Five Things We Can Learn From Millennials About Collaboration
In the spirit of back-to-school as summer winds down, I thought this would be a timely topic to share here. Aside from gearing up our kids to get back into learning mode, we as UC practitioners could stand to do some learning from them.
Over the past few months, I’ve seen various perspectives on the emergence of Millennials and what this bodes for communications technologies. I’m also drawing on this for a presentation I’ll be making next month, so the topic happens to be top of mind. Whether you call it UC or collaboration, the issues are the same – this demographic represents the future and the industry needs to be aligned with them.
The challenge – as I see it – is that while Millennials are quickly becoming the primary consumers of UC&C applications, the creators of these platforms are from another generation. UC&C vendors may be trending to a younger demographic among their ranks, but pre-Internet thinking is still prevalent, and a generational gap remains that needs to be closed. In that context, I’m going to briefly outline five things the UC space can learn from Millennials when it comes to collaboration.
1. It’s personal
If there’s one thing that distinguishes Millennials, it’s their expectation for personalized experiences. The “me generation” values of the’70s were radical at the time, but are quite tame compared to today. Of course, technology has been a huge enabler of this, and it all started with the aptly-named PC. There was nothing personal about dumb terminals, and it would never cross IT’s mind that employees would want anything more.
PC’s put everyone on to the path to what we now call the “consumerization of IT,” and today pretty much every form of online interaction can be personalized. That certainly holds true for all the mobile applications we use, and Millennials wouldn’t want it any other way. You can choose to see this as frilly, selfish behavior, but mass customization is very doable. End users don’t pay for UC, so you need to give them a good reason to use it for their workplace collaboration needs. In this regard, vendors need their UC platforms to be easy to personalize, so each end user can see it as being “their UC.”
2. It’s social
This is another key Millennial characteristic, and it applies equally well to one-on-one communication as it does to working in groups. There is no getting around the impact of social media in our personal lives, and as this spills over into our work personae, UC will simply have to get more social. This topic is regularly covered by UCStrategies, so I don’t need to say much more.
UC vendors have not had much success in this area, with Cisco being a prominent example via Quad/WebEx Social. This is just one aspect of being social, but with collaboration being social by nature, vendors have to do a better job learning how to do this in ways that resonate with Millennials.
3. Speed trumps quality
Technology impacts us on many levels, including what we value. The pace of business keeps accelerating as globalization creates a constant state of cutthroat competition. Compounding this is how fast everything happens on the Internet, and how our expectations are measured now in seconds or even less.
When it comes to UC, this means that being able to collaborate quickly carries more weight than doing a perfect job. The same applies in the contact center, with recent research from Interactive Intelligence being a good example of this broad shift in values. These changes may not sit well with most of us, who are grounded in a world where doing a good job is more important than being fast.
Ideally, you want to do both, but Millennials are an always-on generation where multitasking is a given. Slow and steady isn’t in their vocabulary, and with real-time applications being a core virtue of UC, vendors need to emphasize how well-suited UC can be for what Millennials value most, either as your employees or your customers.
4. There are no rules
Since there is no standard definition for either UC or collaboration, it’s not surprising to see that Millennials will have their own take on things. At face value, that’s to be expected, but also poses an existential threat to the UC vendors who built this space. The established market leaders – Cisco, MSFT, Avaya, etc. – did not exactly have Millennials in mind, and this may have something to do with why UC has not caught on as hoped for.
Millennials don’t have any particular loyalty to these companies, and will latch on to collaboration applications that speak to them. We don’t really know how this will play out, but it’s a classic “creative destruction” scenario, where the rules of engagement will be written by the winners. The incumbents will keep their fair share, but others see opportunity to redefine collaboration in Millennial terms. Prime examples would be Google (think Hangouts) and Amazon (think Mayday), and as the cloud gains traction, others are coming. In this context, the only rules that matter are the ones Millennials will follow, and that’s the key for long-term success in this space.
5. Digital natives are different
By now you’ve heard the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” and I’m sure you know which one you are. To learn from Millennials, UC vendors must understand both how and why they are different from the “immigrants.” Building on that, you need to see Millennials as being different without judgment for being better or worse. Making comparisons between these demographics is dangerous, especially long-term, since 75% of the workforce is projected to be Millennials by 2025.
Millennials are a new breed, and it takes one to know one. I’ve touched on some reasons why their concept of collaboration will be different, and that should be your compass for UC. This is one reason why the recent Information Week survey with UC Expert Michael Finneran showed Skype being ahead of far-better known vendors like ShoreTel, Mitel or Unify as leading UC offerings. That data should be taken with a grain of salt, but the point is Millennials will expect a different experience with UC&C than us immigrants. Eventually, they won’t just be end users, but UC buyers as well, and if you haven’t figured them out by then, you won’t likely be in their plans.