Workplaces were fine, really. Forgive the obvious, but they were a place of work, where you went to do work. It was all about the work, and then you went home at 5pm to do home things. Mostly.
Then the Millennials came along, with their need to be constantly connected and their digital-first attitudes. Suddenly instant messaging was on the cards, desktop telephones were going the way of dinosaurs (even KPMG did this), and the humble town hall meeting became a waste of time as your younger workers sat twiddling on their smartphones and not paying attention.
The digital workplace had arrived.
“For Millennials, digital communication is second nature as they grew up using laptops, tablets and smartphones, and this is a group of individuals who are - for the most part - used to instantaneous communication,” writes Sarah K White for CIO.com. “Whether it’s texting, Snapchat, email or Facebook, they have come to expect immediate gratification.”
That means your Millennial employees will be frustrated by those legacy systems you’re still lumbered with – those clunky old intranets that have just kept growing, where everything important is hidden behind ten clicks, and whose search function keeled over a decade ago. If you haven’t modernized your Internal Communications tools and team collaboration applications, you’re helping to usher those Millennials out the door no matter how many “cool perks” you bring in – and 43% of them already envision leaving their job within two years, according to Deloitte, so they don’t really need the extra push.
How to engage a Millennial workforce: the answer is technology (unsurprisingly)
The Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce; they number more than 80 million in the US alone which makes them the largest cohort in history. So many pages of copy have been devoted to the nuances and perceived perils of this generation that we’d be just be adding to the noise if we did the same, but it’s worth noting this: the oldest Millennials are now in their mid-30s, likely with a family, and they’re probably in middle management by now – if not running their own startups.
More than a decade into their careers, Millennials have made a significant contribution to work life and company cultures, forcing many a legacy system to be updated to meet their team collaboration needs and bringing with them transparency, open communication, authenticity and flexible working practices. It’s thanks to the Millennials that you have a work from home policy as well as Slack, Asana, a Google intranet, and Google collaboration tools. (At least, we hope you have those; if not, here’s why you should invest.)
"We all want to do more meaningful work in less or with the same amount of time," says Jeff Vijungco, vice president, Global Talent at Adobe, quoted in CIO.com. “Technology enables us to optimize how we spend our days. Companies can have the most amazing perks but if you're not able to produce work efficiently with the help of great people and technology, then massage rooms and roaming 'cookie carts' are meaningless.”
For those lagging behind, the message is clear: the same old Internal Communications tricks won’t work with the Millennials. Their corporate inbox stresses them out, meaning emails go unread, and they don’t care about the poster campaign focused on your corporate values - unless you’re asking them to take a selfie with the poster and share it to a social intranet so they can win a prize.
Millennials expect your workplace and your corporate communications to join them in the 21st century. They’ve had an enormous, mostly positive impact on communications to date, especially as companies push further into the digital workplace. But those wonderful digital team collaboration tools are only transformative if you use them. How can internal comms teams make the most of digital to truly engage a Millennial workforce?
The “Internal Communications for Millennials” toolkit
The short answer is: involve them. Ask them what they need. Ask them what they think. Re-write your rules for engagement. Younger Millennials want to feel empowered to engage, while older ones are reaching leadership positions and need to feel empowered to give honest strategic input as they think of it – not to wait until the next two-hour meeting snooze fest.
But apart from that, think carefully about the medium through which you deliver your messages. Unless you’re part of the Internal Communications team for a youth-focused startup it’s likely your employee base is not just made of Millennials, so your Internal Comms toolkit needs to cater for many different learning and listening styles.
Make it visual
The Millennial and Generation Z audience is very visual. They’re not likely to read a policy ebook, but they will watch a short video outlining what’s expected of them. “Posting a video not only increases the likelihood of views and shares but also raises the understanding of your product by as much as 74%,” writes Sina Kaye Lockley for Staffbase. “In addition, a consumer behavior survey by Hubspot showed that more than half (55%) of their users consume entire videos, compared to 33% for interactive articles and only 29% for blogs.”
Make it digital (and cloud-based)
The qualifier in that sub-head is important. A digital workplace is great; it means everything is easily accessible from your computer and you can collaborate with colleagues without having to physically be in the same room. Fantastic! The cloud-based qualifier takes your digital workplace one step further by letting you take it on the road. Working with cloud-based collaboration tools means your remote workers can still be part of the action without needing VPNs and millions of access rules.
Make it always-on and instant
We heard before how Millennials seek instant gratification, which is why they are obsessive consumers of social media and expect to be able to access anyone at any time – their friends and family are just an app away; so should their colleagues be. They don’t have downtime, so neither should your Internal Communications platforms. Let them access their team collaboration tools at any time, and let them send a quick message to Rob in the Sydney office if they suddenly remember something out of hours – chances are he’s always on, too, and the problem can be resolved quickly without impacting productivity through waiting for answers.
Make it entertaining
“We live in a content world. There is so much competing content,” writes Cliff Ettridge for The Team, an Internal Communications agency. “Your Internal Communication department needs to hire entertainers: writers, filmmakers, digital creatives, event managers that can breathe life into your story… Tap into the artistry of people out in the business – it’ll be full of frustrated writers, photographers and filmmakers.”
TL;DR: make your messages inspiring, entertaining, educational. Give your Millennial audience a reason to engage, because they’re bombarded by millions of messages daily and will be quite happy to ignore another scripted, bland corporate missive full of jargon and acronyms.
Make it easy to access
You want to be “agile”, right? That’s the latest buzzword in company strategy circles. Everything’s about flexibility and adaptability, about working and communicating from anywhere. Here is where a mobile app can come in handy – it’s right there on their phone, where their thumb will pass it as it hunts for Instagram. A mobile app for your intranet also enables access when your Millennial managers are on the go; they can collaborate with their team and answer questions as they grab coffee on the way to ExCo.
Make it a Google intranet
In all seriousness - and we’re not just saying this because we do this for a living - but the Google intranet is tailor-made for a Millennial workforce. These guys have grown up with Google products; they expect single sign-on for all products and platforms, and they want an intuitive and clean UX.
Your users are familiar with Google’s interface because they’re using it every day; it’s familiar, which means you won’t have to re-train your workforce to use Microsoft Word after years of collaborating in Google Docs. And that, at the end of the day, makes working easier, more efficient and more productive.