Our workplace and workforce are shifting each day. As I’ve been scanning 2016 workplace predictions everywhere from Forbes to Fast Company, several trends in particular have implications for how we communicate with employees. Here are three to consider and determine how your organization may need to respond:
1. Generation Z employees enter the workforce. Ready or not, the first wave of Generation Z – those born between 1994 and 2010 – will graduate from college in May 2016. According to research, Gen Z seems to be even more entrepreneurial, loyal, flexible and realistic in their approach to careers than millennials. Of course, they’re uber-connected to technology, though they seem to appreciate face-to-face communication. Implication: With at least four distinct generations in the workforce, it’s even more important that leaders don’t rely on one-size-fits-all communication. However, all employees have at least several common workplace communications needs that aren’t changing: They want to know where their organization is going and why; what’s expected of them in their daily jobs; and how they can help or contribute. Beyond new technology and varying communications channels, leaders must first focus on developing and delivering a compelling, consistent narrative to connect multi-generation employees to each other, their work and the organization’s purpose. In addition, mentoring and reverse mentoring efforts may also help transfer knowledge and understanding across generations.
2. Workplace flexibility is the norm. This trend will only continue to grow, with the rise of telecommuting, co-working spaces, corporate office re-configurations, new technology and our sharing economy that invites more freelancers. Pundits also say more employees may either decide to switch employers or stay put based on their organization’s flexibility programs. We’re also preparing for the next “baby boom” when the 80 million millennials have children, perhaps signaling another pressure point for career flexibility. Implication: Leaders, if they haven’t already, must develop and communicate a fair, consistent workplace flexibility policy that addresses their specific employee and business needs, whether compressed work weeks, telecommuting, job-sharing or other relevant programs. With employee input, leaders must focus on the rationale and benefits, weigh a variety of options, address possible issues, clearly outline guidelines or expectations, and determine ways to evaluate how it’s working or how it could be better. Workplace flexibility policies themselves should flex with the times.
3. Remote friendly shifts to remote first. According to Fast Company, more organizations are going to be created as virtual businesses from day one – completely skipping any bricks-and-mortar existence. Implication: Effective communication and new technology can help power the virtual business. However, keeping virtual employees motivated and focused does require greater intention on the part of leaders. While virtual businesses are seen as more informal in their structure and operations, there may often need to be more formality to communication, meaning regular check-ins to ensure everyone has the information they need to do their jobs; common tools and channels for sharing knowledge or collaborating on projects; having more policies, expectations and goals in writing that everyone can access and understand; and ongoing business updates to build trust and teamwork. Leaders must intentionally communicate business priorities, progress, successes (and learnings from failures) and the cultural norms. The same holds true for companies that are allowing more of their employees to work remotely or shifting to this new virtual reality.