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Friday, January 15, 2021

Executive Education

How to Overcome Remote Work Problems in Multigenerational Teams

The pandemic has created a shift to remote work that might be permanent, but different employees have adjusted differently. Businesses should work to identify their employees’ working-from-home struggles, taking into account their generational differences and individual needs. Once leaders identify the obstacles, they can work to overcome them by taking these four steps.

Although COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available, the pandemic’s shift to remote work might become a permanent change. September 2020 data from Gallup, for instance, indicates that two-thirds of remote workers would like for their arrangements to continue. That’s fine for the employees who quickly adjusted to sweatpants and virtual meetings, but remote work problems still plague businesses that are managing multigenerational teams.

It’s not hard to see why young professionals are having different remote experiences from their older colleagues. Millennials and Gen Zers are digital natives who barely remember a time before smartphones and the internet. Both generations grew up with many forms of digital communication: chat rooms, social media, online gaming sessions, video calls, etc. As a result, their online interactions likely produce the same oxytocin and bonding effect that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers experience during in-person interactions.

That’s why many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers feel isolated and disconnected in remote work settings. In a 2019 study by Virtual Vocations, less than 38% of Baby Boomers said they were willing to telework from a coffee shop or co-working space. When Millennials answered the same question, more than 61% said they’d be happy to. Effective remote working is possible, but telecommuting is often more difficult for older professionals. That’s why remote work across generations and individuals has to look different.

Managing Multigenerational Teams

Employers typically develop human resources policies that treat all employees the same, but that’s not the best approach when it comes to remote work. For example, decreasing videoconferencing meetings to save people time might benefit a Millennial with great time management skills. However, it would negatively impact a Gen Xer who works better when she’s actively collaborating and interacting with others.

If leaders don’t prepare older generations and non-tech savvy people for the future of remote work, then they’ll fall behind. And not just the employees, but the companies, too. After all, more than 80% of workers in the U.S. said they’d turn down a job that wasn’t flexible, and 85% of businesses said that remote work options have increased their productivity. New employees and better productivity are critical to business growth. Employers who ignore this opportunity to get ahead will regret it later.

Instead of adopting a blanket approach, businesses should work to identify their employees’ individual working-from-home struggles while taking into account their generational differences. Once leaders clearly identify the obstacles, they can formulate a path to overcome them. Here’s how:

  1. Adopt communication practices based on employees’ digital experience.
    To effectively facilitate remote team communication, organizations must understand the digital upbringing and journey of their employees. Leaders can gather this information by creating a short survey for employees with questions like “What do you prefer using email, chat, and video calls for, respectively?” and “Which method is the least effective, and why do you think that?” Once there’s some data to reference, leaders can host quick discussions to identify remote communication best practices.
  2. Let digitally native generations lead the way.
    The more we do something, the better we get at it, which is why it’s important to train older professionals who have less exposure to virtual interactions. Millennials and Gen Zers can help make these individuals more comfortable by assisting with everything from technology setup and troubleshooting to practice sessions and weekly virtual check-ins. Most businesses tend to recruit older employees to serve as mentors, but it can help to flip this norm with respect to remote work training.
  3. Establish clear expectations for virtual work.
    Regardless of age, some employees might not be good fits for telecommuting. Effective remote working requires self-motivation, adaptability, and good organization, and not all professionals have these skills. It’s difficult to teach time management for remote workers, but ground rules can help provide the structure these individuals need for success until they can safely return to the physical office. Leaders need to set realistic expectations that consider the pandemic’s impact on people’s day-to-day lives.
  4. Make people feel like they’re part of a larger picture.
    When team members are all working and interacting in the same office space, a sense of connection grows naturally. However, when people are calling in from separate cities and countries, that connection has to be deliberately fostered. Leaders should start by creating a shared mission. To do this, they need to be transparent about the organization’s position from top to bottom and give employees insights into what their peers are doing. People feel a sense of inclusion when they know what’s going on, helping lower burnout and increase retention.

When managing multigenerational teams, it’s important to take each person into account. Every employee is unique, so businesses should treat them as such. Instead of adopting widespread policies on how to stay connected while working remotely, leaders should take an individualized approach. What’s most important is offering the right people the right resources so they can reach their potential.


Written by Jose Montero Sr.

Jose Montero Sr.
Jose Montero Sr. is CFO and COO of Blue, a technology company that enables anyone with a smartphone to discover people and things autonomously via Bluetooth. He’s also a savvy business coach with a passion for facilitating change and developing people and organizations. Jose Montero Sr. is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.
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