There are certain things about my generation (GenX) that have always rang true in my personality, namely, that I am fiercely independent. By ten-years-old, I was a latch-key kid, taking care of myself after school, starting dinner, and doing chores. I travel alone, go to the movies alone, eat-out alone, and I love doing it. While getting my MBA, I was the one who groaned out loud (GOL) every time the instructor would insist that we do a group project. I prefer to learn solo. This has nothing to do with introversion, I am an extrovert. I just grew up very independent. Being a project manager, I had to put that independence on the shelf long ago because it did not serve me well in the business world. Project management is cross-functional and collaborative.
In June, I needed help on a critical project, building a new website. As I started looking for an expert to help me build, www.WhyBALANCE.org, I interviewed several firms. While all four firms seemed perfectly able to deliver what I need, I had to ask myself which designer I would work best with. Initially, I was drawn to someone similar to me, a middle aged / Gen Xer because the conversation was easy and comfortable, but I thought it would be best to work with someone who thinks differently than I do.
That is when I met Beth Macias of Sun Branch Marketing. She is a millennial. I am just old enough to be her mother (did I say that out loud?) so it is safe to say we have different ways of thinking! While I have heard all the negative stereotypes about the millennials and their work ethic, I have never found them to be true. I have always enjoyed my working relationships with those younger than me. It was in building this website that I realized there are three reasons why I love working with millennials so much.
If I am not learning something new, I feel like I am dying a slow death. Working with millennials ensures that I am always learning. At 50 years-old, I can get a little anxious regarding new technology – I hate admitting this, of course! Working with Beth on this website, I had to learn a bunch of new technology. The platforms we used included WordPress, Dubsado, Slack, Google Analytics, and Flywheel, Google Drive (I knew that one). Our timeline was about 100 days. I had to learn to adopt new technology fast. And guess what? I did! I even impressed myself with setting up Google Analytics and connecting it to the domain. Learning new things makes me feel younger. Feeling younger is reason enough to engage with millennial partners/vendors. #FountainOfYouth
Death by Email
At the end of the project, I asked Beth what was the most GenX thing about working with me, she said my love of email. In today’s busy business world we all seem smothered by email but yet, we all seemed tethered to it regardless of its time sucking qualities. We spend XX amount of time “clearing emails” each week. It’s not that I love email but ever since I started working, email has always been the default. OMG – did I just use the most deadly phrase known in business, “that’s the way we have always done it?”
Beth introduced SLACK. I was skeptical. Initially, I thought, this will be just another channel that I have to manage. I was not “sold” on it reducing my email load. I was wrong. Once I learned it (it was super easy) I felt a new found freedom. Slack is a platform that contains full conversations at glance. The conversation can have pictures, words, emojis, gifs, attachments, links, ect… It allowed me to search for topics previously discussed, it has a direct message function, and also allowed Beth and me to connect via video conference call, weekly. We would both commit to working at the same time and have live “slack sessions” that supported the production sprints. Now that I have completed a highly collaborative project using Slack, I cannot imagine returning to the linear feel of email. It would feel naked to me. Slack is just one of many collaborative platforms, I am sure others like BaseCamp or Asana could work just as well. If you are over 40-years old, I challenge you to consider your relationship with email and try something new in 2020. I am challenging the BALANCE team to adopt SLACK, guess which demographic logged on the same day I suggested it and which one did not? You know you guessed right. #DontBeAnEmailDinosaur.
I currently work remotely as does 90% of the BALANCE staff. I have had the pleasure of working remotely three times throughout my career and I am a pro – I can work from home, hotels, airports, airplanes, coffee shops, cars, restaurants, and once even a bathroom (do not judge it was the only quiet place to take a call). In this way, Beth and I were always on the same page. For the majority of this project, Beth was working remotely from Japan where her husband was doing an internship. It never interrupted our project timeline or productivity, even though we were 14 hours apart. What I learned about Beth is that autonomous work is very important to her. So important that she committed to 4:30AM video calls every week, so she could work from the other side of the world. That is why she owns her own business where she can set her own hours, choose only projects that interest her, and work from anywhere. The gig economy is real. It is not going away. Our younger friends have no desire to be chained to a desk like Boomers and GenXers were. They are not content to “work for the man,” especially if the man is inflexible. Millennials are the most diverse, most technologically advanced, and intelligent generation America has ever seen. Let’s embrace their work style. Let’s relax the legalism of the corporate life and be more flexible. If we do not, we will not retain them on our teams because they have options….lots of options and they are willing earn a living differently than we did. #WorkplaceFlexibility
I am grateful for the impact that the Millennials are having on the way we work. I have found their ways to be more efficient because of the new technological tools they deploy. And, ironically, their desire for workplace flexibility and autonomy jives with my independent GenX spirit. By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be millennial. You are already working with many millennials. This month, take a minute to contemplate what this amazing generation brings to your organization. Consider how they challenge you and how you feel about it. If you have a “Beth Macias” in your life, take a minute to tell them how they are impacting you and what you are learning from them.