Are millennials really changing the way we work?

22 August 2017 -

Millenials At WorkThis year’s Work 2.0 London conference set out to understand the ‘work anywhere generation’ and how businesses can create an environment that will help recruit and retain talent far into the future

Guest blogger Jo Sutherland

A key debate within the working world concerns how the pending “workplace revolution” will thrive in line with the limitless possibilities associated with advancing technology.

Businesses, large and small, are pouring their energy into harnessing the power of tech in a bid to create effective work environments that appeal to the multitude of generations now present in most organisations.

The new obsession appears to be with these strange and mystical creatures known as ‘millennials’ – and the industry appears to be paying attention to the somewhat arbitrary conclusion that these other worldly beings are introducing a new set of demands into the mix.

Millennials are often labelled as being ‘disruptors’ in the workplace, but is this actually the case? Are millennials really challenging the way we work?

Probably not as much as you’d think, actually.

Leesman, the world’s largest assessor of workplace effectiveness, has surveyed over 250,000 employees worldwide and since the benchmarking survey tool’s birth in 2010, the team of independent statisticians have not derived any evidence that millennials are rebelling against typical workplace strategies.

For example, the databank’s latest research on activity-based working reveals that millennials are, in fact, the least likely group to work in an activity-based way, and are instead the most likely to opt to sit at the same workstation.

Maybe we should think twice about the need for those foosball tables.

Regardless of whether you agree that – as George Muir, futurist at Ikea, puts it – “all this talk about generation is just another way to put people in boxes”, there’s no denying that the whispers concerning the ‘rise of the millennial worker’ have had an impact on the future of work conversation.

This was particularly noticeable at the recent Work 2.0 London conference, which set out to understand the ‘work anywhere generation’ and how businesses can create an environment that will help recruit and retain talent far into the future.

Underpinning the conference was the big question – how do we maximise the performance of people, technology and the physical workplace?

The speakers reiterated the fact that it’s difficult to determine how ‘perceived productivity’ ties into actual productivity; that is, whether someone’s perception of their own effectiveness links up with their level of output. However, ‘difficult’ isn’t the same as ‘impossible’.

When challenged by the CFO to demonstrate clear links between workplace investment and productivity, the team at Nokia developed a mathematical model based on pre- and post-occupancy statistics.

Nokia’s Camilla Winsten and Claire Blackbrow talked us through the statistics. Not only do they reveal that workplace design and employee satisfaction impacted perceived productivity levels, but they also show that an increase in perceived productivity correlates to an overall improvement in business output.

In this case, the workplace transformation project demonstrated clear ROI.

The general consensus seems to be that if people can agree that the work environment enables them to work effectively, regardless of gender and generation, then they’re more likely to be productive; therefore, the ‘perceived productivity’ conversation is worth having.

Technology obviously plays a vital role when it comes to enabling people to work effectively. Paige Hodsman, concept developer at Saint-Gobain Ecophon, thinks “we haven’t even touched the surface regarding how tech can be used for productivity gains in the workplace” …and Raj Krishnamurthy, CEO of Workplace Fabric, suggests that businesses, particularly nimble financial and media/tech companies, are “moving quickly to incorporate technology into their new agile spaces to deliver improved worker experience and increased productivity”.

The ‘how we’re going to work in the future’ conversation is what futurist Muir calls “the dead elephant in the room”. There is ample talk about technology’s role in facilitating connectivity in the workplace. It is a worthwhile and necessary conversation.

But the feeling among the Work 2.0 collective is that before we get carried away with the possibilities of A.I. and the like, perhaps we should look outside of the tech and the labels and instead focus on people as individuals...?

It seems there is still dissent in the ranks – with many of the conference speakers citing a disconnect between divisions, such as IT, HR and FM, due to the habit of operating in silos.

Technology can help to bridge this gap – but only if we’ve got the basics right.

Nicola Millard, head of customer insights and futurology at BT, reminded us that “machines have not magically acquired human abilities like empathy, innovation, creativity, ability to negotiate…” so perhaps the key question regarding the future of work is how do man and machine work together to create better experiences?

As account director for award-winning Magenta Associates, Sutherland is responsible for designing and delivering communications strategies and services. She has led a number of high-profile national and international campaigns for leading brands, organisations and celebrities, including US billionaire Martha Stewart. She is also a freelance journalist and writes for various publications, including workplace, architecture and design, facilities management and business titles

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