
- Their overprotective parents drive them everywhere.
- They can Facetime, xBox, Snapchat and Instagram with friends without having to leave their home: their freedom is the Internet.
- They can experience the thrill of driving through virtual reality video games.
How does this affect businesses? This could be a tough situation for car manufacturers and dealers as well as the businesses dependent on them like commercial real estate. Not only will they sell less cars, they will need less cars on their lot. Unless they put a Starbucks in their showroom, they’ll be getting less foot traffic and test drivers. Even when this generation gets around to buying cars, they will do everything short of smelling the leather online through virtual show rooms. (Although, that can likely be accomplished too, as there is now a new alarm clock bacon app for iPhones.)
Millennials are living at home longer and delaying marriage
The rise of the stay at home Millennial is similarly driven by the economy and the burden of student debts. Add to this the fact that more Millennials are attending college than any generation before, and they are understandably delaying marriage and the natural progression of having kids and moving to the suburbs.
When these non-driving Millennials eventually move out, they are relocating to urban areas where they don’t need cars because they have public transportation or car and ride-sharing services like Zipcar and Lyft. This is why we will see suburban areas attempting to emulate the benefits of city living, and of all the suburbs, it will be the “urban ring” areas that will experience the most stability.
In the short-term, before the Millennials all move out, we will see a rise in “adaptive” housing, where home improvements are not made for resale but so extended families can live together. Currently 22% of households have more than two adult generations living in them, a level not seen since the end of World War II.
You can read more on how demographic trends are affecting housing in Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs.
3. Not Open, but Adaptive Office Space
Let’s put an end to the open versus closed office floor plans debate. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. The space that will work for most companies is going to have to be adaptive. However, it’s doesn’t adapt to a position, or an individual. Office space needs to adapt to the workflow. At different parts of the day, individuals could be working on teams, need a whiteboard, require quiet or private space or simply a change of venue. Today’s workspaces need to be fluid and allow for transitions and flexibility, especially with a multi-generational workforce.
4. We Live and Work in a Multiplex
Remember the days when our desks were clean and the computer off to the side? Now our desks are littered with screens. Here’s a screenshot of my home office desk on a recent weekend. The only screen that is missing is my iPhone, which I had to use to take the photo. Why so many screens? Different devices have different uses. While my iPad mostly gets used for binge watching my favorite shows when working on weekends, I also use it to Facetime or Skype with my son or colleagues.
It seems I’m not alone. A recent survey by Facebook for Business found:
- 60% of online adults in the US use 2+ devices/day
- 25% use 3 devices
- >40% of online adults start an activity on one device only to finish it on another.
We did our own survey of Sperry Van Ness® advisors at our National Conference and found that 80% of our advisors use 3 or more devices in a single day.
Now we are adding wearable technology like Google Glass as an additional screen. It’s likely our fully developed adult brains will not be able to adapt well to the multi-tasking required by life in a multiplex, but it’s possible that future generations’ brains will evolve in a way that they will be better able to process multiple feeds and the flow of information from device to device.
5. Quantitative v. Qualitative
We now live in a society where we measure everything. Why? Because what gets measured gets done. Take the Fitbit story. FitBit is a bracelet that tracks everything from steps taken in a day to optimal sleep patterns. Fitbit uses technology and your network to keep you accountable and promote optimal behavior. The FitBit philosophy is simple:
- Every day steps add up to impact.
- Stay connected, stay motivated.
- Make health a habit one day at a time.
This FitBit philosophy is something we can all take with us into our businesses You simply determine what you need to measure in order to produce the outcomes you want … and stick with it. In other words, it’s the same philosophy as Moneyball. Find the stats that matter most and you can turn the right team, no matter what generation, into winners.