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Finding Common Ground in the Generational Technology Gap

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When discussing young professionals in the workplace, the topic of technology is never far away. The crux of the issue always seems to involve the importance of Boomer managers understanding Millennials' reliance on technology to communicate or Millennials' need to assimilate to the communication style of a Boomer controlled workplace.

The competing perspectives set up an interesting, yet sometimes contentious, debate on what I call "the generational technology gap." My advice in dealing with this gap comes from the immortal words of Rodney King: Can’t we all just get along?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story that essentially asked the question “Will young people wean themselves off (over reliance on communication technology) once they enter the work force, or will employers come to see texting and social-network checking" as accepted parts of the workday?

The article attempts to show the increasing battle that companies and schools are having with getting this new generation to comply with its communication rules. Though is stops short of taking sides, the article seems to imply the battle is futile and policy makers would be wise to adjust. I would agree, to a point. The working world does need to adjust to the changing trends and behavior of its workers. However, it is still important for new workers to live off line from time to time.

Earlier this week, I attended the launch party of Catchfire Media LLC, a social-media strategy firm. There, I noticed something that I didn’t quite expect. Most of the people in attendance at the wine-and-cheese event, including the principles of the company, weren’t isolating themselves in their blackberries or iPhones “live tweeting” the event. Rather, we all were engaged in meaningful real-time face-to-face conversations. Some of these conversations had in many ways been enhanced because of previous online connections that had been established. The generationally and technologically diverse crowd wasn’t primarily focused on social media 101 conversations, but on business and marketing conversations.

It was almost like there was a general understanding from those there: "hey, we know this stuff is meaningful, but lets focus on how its going to help me." This undirected approach signaled to me that we all are ready to embrace technology, but it’s the approach in how we do it that matters most.

A new banking survey commissioned by Microsoft seems to suggest there is also common ground, even in the midst of our generational technology gap. Though the survey shows a major gap in preference in the use of technology to fulfill banking needs, it also shows that both Millennials and Boomers found many similarities in their criteria for choosing a new bank. Customer service ranked highest, followed by rates, identify fraud protection and access to bank retail branches and insurance on deposit accounts.

The opportunities are there for us to find common ground in technology and Boomers must become more apt to embrace it. However, Millennials also have to be willing to learn the “hard way” way of doing things. 

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I think you are on to something that I believe in wholeheartedly. Even as a Gen Y professional who has grown up around technology, I still see and respect the value that comes from face-to-face interactions.

Although I may instant message with my four office mates when everyone is within earshot, we also hold daily meetings and talk through things with everyone in a room.

There certainly is a generational technology gap when it comes to communicating in the workplace, but the best way to overcome that gap is to understand this new blend of communications (both old and new) and the importance of each method. The sooner each side takes time to learn from the other, the easier it will be moving forward.

P.S. Just because we are a social media firm doesn't mean we don't use traditional modes of communication, as you saw at the launch event. Human speech and shaking hands are still pretty big in my book. ;)

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