Can millennials and baby boomers work well together on remote teams? If you’re concerned about generational differences among telecommuting employees, read through these tips on key areas that affect remote team productivity and employee job satisfaction.
Baby Boomers and Millennials: 7 Tips for Closing Generational Remote Work Gaps
As the millennial population surpasses baby boomers in the workforce, companies must learn to accommodate differences in the way each group perceives work and how they perform within remote teams. Key areas to consider include the following:
- Communication style
- Technology skills
- Core values
- Work ethic
- Work style
- Professional development interests
Though Americans generally work longer throughout their lives, putting off retirement or supplementing retirement with telecommuting jobs, millennials set a new tone for the remote landscape. Managers of dispersed teams need to understand how generations differ to help create an effective work environment.
The Millennial generation includes individuals born between 1981 and 1997, while baby boomers refer to those born between 1946 and 1964.
Perception of the world is different for each group with politics, war, education, parental involvement, resource availability, and technological advancements as main influencers of personal and professional ideology.
Neither group is right or wrong, better or worse, but their views on careers, leisure, and the overall American Dream are subject to different upbringings and external factors that help shape their thinking.
Despite any inherent differences, closing generational gaps between millennials and baby boomers in the remote workplace can be simple. If you’re a telecommuting manager or operate a virtual company, here are seven tips to blend generations and develop strong, productive remote teams.
1. Put Generational Assumptions Aside
First and foremost, resist the urge to judge your team members’ abilities based on their age group. For example, avoid assuming that baby boomers are technologically incompetent workaholics and that millennials are lazy with a strong sense of entitlement. Both are overly simplified profiles and often false stereotypes.
Telecommuting baby boomers must have technical aptitude, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to telecommute effectively. Likewise, millennials must have a solid work ethic, otherwise, they wouldn’t lead successful remote careers.
The more you let stereotypes and generational assumptions rule your thinking, the less effective you’ll be at managing your team. So, when you interview new candidates or introduce a new system or process, clear your mind of erroneous expectations and observe and accept your team members as they are.
2. Hire Professional Employees
Hire employees who exude professionalism in their resumés, cover letters, emails, and interviews. Individuals with overall professionalism are more likely to get along with others and handle remote workplace conflict like mature adults. If you select employees strictly based on their technical qualifications or work experience, you may not hire the right candidates for the team.
When putting together a dispersed team, think about character traits that remote workers need to be successful. Consider characteristics such as:
Next, envision how your ideal team interacts. Are they serious or laughing? Are they chatting casually using an online app, or are they sending carefully proofread, formal emails? Do they figure out problems on their own or turn to you for intervention? Combine your list of characteristics with the job qualifications and use a more holistic approach when building a remote team.
If you already have a solid group, evaluate new candidates based on how they’d fit in or add value to the current vibe. Also, ask your staff what they feel the team lacks and needs in a new employee. Take your workers feedback into consideration to help narrow down your choices.
3. Build Trust Through Clear Communication
Communication style directly relates to overall work style, not necessarily generational differences. For example, some younger professionals may take a more casual, friendly approach to communication, while some seasoned workers may stick to a formal, restrained approach. In such a stereotypical scenario, baby boomers may view millennials as unprofessional and inappropriate, while millennials interpret baby boomers as stuffy and unapproachable. Of course, the reverse can be true.
Remote managers may need to translate on occasion and serve as a medium for individuals to converse. However, the goal isn’t to change anyone’s personality or conversation style. Instead, managers should aim to create an environment where workers learn to communicate clearly and feel comfortable asking each other for clarification. If an employee’s communication skills are subpar due to a lack of overall etiquette, then you may need to intervene or establish communication guidelines.
In addition, some employees may rely heavily on web and mobile apps for communication, while others may prefer phone conversions and emails. Whatever tools you implement, make sure everyone on the team understands how to use them and how they afford better remote collaboration.
4. Look for Strengths to Fill the Gaps
Each one of your team members has strengths and weaknesses. It’s often assumed that millennials are naturally fluent in all things technology and baby boomers have a steep learning curve. However, there are plenty of older workers who know and use trending technologies and plenty of younger professionals who struggle with basic computing.
Instead of making assumptions about your employees, learn all their major strengths and weaknesses so that you uncover knowledge gaps and can use internal resources effectively. For example, one team member may have expertise in a business theory or process, while another may be more skilled at using technology to complete tasks. Find ways to combine the skills of each so that the entire team understands both the fundamental process and the technical application.
5. Streamline Work Processes
Sometimes technology interferes with team productivity, which can cause conflict among members with different work styles. Though it’s fun to use the latest apps and devices, it’s unwise to implement a tool simply because other companies are using it. Focus more on creating processes explicitly tailored to your team, and make sure everyone understands their role and assigned tasks. Look for bottlenecks in your workflow caused by overcomplicated procedures.
Then, discuss ways to remove barriers so that team members can work together more effectively. Research tools that align with your employees’ needs and ask for their input. Empower all team members to suggest improvements and solutions. If you limit input to one person, one job title, or one generation, you forsake innovation and critical team-building opportunities.
6. Adjust to Work Style Differences
Telecommuting attracts millennials and baby boomers alike because of the opportunity for more work-life balance and time flexibility. However, your team members may value work-life balance and time flexibility in different ways. For example, some employees may still want to work a traditional nine-to-five schedule in the comfort of their own homes, while others may want to work evenings, weekends, or in two-hour intervals throughout the day. Some nomadic workers may want to take their work with them around the globe, while others may choose to rent a desk in a coworking space.
As much as your business and line of work allows, give your employees the ability to work in their preferred, optimal way. Keep the team aligned by scheduling regular meetings and providing an online platform for conversation. Just avoid micromanaging schedules as much as possible so that remote workers can achieve their career and lifestyle goals. Offering more flexibility will increase employee job satisfaction and strengthen employee retention.
If you’re not convinced, over half of Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report respondents confess that they’re willing to leave their current job for another that offers more time flexibility. Employees have responsibilities and interests outside of work, so they want to work for companies who offer more freedom.
7. Grow Together as a Team
Many companies host internal mentoring programs enabling baby boomers to take millennials underwing and offer professional wisdom and career guidance. Though one-on-one mentoring can be effective and helpful for both parties, it breaks down when the mentor and mentee don’t share the same outlook or lifestyle aspirations. Plus, such a partnering may reinforce generational stereotypes and create unnecessary frustration among team members.
If your company or team institutes a mentoring program for younger professionals, try as much as possible to help match employees who share similar work-life goals. For example, pair up work-at-home parents, employees who care for relatives with special care considerations, or ambitious workaholics who strive for leadership positions.
Find commonalities among your employees’ work-life preferences and use their reasons for telecommuting as criteria for matching. Though seasoned workers can certainly provide insight from their experiences, avoid relying solely on age when selecting potential pairs.
Of course, you can avoid the age issue completely by developing a simple, all-inclusive, team learning program where everyone contributes knowledge and insight. This way, there’s no overbearing teacher-student relationship, yet everyone can share something they know and learn something new.
Next Steps for Your Business
Closing generational gaps between millennials and baby boomers in the remote workspace doesn’t require in-depth research and a complicated initiative. It simply requires you to understand your workers and what they value.
Learn what your Millennial employees seek in a telecommute job and find ways to create a work environment that attracts and retains younger professionals. Simultaneously, understand that more baby boomers re-enter the workplace or delay full retirement and want jobs that offer greater freedom and flexibility. However, avoid spending too much time, energy, and resources on addressing stereotypes and instead, focus on the fundamentals of effective virtual team management.
To get an idea of what most telecommuters value, check out the Virtual Vocations National Work and Family Month (NWFM) Survey results. One significant finding is that about 83% of workers are willing to accept less pay for a telecommuting option. That’s how important freedom and work-life balance are to remote workers of all ages.
When you’re ready to open your doors to a new wave of talented professionals, our Employer Relations Department is here to help you set up a company profile for your business and post telecommute job openings in the Virtual Vocations Jobs Database. Our online job board is the perfect place to start building your remote dream team.
How have you used remote work bridge generational gaps between millennials and baby boomers? Give us your advice when you connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!
Photo Credits: 1. iStock.com/mediaphotos; 1. iStock.com/JohnnyGreig
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