These days, we hear a lot about the rising millennial generation. We're on the rise because of our sheer numbers, our entrepreneurial spirit, and our dedication to social impact. But we're also laden with debt and inheriting the challenges of past generations. How will we find the best ways to deal with these challenges while at the same time staying true to our values and goals?
One fact that gets overlooked time and time again when I read and hear things about millennials is that we, put simply, work better. Growing up in the information age, we are more tech savvy than past generations and our ability to multi-task and collaborate to solve complex challenges is greater. The word efficiency comes to mind.
More often than not, I see a common misconception, persistent in a caricature of our generation as narcissistic and entitled. As a principal in a small, up-and-coming digital strategy firm staffed entirely by millennials, I can attest to this not being the case -- instead, what I've seen is the emergence of a bold new work ethic and culture. Our clients come to us because they know of the quality websites we build and the creative online organizing campaigns we implement, but they also come to us because we solve complex challenges. Many of these challenges require a level of organizational detail and management that you used to have to go to a big Madison Avenue consulting firm or agency for -- we're doing that work at a small fraction of the cost. Here's how:
Email is dead. Sort of.
"I'm sorry, I missed your email last week, my inbox was completely jammed."
"Better to text if you need something quick. My inbox is too cluttered and I can't keep up."
Sound familiar? Email is becoming an ineffective way of conducting business, especially when it comes to managing projects.
At Veracity Media (my company), one of our project leads, who may be running a team to design a website and product launch strategy for a client could be having dozens of conversations at once about a wide variety of moving pieces.
Some of these conversations are with the same groups of people, so they tack on comments about other tasks or ideas into the same discussion, making it difficult to keep track of items in long email chains. You know what I'm talking about -- "see my comments below in magenta."
What's crazier, our project managers are oftentimes leading 3-5 projects at a time; so multiply all of those conversations by 3, 4 or 5. It's near impossible. No one should be expected to keep track of that level of communication over email and not burn themselves out by working nights and weekends -- something many people do.
We've turned to inexpensive, cloud-based project management platforms like Wrike, Asana, Trello and others for day-to-day task management. These platforms are highly robust, yet simpler and more intuitive than some of the dinosaur, proprietary systems I've seen used by larger companies.
These platforms allow our teams to keep track of deadlines and conversations, share files, and most importantly, delegate and work collaboratively on projects in a low stress (sometimes), more organized way.
We also encourage our clients to move to a similar but even easier to use platform: Basecamp. It's not so different from email.
The secret is in having one common space to share project relevant files and in keeping more siloed conversations around specific topics.
Of course we haven't stopped using email (yet). How could we? Everyone else does. But, by greatly reducing our email conversations around project specific items we are saving ourselves time and all kinds of headache. My inbox is usually a collection of external or outward facing conversations, listservs and other notifications. I use Google Inbox to keep things organized by topic and type, making an effort to clear emails out or "snooze" them for a later read. I found keeping my inbox as clear as possible greatly enhances my ability to live with less stress day to day and to spend more time thinking.
I often ask myself: How did people live without Google?
As millennials, we Google things (we even turned Google into a verb). This might seem really obvious and you might say that other generations Google things too, but even if they do (which many of them don't -- I know this for a fact), they don't do it as well as we do. Our generation is faster about finding the answers we need to get things done, because we know the right questions to ask.
Bottom line -- the idea of simply searching for something immediately that you don't know the answer to, is an intuitive action and second nature to us, and that in itself is revolutionary.
But the Google gap doesn't end there, not even close.
Google docs are at the core of our more collaborative workflow. The advantages of having the ability to track changes and make comments on a simple text doc or spreadsheet, all in real time are astounding. We've got team members in New York and D.C. working to finish large scale website implementations, with spreadsheets tracking the status of all the pages and content on documents -- all saving days worth of time that would have been spent scheduling calls and waiting to get on the phone.
Google maps help us get to where we're going, quicker, smarter, better. Google alerts make sure we get real-time information on the topics we need to know about. The Playstore (or App store if you are an iphone/mac user) gives us access to a universe of thousands, if not millions, of third party apps that are making our lives and our work more efficient.
It's not enough to be aware of these things; you have to live it. It's a lifestyle, the Google lifestyle.
Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, often talks about "connectedness" as a concept to describe business and the many relationships it spawns in today's hyper information saturated and connected environment. Of course, Salesforce is the go-to customer relationship management (CRM) platform today, but the concept goes beyond just database management.
Today, we're connected through mobile, cloud-based tools, video conferencing and Twitter. Our relationships with people span websites, social media, email lists and the off chance in-person encounter.
Millennials get connectedness.
They get forming relationships and maintaining them across multiple channels, and harnessing them for a greater power. Whether it's customers, volunteers, voters or fans, we have tapped connectedness to forge communities that build things together.
This has obvious implications for social change and movement building (see Obama for America, the overthrow of SOPA/PIPA in congress, or the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement, just to name a few). But, it also has implications for the day-to-day work we do. Understanding connectedness, and embracing it allows us to build networks of people and collaborate with circles outside our immediate workspace.
Slowly but surely, millennials are changing the culture around work. In large part this has to do with different customs, interests and institutions that generate different social norms than those of past generations; culture in its purest sense affecting work culture. However, everything described here thus far also results in a different generation of work culture.
So what is it? Flipflops, scooters, and ping-pong at the office? Sure, but that's not the work culture we're trying to get at here. Telecommuting, or working from home is a big part of it.
We are discovering slowly that by allowing people to work part time from home, or work from where they are most comfortable, they can, in the right circumstances be more productive.
This notion has been affecting start-ups for years, but it's starting to permeate into larger, older companies who are letting employees decide how many days out of the week they spend at the office.
The new work culture also seeps into the physical workspace, with more companies and organizations opting for more informal, collaborative "co-working" style office space rather than more traditional cubicles and whatever else older companies used to do.
The downsides of this new work culture is that, in large part due to connectedness, it's harder and harder to turn work off. But millennials are far better at striking the right balances needed and finding their productive zen, than older generations who are having a much harder time coping with these changes.
For these and many other reasons, millennials simply work better. Will all of this allow millennials to overcome the daunting challenges of our time? Who knows. But, overtime, I'm sure we'll be able to understand the longer lasting impacts and implications of this unignorable new trend. In the meantime, do yourself a favor: go out and hire/invest in/elect a millennial! You won't regret it.