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Business Partner Insights

Collaborating Across a Multigenerational Workforce

Dell-150squareBy Nick Clunn

Most managers who work alongside recent college graduates know first hand that communicating and collaborating with this new breed of subordinates can be tricky.

Dave Buchholz, director of consumerization for Intel IT, recalled a time a new 20-something employee proposed an idea via instant message. Buchholz said he has no problem with IM—but the employee was only a few feet away.

Buchholz said he replied, “I think you should come over here and talk to me about it,” before looking in the employee’s direction and sarcastically waving hello.

The exchange described by Buchholz last month at Dell World, the company’s annual convention of IT professionals, is indicative of the disconnect that can exist between bosses and workplace rookies all the time. The challenge addressed by Buchholz and others during a panel discussion on the evolving workforce is how to bridge the gap.

Learning company culture

Evolving Workforce Think Tank at Dell WorldBuchholz suggested that companies not fall down the rabbit hole of only implementing new technology because that’s what the college kids are doing. While staying current is important, employers also need to train first-timers how to collaborate within the business culture they’re joining.

“You don’t want to adopt new technology because it’s new technology,” he said.

Yet at the same time, management needs to be cognizant of the expectations of incoming workers. One of the big lessons learned from the BYOD movement is that many employees will use the apps and devices they want, even if it means breaking company policy.

“It’s about creating an environment that people are going to feel comfortable in,” said Bob O’Donnell, founder of the research firm Technalysis. “There are a lot of efforts that need to happen on both sides to figure this out.”

The mindset of IT

Chris Grams, president of the business consultancy New Kind, suggested that IT staffers think of themselves as ethnographers and develop a deep understanding of how employees use electronic devices—much in the same way a researcher of ancient culture studies how early civilizations used the tools of the day. The focus for IT should then turn to safe enablement of preferred uses, “instead of saying, ‘How can I control this?’” Grams said.

Organizations can shape employee computing by developing their own apps. Social media apps, for instance, can facilitate collaboration and give higher-ups quick insight into their ranks without having to go through layers of middle management. Neil Hand, vice president of end-user computing products at Dell, said he relied heavily on reading conversation threads to get back up to speed after rejoining the company about a year ago.

“The speed of collaboration changed really quickly,” he said.

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