I have been doing a lot of thinking about collaboration technology and work styles and how their evolution has been influenced by the multiple generations in today's workforce. While technology is always influenced by culture, it’s extra pronounced with collaboration technology, because it closely mirrors the way we have learned to communicate.
Most of us would agree that the optimal collaboration experience is to have all participants together in the same room, interacting in a natural, human way. When you have diverse generations in such a meeting, it becomes very evident that some folks are naturally linear thinkers, while others are spatial thinkers. These two types of thinkers often divide along generational lines.
Linear versus spatial thinkers
Linear thinking follows a step-by-step progression in one direction. Each step is evaluated and processed before the next step is taken.
In contrast, spatial thinking is an organic process — more of an accurate reflection of natural human thought. It is characterized by expansion in multiple directions, rather than in just one at a time. It is based on the concept that there are numerous starting points from which one can apply logic to a problem. It is less constrictive, allowing thought to flow, unhindered, instead of being forced to adhere to a sequence.
I believe that because it’s a more natural process, we may make better decisions based on a spatial experience. The optimal experience will be centered around shared stories, content in context, visual information and human interaction. To be effective, collaborative technology must simulate the natural collaboration experience as closely as possible.
Observing the generational differences
Here’s how I see it:
- Baby Boomers have a split relationship with technology — one that began before WWII and continued after the war was over. The post-WWII period spurred on what I call a “Build it and they will come” mindset: the tools they created would dictate how we all worked and collaborated. This is a sharp contrast to a goal of modeling tools after the way we naturally work and collaborate. In school, constricted by the available tools (books, chalkboard, etc.), they were forced to become linear thinkers and learners.
- Generation X is commonly referred to as the “innovation generation.” When Gen Xers started their careers, they (or, “we,” I should say, since I am of this generation) were influenced by the tools they were issued at work — laptop, pager, calling card, etc. From that day forward, these tools overwhelmingly dictated the way we worked, interacted and collaborated. Then there was a shift. Gen Xers were the trailblazers who founded companies like Amazon, Google, Myspace and many more. These innovations ushered in a brand-new model of spatial processing. Now, we were free to jump from concept to concept, following our minds’ natural patterns of thought.
- Millennials have turned the equation on its head, forcing us to delete all previous assumptions. This generation demands tools that enable them to work the way they want, as opposed to the other way around. Brought up in collaborative learning environments with Gen X’s innovations — smartboards, PCs, tablets, web-based social media, voice/video tools — they took this mindset with them when they entered the workplace (which was approximately 80% linear and 20% spatial). Without knowing it, this generation was already highly skilled in collaboration, because they experienced life as a “living meeting.” They are accustomed to constant connectivity — everywhere, all the time and on every device. They look at technology as a core piece of both their personal and work lives. They expect the workplace to behave in accordance with this outlook.
How to use this information to modernize your workplace
It’s fair to say that it’s mandatory to morph our workplaces to accommodate the Millennial generation. If we do not, we will not be able to acquire top talent, which will stunt our ability to innovate.
As you make technology choices, keep the following in mind:
- The Millennial workforce understands collaboration, wants to collaborate and feels entitled to collaborate. When the workplace doesn’t mirror their expectations, Millennials will either break the rules or leave.
- The way we collaborate is changing — from traditional, “passive” meetings to meetings where we create in groups.
- The advent of mobile technology means that our workforce has become geographically distributed. This has created a need for technology that allows us to share highly visual information in real time amongst disparate team members.
- The optimal goal is to choose tools that allow for spatial experiences that mirror the way we naturally think and interact.
- Collaboration tools are only as effective as the culture of collaboration we build. Start with this as your goal, then work backwards, visualizing ways to drive adoption, training, enablement, roll out, etc. Every step along the way must serve the needs of the end goal.
Prysm Visual Workplace was designed to closely emulate our natural, spatial means of collaborating. I’d be happy to show you how you can use Prysm to transform your workplace into a Millennial-friendly environment. Feel free to email me or contact us for more information.