The Olden Days

In the olden days, like, in 2003 before we even had Twitter or LinkedIn or smart phones smarter than the first rockets into space, “face time” only meant spending time in the office long into the evenings so that the managing partner/boss/bonus committee saw us squirreling away at our desk looking busy, profitable and devoted. 

Enter Gen-Y

Ask your local 15 year old teenager whether the time spent communicating with their friends via their device is “real” interaction with their friends. They’ll give you that blank, silent stare that says, “I feel sorry for you and your people and their lonely lack of understanding of how the real world works. And I shall now Tweet about this sad and oppressive situation to all of my followers.” 

Gen-Y is redefining how we interact with each other. The innate comfort with communicating by technology means that they value such interactions in a way that we old folks over 40 will never understand. Forcing your 25 year old employee to stay in the office for the sake of staying in the office just to watch each other work doesn’t resonate with how they interact with each other. 

For Gen-Y, “facetime” includes communicating through technology, not just sitting side by side at a boardroom table chit-chatting about the weather.

The Yahoo Experiment

Marissa Mayer believes that in order to rebuild a collaborative, innovative culture at Yahoo, she had to pull all of her employees back into the workplace. Yahoo is a tech company, and yet its CEO believes communications by technology are not enough to foster a productive workplace. I have no doubt she had plenty of data upon which to base this decision, and she’s not some 90 year old anti-technology curmudgeon, so I watch with great interest whether her decision will trigger some sort of internal renaissance, a great departure of talent, or a neutral cultural shift, but slight boost in productivity. 

The key for most workforces – whether or not fledging and in need of renewal like Yahoo – is to balance the real value of good old-fashioned in-person relationship building with forced in-person facetime beyond that which is effective to nurture collaboration, productivity and employee trust. 

Employers who understand and respect that Gen-Yers build meaningful and real relationships with each other through their smartphones and devices, will be far better positioned to understand why they may roll their eyes at expectations of in-person “facetime”, when they are readily accessible at the touch of a keyboard 24 hours a day. 

Gen-Y wants to work hard as hard as any other generation – but they expect to do it differently because they are growing up in an entirely different world.

[My thanks to Ye Xia, a very hard working Gen-Y articling student in my office who shared this insight with me.]