Managing the Next Generation in a Remote World

The next generation has already begun transforming the way business is being done (*1)  and life is being lived. This cohort (actually two generations, Gen Z born 2010 – 1996 and Alpha Generation born after 2010) is, amongst other things, very particular about what matters to them and they expect businesses to share this perspective, if they want any of Gen Z’s spend. (*2) Not only have they impacted how business is done, but they are also currently the only new generation entering the workforce. (*3) and that number can only continue to grow.  Companies that understand how important it is to futureproof, know that the next gen is their largest customer base, and that there is already fierce competition to recruit this highly creative and entrepreneurial group as employees. Add to the mix this pandemic remote world which has brought a new forced perspective to everything “work”, and these challenges become even more clear. Interestingly enough, the next generation seems to have adapted to this new normal at home, school and business incredibly quickly (*4)while navigating the same daily challenges we all face. This is primarily due to the fact that they have always lived in a world where technology is a tool and not a toy, like it was for many millennials. As such, the next generation has moved right into the flow of daily life and seamlessly adopted technology to accomplish tasks at hand.

Over the last two decades, we’ve been recruiting, employing and training tens of thousands of the next generations as they transition from university into the workplace, and the obvious question is: In this remote world, how do we manage our youngest employees well?

Let me begin by saying that when it comes to the next generation, there has been a change afoot for some time now. They have grown up in a world so different from even their closest cohort, the millennials, and as such are truly wired differently when it comes to what they value, how they interact with the world and even what they believe communication looks like. This “different world” is a result of what I refer to as “The “Perfect Storm” impacted by:
1. Technology of every kind in our lives
2. The instant and ubiquitous nature of predominantly bad world news
3.  The social media epidemic
4. The dramatic shift in parenting and corporate leadership styles
This has led to a fundamentally different human and serves as a foundation for a different perspective of this next gen, and it is important when we consider how to set these young adults up for success in the corporate world.

Here are 5 surprising opportunities to leverage their innate ability to use technology as a tool and grow productive, motivated and creative employees successfully through this remote time and beyond.

  1. A lesson from online gaming.

To the surprise of many parents, playing online games in the basement actually does have an upside… now, before we get carried away, balance is important, but online gaming has a very positive impact on aspects such as showing up on time and being ready to perform. Scheduling and preparation are non-negotiable since many games are played as part of a team and in real time.  In this remote world there is an opportunity to teach the value of showing up on time, online, and being prepared which includes not only familiarizing yourself with the agenda. It also includes the forethought about the space you chose and how you are dressed and present yourself. If you are not there when the game starts, it impacts everyone else and if you are not prepared to do your part, the implications are the same. This is a very powerful, non-judgmental, organic learning, teaching growing opportunity.

  1. Bite size pieces is the right diet.

“Gen z has an 8 second attention span.” (*5) While this is a widely used statistic, we have seen a different truth and that is that Gen Z actually has an 8 second filter. This is a completely different concept, if you take the time to unpack it. It means that they are not any more distracted than the rest of us but rather with the amount of information, data that they are asked to process on a daily even hourly basis, their heads would explode if they did not learn to filter what they chose to allow in and focus on. (we are all on this journey by the way) At the same time, Gen Z are also known for their ability to multitask, especially when using their electronic devices. Giving them bite size, short term, achievable but challenging goals is the key to success here. This allows them to work on any given project independently, which they enjoy, and then check back in. The role managers play here is as the employee’s GPS(Guide Positioned by their Side). While for some this might look like management reimagined, this is a door to amazingly productive, efficient and creative outcomes. They will shun the old school Sage -On Stage mentality of telling them what to do, but will flourish in the ‘GPS showing them the way to go’, environment. While subtle, this is hugely impactful.

  1. A networking meeting that everyone enjoys

A coach will focus on what to do but a mentor will focus on who you are.

Industry has been emphatic in their statements that the next gen is not well prepared to enter the workforce, but on closer examination we see that Gen Z actually have an abundance of skills. What managers are feeling and often don’t have the words to express is that there is actually a void in the soft-skills department. The skills that top the list in my experience are perseverance or grit, communication, problem solving and gratitude. This remote space gives managers an excellent opportunity to work on these soft-skills in an invisible-curriculum type of way. Focusing on giving young employees opportunities to grow in these areas online (without them knowing this is the agenda) removes a great deal of pressure and mitigates that large, first-time, in-person networking meeting feeling, all the while providing real upskill moments

  1. CEO’s of their own work lives

This is one of the most entrepreneurial generations we have encountered (*6). From very early on in their lives they have been placed in a position, for a myriad or reasons, to act as the CEO’s of their own lives. They could watch what they wanted to online, when they want to, they didn’t need mom or dad to drive them anywhere, because of uber, and in this customized, on demand life, they ARE the Boss. This remote time allows them to work on demand, and in many cases, when it suits them best. They will thrive in this environment and, as long as the three previously mentioned building blocks are in place, the results will be fantastic.

  1. Futureproof is the new black (*7)

Now is the time for every business to really understand what the next generation wants. As customers, they are already a formidable force and growing in spending power every day.  As already mentioned, they are also your only new sources of employees. If you are to futureproof your company, figuring out what they want to buy and how they want to buy it, is the silver bullet. One of the most effective ways to get these answers is to employ this generation and learn from them (yes from them) while you work with them and lead them.  Understanding how to manage them gives them the canvas on which to help paint and evaluate what their picture means for the future of your business. The next gen will give you better data and insights on all things next which will have immediate impact on you as a manager, and your business.

Now is the time to embrace the opportunity and be deliberate about how you manage your young employees. Most of all, what is required to navigate this peculiar time successfully, is a new lens through which to view the next generation, their value to your business and how best to lead them well.  While life is different for everyone right now, following these simple and steps will yield surprising results in this remote pandemic world.

(*1)  85% of Gen Z use social media to learn about new products.

(*2) Gen Z already accounts for 40% of all US consumers.

(*3) 42% of the global population – are aged under 25.

(*4) 84% multitask with an Internet-connected device while watching TV. [Forrester Research]

(*5) Gen Z has an 8 second attention span. Gen Z statistics indicate that fast internet speed, which brings the world to their tips, and multiple choices have led to a decline in the attention span of Gen Z-ers.

(*6) The top employee benefits they desire include work flexibility (19%), healthcare coverage (15%) and training (14%). [Future Workplace / Randstad] 72% of Gen Z wants to start a business someday. [Millennial Branding /

(*7) The new fad, trend, or style of the moment.
Background: Since black is always in style in the fashion industry, saying something is “the new black” means that it is the hottest new thing. This phrase can be used to call out the “coolness” of anything, it’s not just limited to the fashion world.