How generation gaps will shape the agency environment of the future - HANDEL
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How generation gaps will shape the agency environment of the future

mind the gap

27 Oct How generation gaps will shape the agency environment of the future

Do you speak Z?
Pondering the influence and impact of multiple generations on the agency of the future

There seems to have been a fair amount of buzz recently around generation gaps and the impact thereof on the workplace – short, medium and long term.

I recently attended a talk hosted by Investec, titled “Mind the generation gap”. The keynote speaker was Dr Graeme Codrington, an expert on the future world of work and the forces shaping it. The premise of his talk focused on how companies should navigate the generational divide – from the baby boomers to generation Z – to ensure they remain relevant, innovative and profitable, whilst at the same time maintaining a cohesive workforce.

Dr Codrington’s talk provided some excellent food for thought – in particular, what the multi-generational agency of the future will look like. And more importantly, what needs to be not only considered, but done in the short term to ensure that one’s workplace is ready for such changes.

They are referred to as “digital natives” (the rest of us, in case you were wondering, are known as “digital immigrants”) and have a very different outlook on the world of work. The fact is that the entry of a new generation and their participation in the workplace will have a profound impact on how we work.

IT company Ricoh commissioned research to understand how generation Z will reshape work. The study, titled “The 4G Workplace”, looks at how well companies are prepared to accommodate four very different generations under one roof.

A state of mind – and a sign of the times
Generation Z grew up hyper-connected, with immediate access to information and communication at their fingertips. This, says the study, reflects in their attitudes to work and prospective employers.

What does this mean for employers? They need to provide work environments that are technologically enabled to attract and retain the right talent.

I believe that it’s not necessarily only a case of gearing your business to accommodate a new generation of workers, but rather it’s about constantly “future-proofing” your business to make sure you are thinking, planning and doing to be the proverbial one step ahead. Yes, being aware of and sensitive to the profile of your workforce is key, but more so it’s about adopting the mind set of always looking ahead to make sure you remain relevant not only in what you do, but how you do it.

Technology certainly plays a role, but it is by no means the only shaping factor.

Drawing inspiration from Dr Codrington, I believe agencies (be they above the line, below the line, digital, full service, half service – the list goes on) should consider the following to remain (futuristically) relevant and create a harmonious multi-generational environment:
• Freedom and flexibility: My view on this is simple. If you cannot trust someone to deliver in an output-based manner – regardless of what generation they’re from – you have the wrong person.
• The on-demand workforce: Basically, a fancy way of referring to working with freelance resources. I am a big fan of working with freelancers. Key here is quality, quality, quality – make sure the freelancers you use meet your standards, and that expectations are clearly outlined (again, not confined to a particular generation).
• Personalisation: Fortunately, this is something is something that can be done in an agency environment – to a degree. I’m all for personalisation in the work environment, because for me it goes hand in hand with ownership and accountability. I will gladly help someone personalise his or her role in a participative manner, provided the benefit is mutual (capitalistically, of course, weighted more in the favour of the employer) and apparent.
• Relevance: As the workplace expert termed it, “tell them WHY”. I have always believed that, regardless of the role someone occupies in a team, the context of their contribution to the broader company goals cannot be emphasised enough. “Yes, you are joining the team as an intern, but without you X, Y and Z would not be possible – which contributes directly to A, B and C”. Context matters.
• Digital and mobile: I’m not arguing this point, at all, but believe that it boils down to establishing and adopting a healthy digital culture. I understand that some team members might have been born with a smartphone hardwired into their hands, but it does not negate those “old fashioned” constructs known as respect, good manners and basic business etiquette. My mantra for meetings: Stop swiping, put away the phone and participate.

Are we ready for the elusive (and for some, intimidating) generation Z? I believe that it boils down to good old fashioned communication. Yes, the vehicles we use differ, but establishing an inclusive organisational culture built on respect and open lines of communication can overcome any generational “crisis”.

In the words of Dr Codrington: “Even in this high tech world, it’s still about high touch – regardless of what generation people are from they still want the personal touch.”

JP Hansen
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