The workplace experience blueprint for Gen Z––and every employee
Change the way workplaces have always operated: why companies should look to a workplace platform approach
Humans are creatures of habit. We grow accustomed to the way things are, even when they don’t work or serve us the way they should. At the same time, in the consumer landscape, we have come to expect a high standard of experience. Because of this, it’s not surprising that we presume that the products and services that
we choose will not just work, but that they will make our lives better, easier, and more enjoyable. But even with the consumer experience instilling such great expectations for everything we do, we are still tolerating subpar experiences in our work lives––particularly when it comes to tools and technology.
A workplace platform gives workers everything they need to navigate your workplace in one place
The problem with too many tools and the impact on employee experience
These poor experiences with technology or processes in the workplace affect both those that decide to adopt a tool (C-Suite) and those that use it (employees) in different ways. A SaaS trends report found that today’s businesses have between 40 and 200+ different tools and apps in-use in their workplace, and their employees use an average of 8 different tools every day.
From the employee side of things, there’s a certain amount of fatigue that comes with ineffective or constantly changing tools in the workplace. This is especially true when different teams are using different versions of the same technology; for example, the marketing team loves Asana to manage projects, but the engineering team uses Jira exclusively. This can create work silos, where employees aren’t aware of the work of other teams because they are all operating and communicating within separate technology environments. Think of the losses in cross-functional collaboration, idea sharing, and product innovation that results from these workplace technology silos.
The sheer number of SaaS providers that each company works with means that facilities and IT teams spend too much of their time figuring out how to make their tools work or connect. This leads to less-than-ideal, shoehorned solutions to make the tool work correctly for their business’ needs. There has to be a better way to get our work done more effectively, more collaboratively, and in a way that encourages the continuous learning and growth opportunities that will define the future workplace.
The workplace platform: where effective tools and teams meet
A helpful place to start: a workplace platform encompasses the digital tools that combine to power the processes and work of people in the physical workplace. This platform is built with tools that connect so that the end user––the employee––doesn’t have to toggle between so many applications in order to get their work done.
What can businesses stand to gain with a “less tools is more” approach? From an admin perspective, a workplace platform functions as a kind of virtual toolkit; like a digital Swiss Army knife, the tools you need are consolidated in one place. Rather than select an individual tool for every need a team has, a workplace platform provides the ability to manage all workplace activities from a single dashboard.
But where the consolidation of tools into one platform most compellingly impacts the work of IT and workplace leaders is in real-time analytics. This access to valuable usage insights allows workplace leaders to make more informed decisions and improve the workplace.
For employees, a workplace platform gives them everything they need to navigate your workplace in one place, so they can spend more time focusing on the work that matters. Whether setting up an interview with a candidate, being notified about an important delivery, or looking for a room to book a last-minute meeting, workplace technology should meet you where you are. A study by The Economist found that employees who responded that their company uses mobile technology in the workplace are typically more productive, creative, satisfied and loyal.
So what does this mean for workplace leaders? A seamless, effective, and enjoyable workplace experience is absolutely table-stakes for bringing your workplace into the future––and recruiting the next generation, Gen Z.
Gen Z will soon make up the majority of your workforce––are you ready?
The idea of challenging the workplace technology status quo is hyper-relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s workplaces and workforces. It’s especially pertinent to Gen Z, who currently accounts for approximately 61 million people in the U.S., a group larger than Gen X. In fact, research projects that Gen Z will comprise about 36% of the workforce by 2020. CNBC reports that “hiring Gen Zers will require more of a marketing effort by companies” as Gen Z “is looking more for good day-to-day work experiences.”
But what exactly goes into creating great workplace experiences for Gen Z and all employees, and how does technology factor into the equation? According to the World Economic Forum’s report, which looks at how education models need shift to best prepare the future workforce for a workplace that will place a premium on both digital and social-emotional skills, the answer is to create a workplace that champions a continuous, shared learning journey and sense of purpose. Heather McGowan, Future of Work expert, notes that since the future of work is learning, we can apply this thinking to both the concept of the employee and the workplace. In other words, Gen Z will be the first generation expected to flex adaptability and social-emotional skills in this way, and the future workplace should provide opportunities to do so. But, even as we advance technologically, and leverage machine learning in personal and work life, machines can’t decipher intent and meaning in the same way people do. Technology is an essential part of what goes into doing our best work, but it can’t replace the most human elements of that work––what McGowan calls tacit knowledge is acquired through the direct experiences of being human.
A commissioned online survey of 1,000 Gen Z respondents (ages 16-23) in the United States supports these ideas around the future workplace as a space that facilitates shared learning, and access to technology that best supports opportunities to flex adaptability. Despite being digital natives and very technologically-savvy, 43% of Gen Z respondents prefer to communicate with co-workers in-person. This is a huge validation for companies to invest in the physical workplace experience to encourage and facilitate this. And what is Gen Z looking for in that regard? Nearly 70% believe that AI will positively impact their workplace experience (and 46% expect ‘smart’ meeting rooms, likely powered by AI, will be a part of their future workplace). Companies should take this as a green light to explore ways to incorporate technology into the workplace that automates the more mundane parts of the work day (or, explicit knowledge, the tasks that are or will eventually be automated) to focus on enhancing the interpersonal interaction and uniquely-human creativity and critical thinking (or, developing tacit knowledge) Gen Z is looking for.
The key to understanding Gen Z? Recognize that their work journey begins with aligning their purpose and what drives them––throughout their educational lifecycle, from elementary through high school––with their unique abilities. Is your company the place where they can apply and grow those skills and purpose?
Future of Work Keynote Speaker and Author
Welcome to the intergenerational workforce: ways to make workplaces best for Gen Z, Gen X, Millennials, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists
For the first time in history, today’s workforce spans five generations. Gen Z are the youngest, bookended by the Traditionalists. This is due to a few main factors. The main one: people are living longer, and retiring later and later. For employees in most industries, the days of investing in and working at one company for the vast majority of one’s professional life, and then collecting a pension or retirement in your mid-sixties, are largely over.
This paradigm shift is reflected in the way different generations approach their career path, too. This is because of changes in the job market that are based on the following factors:
- The evolving nature of work, which now requires employee agility to adapt and be a continuous learner (this stands in contrast to the traditional model of going to college to specialize in one field of study, and then finding a job to directly apply those skills for your entire career)
- Technological advances
- Perceived job security
- Cultural perspectives on employee and employer loyalty (the idea of a job seeker’s market, for example, is true when the unemployment rate is low).
According the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the full generational breakdown looks something like this now:
An episode of the Dear HBR podcast provides an example of the conflicts that can arise between the many generations in the workplace today. A Millennial employee describes how she created an internal, shared drive for candidate resumes at work, but her Baby Boomer colleagues insisted on printing them out. While intergenerational tension isn’t inevitable, this is a great example of why workplace experience leaders should find ways to ensure the various generations can best work together. A best practice to bear in mind: this will (and should be) tailored to the professional and personal dreams, goals, and priorities of your employees––not inherently tied to age or generation.
Workplace experience tip: Use your physical space as opportunity to address generational challenges, and develop solutions that reflect where your employees are in their working lives. Are they looking to meet more casually in open spaces or have the ability to schedule a recurring meeting in a dedicated room? Do they prefer to talk in-person or over Slack? A workplace platform can help gather the data you need to make those decisions.
What else can companies do to best navigate such a range of ages and ideas to cultivate the best possible workplace experience? Here are some ideas.
Look for common ground while celebrating differences
Dispel ageism and generational stereotypes by taking stock of and emphasizing what employees share in common. Take the preferred communication styles of the youngest and oldest generations, the Gen Z and the Silent Generation, for example. Despite the vast differences in available technology, resources, historical and cultural contexts, both opt for in-person interactions.
In fact, the Wakefield Research survey cited 43% of Gen Z respondents prefer in-person communication to the following methods:
Remember: while there are certainly inarguable cultural, economic, and social forces that have shaped and will continue to shape every generation, avoid creating silos in the workplace based on generational affinities. Instead, emphasize both what people have in common and in difference, and collect employee feedback constantly on an organization-wide level and individual level to better understand and craft a workplace experience that is responsive and adaptable.
Create opportunities for employees of all ages to collaborate
Sometimes the best way to encourage employees to build trust, be open to and learn from one another is to create space for them to share and shadow their strengths. An HBR article on management of multiple generations in the workplace describes that an environment that leverages an employee’s coworker as a thought leader enables fellow coworkers to learn more from each other than from a formal training.
This is not only an important step towards establishing a coaching culture across your workplace that involves everyone; it creates real-world opportunities for a variety of tangible, task-based skills and those that involve critical thinking and emotional intelligence. These are also referred to as “hard” and “soft” skills (though these are terms that are increasingly seen as outdated due to the gendered implications) and the notion that they both need consistent cultivation no matter your role, age, or gender to remain competitive in the 21st century workplace.
Workplace experience tip: Create spaces where opportunities for shared learning between employees can occur. For example, an open space that can be booked via a workplace platform next to an office kitchen with comfortable seating, coffee, and snacks can be a great place to gather for an impromptu meeting, or a more casual check-in. The usage information will show you whether or not that placement of furniture and proximity to the kitchen is the best place for that, or if the open area should be moved somewhere else in the office that more employees will use more often.
Encourage mentorship, skill-sharing––and provide ample ways for employees to upskill on their own terms
The Pew Research Center has found that as employees increasingly explore self-directed learning, new learning environments and advances in digital accountability systems will grow as a result to certify participation in skill-based training programs. Some predict that many more workers will begin using online and app-based learning systems. With the traditional college degree becoming more and more out of reach as education continues to privatize and tuition skyrockets, the Pew Research Center also anticipates that employers may accept alternate credentialing systems, as online learning options continue to evolve.
Workplace experience tip: Send out a pulse survey to determine what kinds of technology and spaces would be most helpful to support these learning opportunities. This will help to determine space management needs and inform planning, such as: wayfinding, screen usage, and which doors will need access control.
Challenge the status quo of the workplace experience: transparency and values alignment is the key to gain Gen Z’s trust
In the age of the algorithm, we all know why and how we’re being marketed to, and what we trade when we sign up for an email newsletter for a discount, access to an app, or to download a resource. And this is backed up by leading research: one of the top takeaways from a recent Google Think study is that cultivating consumer trust is paramount. This same thinking can absolutely be applied to cultivating trust with the Gen Z cohort.
Given their purpose-driven work aspirations, it’s unsurprising that Gen Z has strong opinions about how their own values match that of their future employer. 75% of those surveyed feel their company should have a good social media presence (63% would even let their workplace follow them on their personal accounts).
This isn’t only a perceived sense of belonging. In answers ranging from political views and religion to tattoos and sexual orientation, 61% of currently employed Gen Z feel as if they have to hide an aspect related to their personal identity in the workplace.
How do businesses cultivate trust with employees when the technology they use is collecting data on their usage of it? At the end of the day, it’s all about consent: access to data in the workplace should mirror that of the consumer environment with explicit options to approve or deny. 75% of Gen Z would be willing to share personal information with their employer—especially if it helped demonstrate productivity and earn them a raise (46%). And bring on the customized workplace experience tech: 36% would volunteer their personal data if it meant that workplace technology was more responsive or customizable.
Workplace experience tip: Position data collection as an opportunity with tangible benefits to employees, and be transparent about usage. How will the information you collect make their experience better? Getting information about the hours that meeting rooms are in the most demand, for example, will help workplaces decide if more rooms or spaces are needed to meet in. This benefits the employee because it reduces the friction and frustration of trying to find a room to meet in.
How Gen Z feels about AI––and why AI can support human connection, not detract from it
People need reliable workplace technology to do their best work, but they also crave meaning and meaningful experiences at work. According to Kate O’Neill, internationally-recognized author, speaker, Tech Humanist, and founder and CEO of KO Insights, it’s up to companies to strike a balance and find alignment between what businesses and humans are trying to do, which she terms, “human-centric digital transformation,” which looks for that alignment and uses tech to amplify that.
This is where AI comes into play for making workplaces better. With the alignment of teams, integrations, and tools, work becomes more effective. Real-time data monitoring gives you analytical insights to fix problems before they arise or to fix them faster. A workplace platform can help companies of any size understand how their physical and virtual workspace is being used. Instead of searching for data, or making decisions without it, workplace experience leaders can clearly and quickly access vital operational information such as visitor frequency, package volume, room utilization, and more––all in one place.
One of the most compelling responses that emerged from the Wakefield Research survey is how comfortable and willing Gen Z feels about the presence of AI in the workplace. This stands in stark contrast to the fears of machines taking over and replacing people and their jobs. AI in the workplace is not only an expectation of Gen Z, it’s an aspect that they are comfortable with and feel will improve their workplace experience.
AI has far-reaching applications that touch every part of the workplace, in ways we encounter everyday. That customized newsletter with the latest thought leadership articles? An algorithm curated that. A playlist for deep focus? Yep, it was the robots. A list of available rooms to hold an impromptu team sync? In the future, AI will be the magic behind all of the near-instantaneous information we depend on throughout our work day. “Technology helps me make work that’s more human. It allows us to work better, smarter, and faster. And if you think that these things are here to challenge you, or challenge your place in our industry and in our society—not at all. It’s going to help me do better work.” Shannon Washington, Executive Creative Director and AdColor-award winner
Workplace experience tip: Prioritize how to empower employees with access to smarter technologies and invest in machine learning-enabled technologies to help people achieve more meaningful outcomes and work.
Head of Workplace Technology, Envoy
43% of Gen Z respondents prefer to communicate with co-workers in-person
The role of workplace technology in creating a great workplace and employee experience
While technology can no doubt transform a workplace, most B2B tools are built with the buyer, rather than the end-user, in mind. The result? Teams often end up with tools that are technically robust, with lots of features and capabilities, but very few people in the workplace who actually understand how to use them (not to mention a small number who truly feel the benefits).
In today’s workplace, more technology doesn’t always make a better environment or lead to more employee happiness and productivity. It’s not just the tools that matter to cultivating a great workplace experience: it’s the training, philosophies, and the policies that make the tools actually valuable to employees, and therefore effective.
Companies are always changing, with employees coming and going. Technologies change, too. Companies can respond by opening new floors, implementing a hot desk program, or moving to new physical spaces.
Consider the workplace platform, then, with integrations as part of the consolidated workplace experience toolbox; all of your employees go to meetings, accept deliveries, and interact with visitors. Workplace technology should be agile enough to respond to the changing conditions of the modern workplace. If someone forgot to check in to a meeting, and then people booked over it, for example, shouldn’t your virtual meeting link follow you from room to room?
The power of integrations
Why choose a workplace platform over a number of different endpoint solutions? Because integrations allow you to plug into other best-in-class technologies easily. How can you take advantage of this now? By building a mobile-first employee experience.
Work doesn’t just happen at a desk anymore. Your workplace tools should work just as well on mobile as they do on desktop, so you can do the things you do when you need to do them, not when you get back to your desk. Here are some examples.
Build a meaningful workplace experience for Gen Z and beyond
How do workplaces challenge the workplace experience status quo to encourage and empower meaningful work? Sentiments are shifting. We know that Gen Z looks for job stability, but there’s a lot of different priorities they, and the entire intergenerational workforce, are balancing.
Gen Z won’t work like the preceding generations, and we shouldn’t approach a workplace technology strategy with them in the same ways. Instead, workplace experience leaders need to envision ways to evolve to fit their needs and interests.
Maintaining the status quo in your office will not make it easier to hire Gen Z. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Working with one workplace platform can empower Gen Z and your intergenerational workforce with the connected tools they need to contribute their best, most meaningful work.