Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace
May 7, 2018

Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace

In a recent webinar, Jeanne Meister, founding partner at Future Workplace, Alan 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.


Jeanne Meister: I’m going to start with a poll. We’re talking about engaging five generations in the workplace, so I'd like to know from each of you which generation were you born in. These are marker years and the years that actually I have used and the U.S. Census Data has used. 

So, are you a Traditionalist, born before 1946; a Boomer between ’46 and ’63; an Xer between ’64 and ’81; and a Millennial, born between ’82 and ’93. So take a moment and we’ll show the poll results in a moment.


Also to my panel, Alan, Steve, and Mark; what do we think? Where are most of our participants, where we have I believe close to 900-plus attendees; what generation do we think they’ll be in?

Mark: Since you have such pull with the cool crowd, I’m going Gen Zed at the bottom. I think there are some young folks out there hearing what you have to say.

Jeanne Meister: Okay, great.

Steve ZoBell: Not that I disagree with that; I was going to go Millennial. But I’ll bet Alan’s right.

Alan Lepofsky: No, let’s see; I’ll go Xers. I’ll say gen X. I put myself in that category.

Jeanne Meister: You’ll say Gen X, okay. So let’s take a look and see. Alright, almost 50 percent of all of you are Xers. 

But what we’re going to talk about today is how it’s not necessarily the year you were born in, but it’s more about your mindset; your willingness to in a sense reinvent yourself. Adapt and build new skill sets so that you are continuously employable. 

That just gives us a sense of who everybody is.

So this is what I’m going to be focusing on; these three questions.

If we have five generations in the workplace, and this is actually the first year that Gen Z is entering the workplace; so that’s the fifth generation. What are companies doing about this? How are they engaging this multiple generation workforce?

The second is what I’ve been writing a lot about on Forbes, most recently I have "The Future of Work: The Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Human Resources." What’s the impact of automation and AI for each of us and in our roles and disciplines in the organization?

And then finally, some of my thoughts. Having written a couple of books on the future of work, how is work going to be evolving and what do we need to be prepared for?

According to the Census Bureau, this is what it looks like in 2025. So 2025, Millennials and Gen Z will be 61 percent of the workforce.

But notice there’s still 39 percent that are Xers and Boomers. So for those of you 47 percent that are Xers, let’s not just focus on one generation. I know that I’ve been really interested in the whole view of as our life expectancy extends, what does that mean for each of us?

So, an interesting book that you could get your hands on is something called The 100-Year Life. It looks at the possibility that we’re going to be looking at a 60-year career.

So with these multiple generations in the workforce, people are living longer and staying in the workforce longer. In fact, actually, their prediction is that half of babies born as of 2000, so those are mostly Gen Zs, will reach 100; so half.

So what can we be prepared for? I think one thing, we’re going to be transitioning between careers and learning and earning are going to be really tied together. So we’re going to have an increased focus on building new skill sets in this 60-year career that we’re looking at. 

I’m just going to go through some case studies, if you will, that are in the new book, The Future Workplace Experience, to give you a sense of how companies are dealing with multiple generations.

The first is many more companies have employee affinity groups, but here’s the difference. In the first book I wrote, The 2020 Workplace, and the current book, The Future Workplace.

Back five years ago when a company like Bank of America, which has an employee affinity group called I-Gen, when they created an employee affinity group focused on multiple generations, it was more of a meet-up with some training on how to anticipate the varying perceptions of the generations in the workplace.

Fast forward five years, and the employee affinity group that’s in the book is IBM’s, and it’s called Millennial Core.

But here’s the really interesting thing. It’s not just for Millennials; in fact they say Millennials and those that have a Millennial mindset, and that MIBB stands for Millennial in a Boomer Body.

And I guess I’m here to tell you that’s me. I answered our generation quiz with I’m a Boomer but really I think a Millennial at heart.

The other big change with these employee affinity groups is that they’re not just about what to anticipate between the generations. They’re really putting multiple generations to work. They’re looking at these individuals as subject matter experts.

So at IBM, this Millennial corp advised IBM leaders on apps to create for the Apple/IBM partnership and they had a big role in looking at the transition to a real-time Agile performance management, including actually naming the app, which is called ACE, which stands for Appreciation Coaching and Evaluation.

These groups are now becoming R&D groups for organizations.

The next big thing is global learning experiences. The example that’s touted in the book is Dow Chemical. They have something called Leadership in Action, which is a combination of global citizenship and leadership development.

This is targeted not just to Millennials but to anyone that’s a high performing leader to be involved in a real project for six months virtually, and one month in-country, targeting those countries around the world where Dow is going to be growing in the next decade.

So they’ve already engaged with companies in countries in Ethiopia and Indonesia. In a sense, this really combines a more purposeful experience with ways to increase engagement of employees and provide a much more innovative leadership development program.

And then finally, new benefits. Yes there are benefits targeted to Millennials and I think the biggest one is the student loan repayment.

If you’re a Millennial and have an outstanding student loan, there are companies like Staples and Fidelity and PWC that will actually pay your loan provider up to $1,500 a year for five years as a way to attract and retain top Millennial talent.

But the other news on new benefits is financial wellness. How do we look at all the generations in the workplace and develop financial literacy skills?

The big takeaway here is it’s not about age; it’s about mindset and companies are looking at, holistically, what does it take to attract and develop the top talent that they want, regardless of generations. And they’re coming up with very innovative programs to do that.

Next is automation and artificial intelligence. This is a really exciting area, and if you want to learn more about it I have a blog on Forbes called "The Future of Work: The Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Human Resources."

The prediction is quite an interesting one; that within the next 10 years, if not sooner, regardless of your occupation, regardless of your function in your company, you most likely will work alongside artificial intelligence.

And actually, that’s true for me. I now have a virtual digital assistant called Amy. Amy is copied on all the calls that I’ve set up, like the ones planning this webinar, and she is a scheduling bot.

Regardless of where you work in your organization—IT, HR, organizational effectiveness—the real issue is how can you look at the entire employee lifecycle from recruiting, through onboarding, development, career advisory, and looking at your employer brand and look at how will AI impact?

I’m going to take just a few of these. On the bottom of this are the logos of companies that have an artificial intelligence bot to assist.

The first one is really exciting; it’s called MYA, short for My Assistant.

It’s a recruiting bot that automates—that MYA says—about 75 percent of the recruiting process; from going back and forth with candidates’ questions as they fill out an application on your website, verifying their qualifications, answering any of their questions they have about policy and benefits, and importantly delivering an update to the candidate on where they stand in the recruiting process.

This last benefit is huge, because often there’s a black hole of recruiting where you apply for and you never hear.

Research has said that 58 percent of candidates that have a less than favorable candidate experience, that impacts the likelihood that they will buy a product or service from your company. So that’s impacting your employer brand.

The big areas in this employee lifecycle that are being impacted by artificial intelligence are functions as a recruiting coordinator, the HR service center, so things that can quickly utilize the capabilities of natural language processing and automation.

The big question that people have is: "Okay, if a bot really does take over a percentage of time spent on the recruiting function, what impact does this have with someone holding that position? What are you going to do with your extra time?"

I did an interview with the head of talent acquisition from LinkedIn, and the new role is how can talent acquisition professionals develop more analytical skills on market intelligence and looking at the size and location of talent pools, and, importantly, uniquely human skills.

How can they develop more storytelling and share with a candidate what makes the company unique as a place to work.

The call to action is really as AI augments various roles, looking at roles in the employee lifecycle, then individuals holding some of those roles are going to have to develop more functional skills and really skills that are more uniquely human.

As we go along this trajectory, the next one is Tella, which is another bot which helps onboard an employee during the first 100 days.

The first one is actually Jill Watson, so that’s IBM’s Watson, and that’s being used a lot in MOOCs (massive open online courses) as a learning assistant to answer all those questions that a candidate would have.

Finally, how will work look differently in the next five years?

First, I think the composition of the workforce will be different. In addition to just full-time employees and part-time employees and contract workers, we may see less full-time workers as gig-economy workers increase.

Estimates are that gig-economy workers in the knowledge worker segment are anywhere from 15 to 20 percent and growing for individuals who hold in-demand skills that really want to call the shots as to who they work for, what they work on, and where they work.

So rather than being a contract worker when you’re in between two full-time jobs, many individuals are looking at this as a career, as part of their portfolio.

Remote workers are another category; those that work at least two to three days a week outside of the company office, and this segment is also growing and has really come under a lot of tension under the last three months as companies are starting to reverse this.

But other employees still look at this as a key benefit.

And then finally, robots and bots; Amazon has already gone on record as saying this past Christmas season they had 45,000 robots working across 20 customer fulfillment centers. That was about a 50 percent increase over 2015.

Finally, something that’s really getting a lot of interest in the marketplace, which is how will the jobs evolve over the next five years, and what are the skills that are becoming increasingly important?

One of them, I believe, that is going to become increasingly important is coding. This is not just for an IT job; this is an interesting chart. If you expand it, you’ll be able to see that it’s a chart from research done by The Economist, which looks at levels of workers.

Coding and data science is now part of almost every job.

This is putting pressure on our K through12 system where Google just did a survey; three out of four middle and high schools do not teach coding because it’s not part of the AP testing, but parents are requesting it.

So I believe coding is going to become a permanent part of the K through 12 curriculum.

With that, before I pass it along to my colleague on the panel, I just want to sum it up by saying the future of work is going to focus us all on learning more skills.

And I think that Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has said it best: "how can we build a culture of learn-it-alls as opposed to and know-it-alls."

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?

Steven ZoBell: That was a really great overview from both you and Jeanne. I kind of have to admit I haven’t heard a webinar talking so much about voyeurism in the past; that was good.

I'd like to dive in a little bit on technology, and let’s take a quick look at really the history of where it came from and where we’re going with technology. If you look at this, we really have old technology to new technology.


With the Baby Boomers, we had the first computers; computers that took up whole rooms. Gen X had the first personal computer, and that’s a really wonky example of a personal computer.

Millennials saw a huge quantum leap with smartphones and everything there, and they really didn’t understand the situation of how it was.

And now we have the Gen Z, people who naturally understand it and they don’t know anything about what has been before here. And as we look to the future, what they’ll see—virtual reality, augmented reality, and who knows what else?

But there’s another generation that’s now entering the workforce, and as we’ve heard so much about from Alan and Jeanne, it’s not a human generation. It’s a generation of intelligent machines and software that are doing more and more of the work that humans have typically done.

Whether we see that in simple functions such as smart routing of messages, or more recent advances where humans are not even aware they’re interacting with bots; where AI is augmenting the human capabilities in productivity and really helping us do more than ever before.

So the big question I want to talk about is how to manage a workplace with all five of these generations coexisting together, and what does that mean for the future of work?

And what technology needs to be part of your ecosystem to take advantage of it? But before we dive in, I'd like to do a quick survey. I want to see how people are feeling about this.

I know people have a lot of different thoughts about what they view. Are you saying "hey, is your job going to be replaced by robots," or "definitely not," or "somewhere in the middle?"

Or if you’re at the bottom, you may be thinking: "I hope so; maybe I can just chill on a beach. We’ll let the robot work for me and I still get a paycheck."

So, why don’t you take your time, put in your views, and let’s see what everyone says across the board there.

We’ve got actually a little bit of “hope they will be.” That’s not bad on there. It’s interesting.

I would say people are saying by and large that "they will not be" or "potentially might," but not really a lot of people having a view of that that’s negative.

Because many times as we look to the future and look at AI, people kind of get stuck in a total dystopian view that people think about it and say: "oh, you know what, my favorite image here is actually the one of the guy up top there doing the mopping around the office for all of the robots."

As we know, technological automation has really been happening for centuries now. In fact, if we look at it now, our jobs are better, they’re more satisfying. The overall level for pay for everyone is higher than it ever has been before.

And I believe a lot of that is because humans really continue to learn how to work side by side with automation in tooling at every turn. Ultimately it’s for our benefit, and for the benefit of society. I want to use an example, kind of a stodgy example from the past, to really kind of prove the point.

People have said in the past, ATMs, ATMs were actually killing human bank teller jobs. But really think about this. If you walk into a bank branch, have you ever walked into one that’s completely empty and with no humans, even though we have ATMs?

The answer is "no." Really what it was that data showed is that ATMs did not kill human bank teller jobs. In fact, there were actually more humans employed at the banks, except you see a little bit of a petering off at the end because of obviously the economic recession.

But what happened is banks could open more branches because they needed fewer human bank tellers at each branch.

So they opened additional branches, but they actually changed the job somewhat and took higher-skilled people and made sure they weren’t just doing mundane, routine tasks that ATMs could do, but their jobs were redefined to produce higher valued tasks like selling financial products.

So it’s really clear, as automation is moving into the workplace, jobs were not just replaced; some were redefined and augmented. In fact, we’ve seen that technology and automation have created whole new classes of jobs, as well as redefining old ones.

One of my favorite statistics I heard recently is there are 8,000 data scientists and machine learning experts in the world, whereas today there are right now 12,000 marine biologists.

So there are more people who know about whales right now on the planet than do about AI and machine learning. I love whales and all; don’t get me wrong. But as we look to the future, we’re going to see a lot more need in that.

That doesn’t mean you have to become an AI or machine learning genius to be successful.

Because as these technological advances really happen, it’s going to produce automation that can take over routine tasks. And employers have sought to fill the roles that are more knowledge-intensive and interacting.

This is very similar to what Jeanne showed us in the earlier pieces. When we look at it, the majority of hiring focuses on knowledge worker positions and that growth of that trend really shows no sign of slowing down. 

People sometimes say, "knowledge worker, what does that mean?"

Really as I put it there, these are the people whose main capital asset is the knowledge and thinking they bring to bear in their work.

So if you’re sitting there thinking "oh my gosh, I’m going to be replaced;" I would ask you, "do you think—and my guess is you do—and there’s a great place you can actually learn and grow to be a lot more valuable to your company."

So as we really look at this, knowledge workers as they produce their creations in consort with others, with their teams and everything, a knowledgeable, intuitive interaction across teams is becoming more and more important.

This leaves us a really great challenge for leadership of companies; how do you supercharge the knowledge workers of their teams? If you look at it, Peter Drucker, one of the greatest thinkers on actual productivity and work over the last century, I love this quote.

He says: “the most important contribution of management in the 20th century was the 50-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing.”

And then he continues: “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers.”

Circling back around to our theme of managing multiple generations in the workplace, including the new generation of artificial intelligence and automation, I believe Drucker’s challenge is why this technology exists.

It is the single, most powerful tool to which we can unlock the productivity of our knowledge workers.

Effectively managing this new generation of work automation side by side with the Baby Boomers, the Gen X, the Millennials, and now Gen Z is really the key to dramatically increase the productivity of our knowledge workers.

So, what factors do we really need to consider when we’re managing the five generations in the future of the workplace? And as we look at it, there are three major forces that are radically redefining everything about work in the modern enterprise.

First, it’s digitization. Look at everything that is happening with the convergence of offline work, to network, to computer-supported work. It’s the new ways that ideas are dreamt up, built, and marketed. It’s changing how business processes operate and fundamentally how enterprises work.

A recent study actually said that many businesses, as they look at this study, said only 40 percent of their work is digitized. So if you think we’re seeing a lot of digitization now, it’s just getting started.

Second of all, as we’ve discussed so much, is the Millennial Generation. As we look at it, this is now the largest percentage of employees.

These are workers who have grown up digitally and are highly networked and want more ownership and autonomy in the work that they do. These knowledge workers really require us to think about the changes in how work is fundamentally managed, prioritized, and even delivered.

Finally, if you look at the decline of the growth of workplace productivity, it’s really occurring as the nature of work in organizations is changing.

Employees are spending too much time, much like Alan was discussing, searching for information across all of these different places and applications, and trying to coordinate their efforts and report on their progress or the roadblocks that they might be running into.

I’ve got another poll for you. I want to get your quick view of what factor is impacting your business the most.

You might want to say all three, and I’m forcing you to really choose. But is digitization changing your workplace the most? Workplace demographics? Or declining productivity increases or being distracted?

I really am curious to see what this large group is seeing is impacting them the most, now that we know what demographic they fill in, thanks to Jeanne’s great question.

That is really interesting. If I was to actually predict it, I would not have guessed it is almost like a nice little race there. It looks like number one is actually the changing demographics in the workplace. And you know, it is something we see quite a bit as it goes across the board. 

I want to talk a little bit about how these actual three changes, which it looks like we’re all experiencing a good bunch of all of them, really tie into how work ties in together.

And we’ll really look at how all of these shifting pieces on the landscape are really shaping how work looks in the future.

There are four areas that we talk about as we look at this within Workfront.

We say it impacts how work gets together with the Hollywood model of work. It impacts digital natives and how they work. It impacts how leaders need to go and drive across the work they’re doing, and finally, how the systems and tools need to truly tie together.

Let’s dive in a little bit to each one of these.

If you start off, there’s the Hollywood model of work. This is very similar to what Jeanne was describing as the Gig Economy.

As we look at it in the future, work is going to be a lot more like how Hollywood makes movies. A project is defined, a team is assembled. It works together for precisely as long as needed to complete the task, and then the team disbands.

The problem is, most companies are structured in traditional teams and do not have the systems in place to form effective ad hoc teams, which is how most of modern work will be getting done.

As stated in this actual quote here, nearly all knowledge work is project work, executed at different scales. Whether it is a small team collaborating to solve a business need, or an entire enterprise working across many different departments on a key initiative.

The velocity of this work is also moving faster, and the need for reducing friction is more important than ever.

We really need to make sure that modern enterprises can use automation to eliminate roadblocks, and artificial intelligence to unlock the immense amount of creative power that’s within those teams if they tie those together.

Let’s move on next to the digital natives. Alan gave us a great overview on this. But if we really look at the digital natives and digital immigrants, there are internal and external contributors who will be our digital natives.

They are egalitarian, flexible, and task-switching with really just-in-time skills and highly networked. Think about it.

Have you seen many people nowadays who actually can watch an entire episode of television without pulling out their phone? I think it’s a rare moment.

These are our digital natives who are used to task switching. And we need to have an infrastructure in place to support these requirements. And it won’t be a "nice to have;" it’s going to be a "non negotiable."

Two out of these three digital natives expect to leave their current employer in less than three years. They will flow to the work environment that truly matches who they are. They are tech do-it-yourselfers and are very comfortable with virtual relationships and teammates.

And if you are not changing your systems and how you work, there’s a good chance your team members might flock to your competitors who might actually be setting up their environment that way.

Next, as we look really at the boundary-less integrations, and don’t get freaked out there; we’re not saying that’s what’s recommended. But you really need to make sure that your company can support deep integrations across the entire system.

This is an example made up of a tech staff shared by Cisco, where it has all of these systems tied together. And if you have the wrong systems, it’s monumental to try and harmonize this.

But if you’re able to have the right systems and platforms to pull this all together, it will allow your digital native to assemble knowledge from all of their various sources that they are very comfortable with.

But like I said, you need to have a platform that can take a process or take an idea from inception to intended impact with as much velocity as possible, but with as little friction, while tying together all the varied systems.

Also, these systems cannot be silo-centric. It cannot have it be stuck all in one system; it has to be communicated from end to end across all of these systems.

Finally, and one of the most important aspects, the leader of the future will be required to truly have transformational attributes that include the ability to pursue identity and purpose.

So they can’t just be talking about product. These leaders need systems that can tie together the mission and initiatives of the company from strategy clear through to the execution of the work.

But you need to ensure that it’s able to see in a clear, simple way that communicates to them why they are doing the work they’re doing; why it matters. That’s one of the biggest things we need to see from these Millennials.

So in closing, as you look at this, we really need to ensure as we’re looking that work automation, as it’s the fifth generation of the workplace, it’ll have to have platforms and systems that can really drive things across the board.

Because it’s going to be creating many new jobs and they’ll be redefined, along with even newer jobs created due to the automation.

Lastly, it’s wrong to go into the future to really think about your workplace as exclusively about work. That’s just not the case anymore. It’s about purpose.

In the past, life was about work. New generations, the way things that look to people now, they really want their lives to serve a purpose, and work is part of that. The current and future workplace they will choose to work in has to seamlessly enable them to live their purpose.

We’re living in the future, and it’s truly exciting. There are abundant possibilities, and there’s really a lot we need to do. Expect to hear a lot more from us in the future on these subjects and the future of work. 


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

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