The Class of 2016 Work Differently Than You Do. Is Your Company Ready?

This spring, a new generation of workers will be graduating from colleges and universities all over the world, and entering work environments from small offices to large enterprises; hip, scrappy startups to established big-brand companies. They will be entering a frothy job market: according to the job search website CareerBuilder, nearly 70 percent of US-based employers say they plan to hire 2016 graduates — the highest level of hiring in nearly a decade. These people bring some disruptive perspectives on all aspects of their newly landed positions–the tools they need to get the work done, their preferred method of collaborating and communicating on the job, and the ways they have fun while they’re at it, just to name a few.

They are digital natives, and grew up working (and playing) in ways that are very different from the way any generation before them has worked—and very soon, they’ll be bringing those ideas into the workplace, in force; collaborating in Google Docs, finalizing projects at home on mobile screens, sharing ideas in Slack, and much more that might be new to their inaugural employer, but isn’t new to the Class of 2016. This is how they’ve been working on school assignments for more than a decade.

The companies that are ready for change, and that can adapt to these new ideas, will tap into a workforce of astonishing ambition and creativity. Companies that persist in their old ways, on the other hand, will miss a key opportunity.

In this series of three articles, I’ll break down what impact the Class of 2016 will have on the future of work, in terms of people, workspaces, and technology.

Here’s the first of that series, on what this new generation of workers means for the people in our organizations.

The organization as party

I recently stopped by the London office of a real estate firm called Foxtons. This office was nothing like any real estate workspace you’d picture—it was decorated in a chic contemporary style, like the office of a Silicon Valley startup. The people were dressed casually, the lighting was cool and relaxing, and as soon as I sat down, someone asked if I’d like a tea—or a craft beer.

This place felt like a sophisticated party. This was where I wanted to hang out.

We in the corporate world talk a lot about two things as separate entities—company culture and the user experience for the products and services that we deliver—without realizing those are really two components of a single whole. An exciting user experience has to start from the inside, with the primary users—our own teams—and build outward organically from there.

This is something the Class of 2016 already understands on a very deep level—maybe without even being able to verbalize it. These people just “get it” intuitively, because it’s the only way they know how to live their lives.

Check out the website of Social Print Studio, a company that prints Instagram-style photos, for example. The very first thing you see is a big popup of the team members jumping around and playing with dogs. And that energy infuses every aspect of Social Print Studio’s culture and brand, from management to customer service. They’re genuinely having a good time, and their customers see and feel it with every interaction with both their employees and their product. Happy employees often result in happy customers.

Who needs team-building sessions or customer-service training when you’ve got that?

Dissolving boundaries

We’ve all seen those articles on how millennial workers value emotional connections with the companies they work for. And while that’s true, it doesn’t really get to the root of what’s different about this new generation of workers.

The core of that difference lies in the fact that the Class of 2016 doesn’t perceive sharp boundaries between work life and personal life. Those simply aren’t two separate categories to these recent grads. They want a work culture that creates a rich human experience for everyday life. And that impacts almost everything about their relationships with the companies they work for, and with their team members.

For example, these workers don’t think of the “work hours” exclusively as work time. Work hours are also hours for socializing with friends, Skyping with family members, and playing with any pets who happen to be around. By the same token, though, work doesn’t stop when they leave the office, either. They’ll pull up work documents on mobile screens on the subway or after they get home, and keep thinking and working far into the night—as long as the project is actually interesting to them. It’s one reason why arming your workers with the tools to get their jobs done anywhere is more crucial than ever.

None of this works if a manager is constantly peering over shoulders, chewing people out for getting caught checking their social media feeds. Social media is part of work for the Class of 2016, because it’s part of their information feed, and can inspire useful ideas. Work is also part of socializing—because if they like the ideas they’re working on, they’ll workshop those ideas with their friends.

That’s a tremendous resource for any company to tap into—if leaders are willing to loosen their grip on the reins.

These are just a few ways the Class of 2016 is going to transform the future of work, in terms of people. In the next article of this series, I’ll be talking about what this new generation of workers means for workplaces—the actual physical spaces we work in. I look forward to seeing you there, on the next step of the journey.

Mark your calendars and join me and a group of thought leaders on May 25th for the Future of Work Think Tank. We will be live streaming a discussion on what the Future of Work holds from a technology, people, and workplaces.