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What can IT do to address generational disparities in a hybrid work model?
A more flexible approach to technology can better serve differences across the workforce.
By Constantine von Hoffman
Nov 3, 2021
The pandemic-induced shift to remote work has revealed sharp and sometimes unexpected distinctions between different generations of workers. Many studies show, for example, Baby Boomers and Gen X have had an easier time working remotely than Gen Z and Millennials. The bottom line is that remote work has put a bright light on generational differences regarding technology, collaboration, and productivity outside of the traditional workplace.

“There are definitely generational differences between younger and older workers,” said Jeff Kagan, industry analyst and columnist (@jeffkagan). “What is easy for the young is often more difficult for the older workers. IT systems must be very easy to use for everyone.”

As remote work models persist and new hybrid models emerge, many organizations are looking to IT to come up with new solutions to help smooth over any generational differences and keep all workers collaborative and productive. We asked the IDG Influencer Network, a community of IT professionals, industry analysts, and other experts, how IT can address generational differences across the workforce. Here’s a summary of what they said.

More flexibility required

Experts agree IT can play an important role in providing “experience parity” across the workforce. But because there’s no blanket solution, IT needs to be more flexible:

  • “Providing optimal employee experiences in hybrid work models can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Isaac Sacolick, president of StarCIO and digital transformation leader and influencer (@nyike). And while it’s not realistic for IT to fully personalize every solution, “IT must be empathetic, learn from a broad spectrum of people, and provide a flexible choice of technology options,” he said.
  •  “The main takeaway here is that more than ever, IT must be more flexible and innovative with its approach to addressing the challenges across the full length of the spectrum,” said Cedric Wells, director of IT infrastructure services with The Gorilla Glue Company (@cedricfwells). “It’s about enabling everyone to do their best work regardless of where they are, with the flexibility they desire, and doing this securely with a zero-trust approach.”
  • “To address generational differences in remote work, we can provide multiple technologies for reporting in and for collaborating around,” said Brent Kirkpatrick, a cybersecurity consultant and researcher at Intrepid Net Computing (@DrBKirkpatrick).

A flexible model requires IT leaders to be more open-minded than ever before about employee needs and preferences.

“IT needs to realize there’s wisdom in age and wisdom in youth regarding technology,” said Will Kelly, technical marketing manager for a container security startup (@willkelly). “They shouldn’t trip themselves up on stereotypes and innuendos about generational differences.”

Which isn’t to say that generational differences don’t exist. It’s important to acknowledge those differences and provide solutions that support different ways of working.

“Millennials most likely will solve or try to solve their issues, while Gen X can submit a ticket to resolve the issue,” said Martha Cisneros, an IT engineer and technology consultant (@marthacisneros). A customized service desk with a knowledge base of FAQs could help there, Cisneros said.

A persona-based approach, backed by training and support

Joanne Friedman, PhD., CEO and principal for Smart Manufacturing at Connektedminds Inc. (@joannefriedman), suggests one way for IT to better understand generational differences is by adopting a proven technique from their colleagues in marketing: persona development: “The best thing a CIO can do is partner with marketing and develop user personas that balance IT’s needs for security with different groups of end users’ needs for tools that complement their role in the business.”

CIOs should also look to build IT teams that reflect the generational diversity of the broader workforce. “IT can hire older employees that understand the challenges firsthand and mentor their generational peers on the complexities of hybrid and remote work models,” said Frank Cutitta, CEO and founder of HealthTech Decisions Lab (@fcutitta). “While Baby Boomers appreciate coaching from younger generations, the empathy they have with fellow Boomers can be a powerful training and support element.”

Training and support are recurring themes to address generational gaps:

  • “IT can help address any generational differences by making sure all users are trained on how to use the technology solutions that are in place for their particular hybrid environment,” said Adam Martin, IT director at American Structurepoint (@colttrickle). “If they do not know what is available to them or how to use it, the hybrid model is not going to be very successful for those organizations.”
  • “The key to bridging generational differences must be having the right communication, collaboration, and productivity tools in place to allow workers to interact and feel part of a team in a secure way, regardless of their digital capabilities,” said Sridhar Iyengar, managing director of Zoho Europe (@isridhar). “The IT team can assist this process by ensuring the right training programs are in place to ensure all members of staff are adept at using the systems in place. This should include access to a dedicated helpdesk service, offering assistance and guidance for those who require it.”
  • “Older employees embrace the flexibility and benefits of working from home and working from anywhere. At the same time, their younger counterparts expect it and are willing to give up benefits like bonuses or paid time off for the option to choose their ways of working,” said Gene De Libero, chief strategy officer at GeekHive.com (@GeneDeLibero). “IT can empower this hybrid/remote workforce and enable flexibility, collaboration, security, and productivity through practical workplace-provided technology, training, and support.”

Creating the infrastructure for the hybrid workplace is an opportunity for IT leaders to rethink how technology enables and enhances the employee experience across the workforce.

“The emerging flexible workplace must be designed with a focus on the different needs, values, and goals for each generation,” said tech influencer Elitsa Krumova (@Eli_Krumova). “Organizational leaders should certify that the diverse expectations and demands of the multigenerational workforce are addressed appropriately, providing the required type and level of support for all ages.”

All Episodes (8)

Cybersecurity: Trust no one

Cybersecurity: Trust no one
Andy Ellis, Advisory CISO, Orca Security
Tim Brown, CISO, SolarWinds

Ransomware, a love story

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Rahul Telang, Trustees Professor of Information Systems
Renee Guttmann, Global CISO and Risk Executive, Board Advisor

AI: Reality check

AI: Reality check
Olaf Groth, PhD, CEO Cambrian.ai, Prof. HULT IBS & US Berkeley, Author The AI Generation
Sanjay Srivastava, Chief Digital Officer, Genpact

AI: Automation nation

AI: Automation nation
Anima Anandkumar, Director of Machine Learning Research, NVIDIA
Brian Solis, Global Innovation Evangelist, Salesforce and Author

Flexible workforce: Hybrid vigor

Flexible workforce: Hybrid vigor
Kamila Sip, Neuroscience and Behavior Change Expert
Jon Levy, Behavioral Scientist, NYT Best-Selling Author

IT-as-a-service: A renter’s market

IT-as-a-service: A renter’s market
Tien Tzuo, Founder and CEO, Zuora
Matt Kimball, Principal Analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy

Edge computing: Distribute or die

Edge computing: Distribute or die
Stephanie Atkinson, Executive Thought Leader and Influencer
Satya Jayadev, VP and CIO, Skyworks

Green IT: The color of money

Green IT: The color of money
Rob Enderle, President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
Pamela Rucker, President, The Rucker Group, Instructor, Harvard Professional Development Programs