As we enter the era of a five-generation workforce, it’s important to understand how diversity drives innovation among virtual teams. Learn how these generations approach their careers and the incredible value they each bring to the remote workplace.
How All Generations Add Value to the Remote Workplace
The American workforce consists mostly of Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials, with Generation Zers not far behind. Each group has notable characteristics and approaches work in different ways, which can create challenges for remote managers and teams. However, each group also adds exceptional value to the virtual workspace and should be considered based on team needs and business objectives. In this article, we provide a general description of each generation as well as their challenges and advantages with regard to the value they add to the telecommuting landscape.
Traditionalists were born before 1946 and were influenced by World War II, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement. They are often called the “Silent Generation” because they were raised under the motto “children are to be seen, not heard.” As their label suggests, this group assumes traditional household and workplace roles. Most of the 34 million traditionalists in the U.S. are retired, but approximately 4 million are still employed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the workforce comprising ages 75 and older will experience an annual growth rate of 6.7% through 2026.
Profile of Typical Traditionalist Professionals
In general, traditionalists value rules and obedience. They exhibit a strong work ethic rooted in discipline, dedication, and ethics. They typically view age as an indicator of seniority and hold authority and chain of command in high regard. Traditionalists work hard to ensure job security and see their effort as a benefit to the company more than development for themselves or their career. They also believe that work comes before play and approach the workplace more formally than friendly. They seek respect for their effort and a stable company with a good reputation.
The Traditionalist’s Telecommuting Challenge
Technology might be a limitation for traditionalists, as they didn’t grow up with computers or the internet. However, many have learned basic computer skills throughout their careers. Since they prefer consistency and adherence to process, they may be resistant to rapid change and feel unsure if they aren’t given direct, precise instructions. Also, the friendliness of modern workplace conversations may surprise them, and they may attempt to maintain a reserved, formal tone.
How Traditionalists Add Value to the Remote Workplace
With their sense of honor and duty, traditionalists can serve as a standard for companies and staff to adhere to ethics and organizational missions. When telecommute teams get off the rails due to too much flexibility and autonomy, traditionalists can pull back the reins, get everyone in line, and enforce consistent processes to strengthen the team as a whole. Traditionalists also remind more casual workers to keep their personal business to themselves and maintain a balance between friendliness and professionalism.
The Baby Boomers
Baby boomers (sometimes called the “Me” generation) are those born between 1946 and 1964. They are the product of America’s recovery from World War II and were largely influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, and Cold War. Those who embraced peace, love, and happiness were often seen as an aberration to their traditionalist parents. Of the approximate 80.2 million baby boomers in America, about 45 million individuals are still thriving in the workforce. The BLS predicts that workers ages 55 to 64 will experience an annual growth rate of 0.4% and workers ages 65 to 74 will experience an annual growth rate of 4.2% through 2026.
Profile of Typical Baby Boomer Professionals
Baby boomers believed in the American Dream from a young age and took risks to pursue their ambitions. They invented the workaholic lifestyle and remain dedicated to their jobs. They tend to find a sense of personal self-worth in their occupation and take great stock in their employer’s evaluation of their performance. However, being of a rebellious era, many are unafraid to challenge the status quo and offer idealism and counter ideas to overhaul conventionalism and expedite growth. They value workplace relationships more than their parents and often have excellent conversational skills.
The Baby Boomer’s Telecommuting Challenge
Technology can still be a barrier for this generation, but many baby boomers are accustomed to modern technology and can leverage it comfortably. However, they still tend to value visibility as an indicator of success and stability, so they may work excessively and find work-life balance an ongoing challenge. Since telecommuting jobs often focus on work output more than “face time,” logged hours may take a backseat, leaving baby boomers feeling underappreciated for their effort.
How Baby Boomers Add Value to the Remote Workplace
The questioning and risk-taking nature of baby boomers helps teams innovate and continue to strive for success. Baby boomers are dedicated employees who can inspire teams to bond and work together enthusiastically. They can teach other generations about relationship building and how to nurture and maintain relationships for the long haul. Baby Boomers are also excellent examples of how to balance friendliness and professionalism in the workplace.
Generation Xers are those born between 1965 and 1980. They grew up during the energy crisis, the end of the Cold War, and intense political scandals. Many of their parents were laid off from work due to corporate downsizing, and many of their parents divorced, leaving these “latchkey kids” to learn independence early on. Roughly 48.5 million of the 61.9 million Gen Xers are active in the workforce. The BLS predicts that the workforce comprising ages 35 to 44 will experience an annual growth rate of 1.4% and the workforce comprising ages 45 to 54 will experience an annual decline of 0.4% through 2026.
Profile of Typical Generation X Professionals
Generation Xers are a rather low-key group who enjoy a more friendly, flexible workplace. They value productivity over hours worked and seek more efficient ways of accomplishing tasks in less time. They are the first generation who grew up feeling comfortable with technology, and they prefer to leverage technology to help make job tasks more efficient. Gen Xers are quite independent and value their career path over loyalty to any one company. They invented the startup trend, find innovative ways to turn skills into profitable and autonomous income streams, and are generally skeptical of the status quo.
The Generation Xer’s Telecommuting Challenge
In general, Generation X tends to be cynical and question authority, which might create tensions among teams and stall progress. Gen Xers also resist strict workplace rules and switch jobs and companies when they feel continuously dissatisfied. They want work to be enjoyable and productive so that they can move onto the next challenge and pursue other interests.
How Generation Xers Add Value to the Remote Workplace
Generation Xers value work-life balance, perhaps because they grew up in broken homes with workaholic parents. They are also quite adaptable to change and can easily multitask and take on leadership roles without being appointed. They are determined to complete their tasks and do not feel intimidated by those in higher ranks. Gen Xers can inspire others to take a more laid-back approach to work, balance career with priorities at home, and help drive projects in more efficient, enjoyable ways.
Millennials are those typically born between 1981 and 1994. They grew up with terrorist attacks and school shootings and experienced the rise of mainstream technology. They mastered a quickly evolving spectrum of devices and value technology as an essential component of their daily lives. There are about 80 million millennials in America and approximately 51.8 million who are employed. The BLS predicts that the workforce comprising ages 20 to 24 will experience an annual decline of 0.5% and the workforce comprising ages 25 to 24 will experience an annual growth rate of 0.5% through 2026.
Profile of Typical Millennial Professionals
Millennials are the most educated generation in the workforce thus far. They are also the most comfortable with technology. They tend to take a more laid-back approach to work, similar to Generation Xers, but they also want to have impactful careers that give them a sense of meaning (in addition to a hefty paycheck). Millennials hold authority with regard, but they aren’t afraid to challenge authority with new, outside-the-box thinking. They value professional development and expect their employers to provide an environment for growth. Though millennials are unafraid to change jobs to achieve their desired satisfaction, many would happily stay with one employer throughout their entire careers if they can meet their personal and professional goals.
The Millennial’s Telecommuting Challenge
Millennials are sometimes seen as entitled and lazy. However, their technological aptitude provides the means to do work efficiently and seemingly effortlessly. Thus, they want to be evaluated based on their work product rather than their level of effort. However, baby boomer managers who are used to cranking out hours to prove their worth may need more cues that millennials are dedicated and devoted to their jobs. Thus, millennials may need to find better ways to communicate their commitment so that coworkers know they care and aim to do their very best work.
How Millennials Add Value to the Remote Workplace
Millennials add a sense of optimism to the workplace that helps depressurize remote teams. Their desire to do impactful, meaningful work means that they give their heart and souls when they believe in their jobs. They are willing to unleash their creativity and pitch new ideas to help others approach problems in different ways. They are also intelligent and tech-savvy, so they learn quickly and have an insatiable desire to grow.
Forging a New Generation of Workers: Generation Z
With Generation Z (also called the “Digital Natives”) rounding out the list of generations living and working in America, our ever-growing workforce will be comprised of individuals who are highly connected through the Internet and accustomed to instantaneous results. Gen Zers will be even more educated than their predecessors, but they’ll have even harder problems to solve. However, they’ll be entering a much older workforce and may feel increased pressure to succeed.
Can Telecommuting Alleviate Generational Differences?
Deloitte reminds us that the American workforce is aging and will continue to do so as generations remain in their jobs past the age of 70. Thus, the future of the American workplace will consist of older, highly educated, and ambitious individuals who value work-life balance and a relaxed work environment with opportunities for personal and professional growth. As telecommuting continues to become more mainstream, and as professionals become more acquainted with everchanging technologies, perhaps the remote workspace can help normalize generational differences, close professional generational gaps, and create a new ageless generation of individuals working seamlessly together to solve the world’s toughest challenges.
To which of these generations do you belong; does your age inform your professional identity? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us about your dream job. We’d love to hear from you!
Photo Credit: 1. iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
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