Thursday, November 20, 2008

Can the generations work together?

Several observations make me question if the older generation can work with the new generation (or visa versa). IMHO, I think a lot of the problems are related to a lack of respect and understanding for each other's communication preferences. I am generalizing here and am using 'generations' to identify people, regardless of their age, who use the tools and have the preferences generally associated with the different generations.

Last week when my grandmother passed away, my oldest son chose to be with her at the end while my youngest chose not to remember her that way. This was the right decision for each of them. Soon after she passed, my oldest text messaged his brother to let him know. While he was doing this, my mother (who was just coming back to the room) saw this and made a comment about it. If he had been talking to his brother on the phone, I think she would have understood what he was doing. But she and many others in the generations that didn't grow up with text messaging don't understand the way the others prefer to communicate.

I have to admit that I would rather talk to someone than text them from my phone. This probably has to do with the fact that I haven't become proficient at texting (I need to get a phone with letters big enough for me to see without my reading glasses or get contacts).

Just from my personal observations, I'd say that most people under 25 prefer texting to talking on the phone.

Another story: A year or two ago, my family was heading to South Carolina to go camping, but when we got to the campground, it was full. My youngest son mentioned that one of his friends (not a 'close friend', but one he likes) was camping with her family (who we know pretty well) was camping at a nearby campground this weekend. They texted back and forth and soon we were camping just a few sites away and spent a great weekend with them. My sons' 'network' of friends are so much more rich than mine was at their ages - and even now at my age, that I'm jealous. They make friends when I take them to conferences and they maintain and grow those relationships throughout the year. When they go to the conference the next year, their friends are there and they pick up from yesterday, not last year. How do they do this? They use Facebook and MySpace.

They are much more comfortable sharing more of their life. And because of this, they have more friends, are more connected to them and they have stronger relationships.

One of my biggest regrets is losing touch with many of the friends I've made in the past. My goal for the near future is to get back in touch with many of them and rekindle those relationships - especially if they are using social networking tools.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a coworker and she told a story where someone asked if her daughter's college was closed because of snow. The mother didn't know, but another coworker (younger generation) in the next room overheard and said yes, the school was closed and told them what the daughter was doing this morning. She knew because she was friends with the daughter on Facebook.

We talked about how the younger generations are using email to communicate with 'old people' and use other tools to communicate with each other.

Paul Glazowski wrote Study: Surfing Social Networks at Work Could Be Good for You. I've been holding this trying to think of a good way to get it out to those IT departments that are blocking things like instant messaging, social networking sites, sharing sites and the like and even games because they think they are going to stop employees from 'wasting time'. IMHO, this couldn't be more counter-productive. Yes, there will be employees that will waste time using these tools, but do they honestly believe that by taking these tools away the employees that would waste time with these tools will become more productive? I think not. They are going to bring crossword puzzles, books, or their cell phone to the office or just spend their time hanging around the water cooler. And the ones that are working hard will be less productive because they have fewer tools to work with. The time-wasting employees need to be addressed administratively, not by blocking IT tools.

Another observation is the blurring of the work/personal boundaries for the new generation of knowledge workers. If you are working behind a counter, then yes, you need to be there at certain times. But, if you are a knowledge worker and are most productive at 4:00 AM and enjoy bike riding, why do you need to be at desk from 9-5 during the winter when it gets dark at 5:30? I think the new generation of workers 'get' and want the Freerange enterprise that Kevin Gamble describes.

Back to the title of this article - if you find yourself with the characteristics of the 'older generation' (regardless of your age), it is time to explore the advantages of the tools the 'younger generation'. It is hard for us to change our work habits, but by taking small steps, it can be done. The first step is to work to gain an understanding of the tools.

I think this is the longest post I've ever written. Maybe I ought to change the title of the blog to "Ramble On"... but that's already taken...

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