How should an older generation of business leaders deal with some of the challenges that are thrown up by the new work from home regime? What can Gen Z, the true digital natives, teach all of us about adapting to this new work culture? And is it really Advantage Gen Z?
Damodar Mall, CEO, Grocery at Reliance Retail, and Harsh Mall, a millennial, and a digital marketer based in New York, bring their different lenses to get a better grip on the workplace of the future.
There are a few things Damodar likes about the new way of working: hot, home-cooked meals and no traffic jams! And the fact that he’s learnt a tad more about his team members. “Because I'm now interacting with my colleagues in their home setting. It reveals a different side of them.”
But he’s cautious about some things too: “Everyone interacts in two dimensions and everyone is reduced to the same size of tile…. the best ideas emerge when you spend low-quality time with high-quality people…. that unstructured interaction, that water cooler chat, that lunch outing. Work magic happens there… you need a break from work to do your work very well.”
Harsh feels his generation was better prepared for the new way of working that WFH has imposed on all of us. And many large companies in the US have mandated WFH until the end of the year. “If productivity can be maintained for most office functions, I don't see why the entire office can’t be moved into a permanent, remote working format.”
Damodar thinks that’s too simplistic.
“A lot of what I learn about my team is often from nonverbal cues. I've trained myself to observe them. I can often tell in a meeting that someone is eager to contribute, but is a little apprehensive about speaking up. It's important.”
His advice to Harsh: “You will also realize how important reading body language can be to the work environment. In professional life, you may think that your digital savvy gives you a leg up in the virtual workplace, but, you may not realize that you’re missing out on a ton of the smaller, unnoticed aspects of the workplace. Some of these are important for even shaping your career. So watch out, keep your antenna up for that. I've often seen very bright young colleagues who need that little push from a leader to speak up and contribute. Such a person will never raise a virtual hand and in a virtual meeting, and that bright person, his or her colleagues and the entire business lose out in the process.”
On Gen Z’s natural advantage in the digital workplace, Harsh says, “Dependence on tech perhaps puts a younger generation at an advantage. If all your work is happening through your device, then your efficiency is dependent upon how good you are at multitasking or even navigating software.”
So, can technology become a barrier for Damodar’s generation?
It’s only natural. As one gets older, it takes more effort to learn new things. “But if you have the curiosity and the patience, it's a barrier that you can overcome,” Damodar responds.
What lessons can we learn from Gen Z? “Now, roughly speaking, I fall somewhere between your generation and Gen Z,” Says Harsh. “I want to be well prepared if I want to lead the corporations of tomorrow.”
Damodar recalls an anecdote where he sought help from a young colleague in sorting some tech issues. And that colleague quickly sorted it with the help of a friend—whom he’d never met in real life. They were friends because they both were part of an online gaming group.
“I thought to myself, friends who have never met in real life are playing together, and therefore working together better.… The interaction also made me feel a little sheepish…. Should I feel like the boss who can summon [their help]? Or do I feel like my grandma? She needed help with translating anything that she saw in English from English to Hindi. So I have wondered, was I powerful? Or was I illiterate?.... What I do know is, when so many old ways have changed, youngsters have a distinct starting advantage…. They should see it as a golden opportunity.”
Harsh agrees: “They're more easy going online, comfortable with being themselves, without filters… for my generation, the real me and the online me were two different people. But for Gen Z, there is no separation between online and offline.”
Damodar says: “Now one of us have that separation between online and offline…. it's only wise to learn from those who have always been comfortable with an environment that may be new to some of us.”
And if Harsh were to advise folks in his dad's generation, what is that one tip he would give them?
“I would say that don't let technology become a source of frustration because your younger team members only care about your message and not how you're conveying it.”
And what would Damodar advise folks in Harsh’s generation?
“I would say, enjoy the advantage, enjoy the way the world has tilted in your favour…. But don't get carried away. You're not going to be competing with your previous generation. For success, you're going to be competing with your own peer group who are equally technology savvy…. The reason why people win, why leaders lead and why influences influence, comes back to the same thing. Do you have the cognitive ability? Do you have the social ability to take people with you? Do you have the aptitude to and the instincts of a leader?
“Technology is like a good shoe to wear. It makes you comfortable, it makes you go far. It makes you reach new places. But it doesn't decide where you're going.”
- The show is supported by a column on Founding Fuel, and an ongoing conversation with the Founding Fuel community on our Slack channel. Read the second column on Gen-Z and the post-Covid workplace.
- Read the first column on comfort brands.
- Watch Episode 1 of this weekly show.
- Bookmark the series.
- Watch out for Episode 3 on Facebook Live on Saturday, August 8, 7.30 pm IST. The theme is on how entertainment consumption habits are changing. If you haven’t registered to watch the show already, register here: https://bit.ly/FFTAMG