Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace — Part 2

July 12, 2017 Marcus Varner

In a recent webinar, Jeanne Meister, founding partner at Future WorkplaceAlan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, and Steven ZoBell, chief product and technology officer at Workfront, sat down to discuss how businesses can prepare for the evolution of people, process, and technology.

What follows is the second in a three-part recap of the webinar. See part one here and part three here. If you want to watch the entire webinar on demand, click here.


Alan Lepofsky: I’m going to start off not with an interactive poll the way that Jeanne did, but I did want to ask you guys a series of four or five questions that are going to set the framework for the way that I’m going to talk about the rest of the things.

I want you to think about yourself. I want you to start with what wakes you up in the morning? Is it the rooster that’s waking you up out in your backyard?


Check out our post "5 Work Technologies on The Way Out" to see what kind of impact outdated technologies can have on your productivity.


Are you the old fashioned ringing alarm clock, or have you become fully digital and your iPhone or your Android device is sitting right beside your bed and that’s the first thing you look at in the morning?

Similarly, how do you take notes? What are you doing right now as you’re listening to us talk? Are you sitting in a conference room and writing things on a whiteboard? Do you have a piece of paper in front of you? Do you have a laptop? Are you actually inking on a Surface device or on an iPad pro?

Are you using natural language to actually record what we’re doing and have AI annotate it for you? How do you take notes? Where do you fit into that digital spectrum?

How do you do things like wishing somebody a happy birthday or something very, very simple?

Are you a traditional card person? Do you actually know what an environment and stamps and return addresses are like? Do you pick up the phone and make a phone call?

Or is it, look at the way we get hundreds of Facebook posts and it makes us all look great when we see that extended group wish us happy birthday on social media? So how do you do those types of things?

How do you do something actually as simple as hailing a cab?

How many people remember walking out on the street and raising their hand? Do you actually call a cab company and book a cab? Or do you use one of these apps like Uber or Lyft or any of the others in these various cities?

So you see, we’re starting to create this framework; how do you do all these things?

How do you pay for things? Do you actually use currency anymore? Do you have money in your wallet? Do you have coins in your pocket? Do you do something electronic like PayPal or Square when you go to the mall and you’re buying something for a craft show?

Or hey, how far advanced are you?

Do you know what Bitcoin are? Maybe one of you on this call was early enough to buy a Bitcoin when they first came out, and what are they telling us that’s gone from; an original Bitcoin is worth millions now? Hopefully some of you were early in that.

But I want these questions to give you the mindset that all of these things we take for granted are changing. We had all these ways of doing things in the past; everything from something as simple as a phone call to a happy birthday to buying something; all of those patterns in our lives have changed.

The processes we follow are extremely different than they were three, five, 10 years ago.

So what about work? What about when we get to the office? Are the things there changing at the same pace?

What we do as a job, who it is that we work with; do you just have your teammates or is it extended across your company or even better, outside of the organization to working with people that you don’t even know but they fulfill part of what you need to do?

When and where you work, how you work, even why you work; it’s very different for us of why we work versus our parents, versus our grandparents.

That need to actually supply for your family—to provide for your family—versus the need for personal fulfillment and doing jobs that make you feel good. A lot of things about work are changing, and we’re going to take a look at a few of those.

What Constellation does to rank and categorize the way people fit into all those questions I just asked you is actually not based on the year or the generation that they were born. Instead, we’ve introduced this term called digital proficiency.

Digital proficiency is made up of two different facets that are added together, and you’ll see how we do those. The first is your knowledge level with those technologies. What did you learn in school, what did you learn on the fly in the real world experience; what do you have access to every day?

Some people may have learned things but then don’t get to use them and it frustrates them. All of these things add up to your knowledge; how much do you know about a topic?

I mentioned Facebook lets you do birthday wishes. Bitcoin lets you buy things. Do you know about those technologies? And knowing about them is one thing; having access to using them is another.

The second half of the equation is your comfort level with them. You may know about these things really well, but you may or may not feel comfortable actually using them.

They may fit into your belief system. They may fit into the desires of wanting to learn, wanting to be more advanced: "hey, I want to make sure that I’m always up-to-date."

Or, you may know about all these things but you may know enough that you don’t trust them. You may realize that "online, sure, I can buy things, I can purchase things but then I also hear about all the cyber security issues." So where is your trust level?

You take your knowledge with these technologies and your comfort level with these technologies and add them together into what we call your digital proficiency.

These things determine the styles and needs of the way you’re going to work. And that relates to the processes that you’re going to follow during your job.

So being an analyst firm, we have to bucket these things into quadrants, so here we are; I’m going to show you what our digital proficiency quadrant looks like at Constellation Research.

There you see those two axes that I was talking about; comfort level and knowledge.

Comfort is going vertically up that left-hand side with the lower being "I’m not as comfortable" and the top being "very comfortable;" and knowledge is going horizontally along the bottom, with the left-hand side being "I don’t know a lot about it" and the right-hand side: "I’m an expert."

Let’s start to fill in how these things are actually going to work. If you look at these quadrants, the bottom left is you don’t know how to do something and you’re not really comfortable yet doing it.

So: "I have no idea how to use Uber, and I have absolutely no interest in using my phone to hail a cab. I’m going to walk outside and I’m just going to do it."

All the way around to the top corner where you’re really, really good at something: "I understand Twitter, I understand social media, and not only do I know how to use it, but I fully trust in it and I’m going to go out there and that’s how I’m going to share my notes and my marketing campaigns and I’m going to do everything."

And so you sort of work your way around these four different quadrants, and we rank people into five categories.

Let’s quickly take a look at those categories.

They are Digital Holdouts, so people that don’t know a lot about these new technologies and they don’t want to.

Top left: people that don’t know a lot about these things but really want to; they want to move across that chasm. They want to immigrate into that world of "hey, I used to do things the old way; I want to do them the new way but I’m not quite there yet."

On the right-hand side, you have the disengaged; people that know a lot about what’s going on but have no comfort level of doing it. This is where we fall into the trap of people like security experts.

They completely understand that there are new ways of doing things, but that level of knowledge also makes sure that they don’t ever go out and do it. Of course they know about Facebook and Twitter and Bitcoin and Uber and all those things.

But you know what? They do things the old fashioned way.

And finally up into the top right-hand corner where you have these digital natives; people that are really good at it and really comfortable with it. They just live in this world.

We actually have a fifth category which we actually call the Voyeurs. These are the people that are sort of smack-dab in the middle. These are people who are pretty good at stuff and pretty comfortable at stuff, but they’re sort of watching.

So as we go through these next few slides, I want you to think about where you fit into this quadrant. What type of worker are you, and what type of worker do you want to be if you’re not quite where you’re at right now?

Let’s see how these quadrants map to the challenges that people are facing today. I think most of you on the call will relate to some of these issues I’m about to talk about—the next three or four struggles that we all have at work.

What challenges are employees facing today?

The first is this concept of information overload.

We all hear about this.

We start to kind of use cliché terms like “email overload.” Email overload is nothing. Email overload is simple. Select all, hit delete, bang; you have inbox zero. Email is the least of my concerns.

Information overload is the amount of content that’s coming at us from a variety of sources.

We are struggling with more and more information being generated faster than ever before. And the problem with that information overload is the second part; the number of inputs that it comes to us from is the biggest struggle.

So when you wake up in the morning, you have to check your social media streams, you check your calendar, you check your inbox, you check the text messages on your phone.

You may go off to a social networking tool. You may use group messaging tools like a Slack or a HipChat or something. You have your project management tools like Workfront and others in that industry.

You have all of these places you have to go. It takes 25 minutes just to get your bearings straight with all of the things you have to do. So we have a lot of information coming at us from number two; a lot of places.

Number three is it’s coming at us from a lot of people.

We used to just deal with a small group of our inner circle; your boss, your colleagues, the people who report to you; maybe you knew someone down the hall in a different group when you went to work. But really you were kind of centered around the people that you know.

Now, a massive majority of our day is spent with people who maybe we’ve never even met, maybe we’ve never seen in real life.

I’m doing a webinar with Jeanne here; we’re digital media followers of each other but unfortunately to this point, we’ve never met face to face; something we’re going to have to rectify one of these days in New York.

But we’re dealing with so many people that it becomes a challenge.

Cognitively, we actually can’t keep up with the names, the locations, the family members, the "when was the last time I spoke to you," "what’s the last email interchange we had;" all of these things that make us collected and build relationships; we actually have a limit.

Dunbar’s number talks about things like around 150. Nobody has 150 connections anymore. The standing joke on Facebook is there’s two types of losers; people who have less than 50 friends and people who have more than 500.

What category do you start to fall into? When you have thousands of Twitter followers, or you have hundreds of clients that you’re engaging with, we just can’t mentally keep up with this information.

So we have too much stuff coming at us from too many channels, and too many people creating it. And then the problem is we’re getting interrupted too often.

All of these things are stopping us. We’re getting notified on our phones, we’re getting popups on our screens. We’re getting our virtual digital assistants telling us it’s time to get to a meeting. And each time we stop we know that the challenge is to actually get back and start working again.

I can’t virtually see you here right now, but raise your hand if you’re struggling with any or all of these things. I know they impact my day every day.

But the good news is Alan’s not here to give you guys doom and gloom; I’m here to talk to you about the fact that we are entering a future of work that has solutions to all of these things, and that’s what really excites me and jazzes me up.

After 20 years in the software industry, I’m finally starting to see software that is working for us, not us working for it. We’re not struggling with the challenges of what our tools do; instead our tools are going to actually, for the first time, start to help us get our jobs done.

So there are three main areas that I think the future of work starts with. The first is structure and organization.

Now, for a decade we’ve been talking about this incredible shift to social and openness and transparency and serendipity and all of these lovely terminologies that break down the silos of the way we work. Everyone likes to say that: "breaking down the groups, breaking down the silos." 

But that has led to a little bit too much chaos. It’s very difficult to have context around the conversation, the people, the places, the tasks that you have.

Structure and organization brings the best of those two worlds together. It allows us to work openly and transparently with people inside of our group, outside of our group.

But at the same time lets us do things like prioritize, or assign, or tag, or categorize so that one week from now, or six months from now, or three years from now we can go back and we can see the things that we were doing, the projects we were working on, the people that were assigned to them, the follow up items that were delivered; all of those types of things that a collaborative work management tool such as Workfront provides.

The ability to actually not be a high end, completely structured, everything has to be by the book, there’s dependencies and linear progression of things; I’m not talking about that full end of the spectrum.

But I’m talking about this inner section of working openly and transparently and collaboratively but providing some structure to it.

I think you’re going to see that that is one of the main keys, and you’re going to see it from all of the software vendors that we’re doing.

And most importantly, you’re going to see those vendors working together so that you can link things from a Microsoft or a Google or a Workfront or a Box or a Slack; all of these things are going to be integrated and linked together.

That’s what I mean when I talk about organization; that integration that structure, and those dependencies.

The second is this world of analytics.

I mentioned earlier we’re all drowning in data. Half of you on this call right now probably have some sort of fitness band on your wrist to count the amount of steps you take. The other half of you certainly has a Netflix queue that gives you recommendations on what you’re doing.

We are surrounded by data about our lives; something we didn’t have three, five, 10 years ago. Nobody collected data about what we were doing.

Now we’re collecting data about everything; about the emails we send, about the calendar meetings we have, about the projects and the tasks; about our social network, about the people we live with, about the hours we spend on telephone calls versus webinars.

All of these things, all of this analytics, leads to what I call the quantified employee.

We are going to start to get data back about us that tells us what areas we’re effective in, and what areas we’re wasting our time in.

For me as a research analyst, it would be nirvana to know how much time I spent producing a report versus the results of that report and the impact that it had on my client.

And maybe I spent a lot of time working on something that had little impact, but maybe I could spend a little bit of time working on something that has huge impact.

Wouldn’t you like to know about that in your project task management tools?

Which things did you do, how did they impact the company, how did they impact you, how did they impact your team, etc. We’re going to start to see a massive rise in analytics and quantifying our work.

The beauty of this is we don’t have to be data scientists to understand it.

How many of you have ever questioned your Facebook stream that says these are the posts you want to see versus those that you don’t? How many of you ever said, "hey, Netflix, wait a minute; no, those aren’t the movies that are recommended compared to the ones that I am watching."

Think about when we get to work and our tools are going to be able to tell us: "hey Jeanne, hey Alan, hey Steve; start your day right now and these are the things that you should work on." So I’m really psyched about that.

And finally, as Jeanne mentioned earlier, artificial intelligence.

You can’t go anywhere without hearing about it; you can’t go anywhere without using it. Many of you probably don’t realize how many times during the course of the day today already an algorithm has had an impact on what you see, on the way you act, on the things that you do.

This is going to range from everything from automatic replies to our email, to, as Jeanne mentioned, calendaring and scheduling and HR onboarding. Our cars are going to autonomously drive for us; all of these incredible things and I could go on for the full 60 minutes just on AI on software.

But what I want you to think about is this isn’t about robots replacing our jobs. It’s about augmenting the way that we do our work today.

If the tools can remove the mundane or the repetitive tasks for us and free us up to do the creative work, to free us up to be innovative, to free us up to be emotional and passionate and build relationships with people; those are the things that algorithms are not designed to do.

They can book a calendar meeting for us, but they can’t make sure that we actually build that relationship with our clients or with our customers or our employees. We’re going to see really amazing strides in artificial intelligence augmenting our software.

I hope I’ve kind of set the stage for you of thinking about how do you work, are you a modern employee, are you a digital holdout, are you an immigrant, are you a voyeur?

Are you sitting there just watching, or are you a digital native that’s diving in with both feet, hands, head, feet, and the whole body into wanting to do things the new way?

Can you combat those four challenges that I showed you that we’re all struggling with at work? Are you ready for things like analytics and organization and artificial intelligence to help you get your job done?


To watch the entire "Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace" webinar on demand, click here.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner
Previous Article
Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace — Part 3
Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace — Part 3

by Marcus Varner - Jeanne Meister, Alan Lepofsky, and Steven ZoBell discuss how businesses can prepare for ...

Next Article
Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace — Part 1
Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace — Part 1

by Marcus Varner - Jeanne Meister, Alan Lepofsky, and Steven ZoBell discuss how businesses can prepare for ...

×

Great content straight to your inbox.

Thank You For Subscribing
Error - something went wrong!
×

Join the 20,000 professionals who read "Talking Work."

Subscribe Today!

Thank you!
Error - something went wrong!