In the virtual workspace, the generation gap is harder to bridge than in person. With remote work, nuances in communication can be difficult to grasp, which can make it harder for workers from different generations to collaborate.

Some of the challenges we see include a different approach to the way information is gathered and disseminated, a different take on humor, and the degree of formality and convention people use to communicate. However, the biggest difference across generations is the use of technology.

Fortunately, though, the awareness of differences and challenges is the first step in overcoming them. By identifying what types of problems exist, you can more easily bridge the generation gap in the workplace with the appropriate training and resources.

The culture gap: Age, humor, and language
With as many as five generations of workers active in today’s workplace, you may expect to see extensive conflict in terms of what people perceive to be humorous. However, when we probe the real problem, thinking about differences causes a bigger rift than the presence of actual differences. Such stereotypes and assumptions can affect how people collaborate and hinder progress.

Nonetheless, glossing over differences and thinking that everyone in the workplace relates to the same type of humor is not advisable either. Someone who is a grandparent may not relate to humor that is perceived as too aggressive or inappropriate, whereas a younger worker familiar with more acerbic content will find it funny.

It seems the best advice here is to always assume the best in others, and operate with a professionally thick skin. It’s harder, virtually, to gauge the facial expressions and tones of voice that might have clued you in in-person, so give others the benefit of the doubt. If something is truly offensive or out of hand, tactfully bring it to management or HR’s attention. But otherwise, be fine with the idea that it might just not be your cup of tea. And as always – Google is your friend! Take a minute to look up that meme or research that strange turn of phrase. You’ll broaden your world, and maybe brighten your day!

Scheduling versus task-oriented work
When it comes to the structure imparted by managers, younger workers have come to age in new work environments that previous generations did not have.

The concepts of work-life balance and flex schedules were not around when many Baby Boomers entered the workforce in the 1970s and ‘80s. Far from being tethered to their desks, younger workers value being able to utilize technology to enjoy the freedom of flex schedules and working “smart” vs. “hard.”

For many younger workers, the notion of completing a task is more of an appealing construct than strictly adhering to a schedule or a timeline. This is a stark contrast to older employees, who are more accustomed to the standard 9-5 workday. “If I’m getting my work done, everyone should be happy.” As flexibility becomes more popular and the remote environment becomes more customary, we are also seeing many older workers preferring to have flex schedules that allow them to take care of their families and manage their time on their own terms.

To ensure the most success within your workforce, it is important to determine how your multi-generational team feels about current processes and identify any challenges they are facing so you can adapt and better accommodate their needs. It’s important that company and departmental goals and expectations are clearly outlined, so that managers can feel assured that work is being accomplished and employees understand their responsibilities. If managers are able to identify which items are time-sensitive and feel confident that they will be prioritized and addressed as needed, a more flexible workplace schedule can lead to higher productivity and employee satisfaction.

Technology in the workplace
The emergence of workplace collaborative software like Asana, Microsoft Teams, and Slack has made it easier for people to share documents and collaborate on projects. But while younger employees might find their integration second-nature, those less tech-savvy might find it a rough transition.

Workplaces can stay up-to-speed by rolling out programs “smartly” and putting their employees in a position to succeed. Managers should always feel confident in using new tech first so that they can competently guide their teams, and should create documentation that can be referenced by those who find it helpful (screenshots are a big plus for some!). When possible, keep system terminology that works, so that new platforms like Asana will still have recognizable touch points.

Normalizing “asking for help” can also ease growing pains. After a general rollout presentation, a “buddy system” that pairs up workers who self-identify as needing some more tech onboarding support with a colleague who feels comfortable with the tech can foster good relationships and learning on both sides. Check in regularly, and celebrate successes!

Finally, be clear in your reasons for rolling out the new tech. If you can articulate why it will help the company, improve everyone’s day-to-day, and bring about better times for everyone, you’ll get more buy-in and the transition will go smoother.

At the Maryland Women’s Business Center, we help women and women-owned businesses achieve success and bridge the generation gap in the workplace through training, counseling, and positioning individuals and businesses for long-term growth. Our team can help you navigate the challenges posed by integrating multiple generations of workers to unite and achieve great things. Rockville Economic Development, Inc (REDI) held a great November roundtable on Spaces, Places, and Skills: Creating Community, not Silos, and we’re ready to share our knowledge! You can also watch Outlook Montgomery’s great presentation on How to Motivate, Engage, & Retain Your Staff. Keep an eye out for more great upcoming content!

To learn more about how to bridge the generation gap in the workplace, contact us today.