Last month, Encyclopedia Britannica announced it would stop printing its famous reference guide that shaped how so many of us see the world and collect information. I can still remember spending hours poring over volume after volume of the encyclopedia in my school library as I wrote research papers on the Spanish Armada and the Great Earthquake.
Millennials had a very different experience. They are the first generation to grow up in the information age. Many new employees entering the workforce have always had constant access to information – they are true digital natives.
Technology and the internet have shaped who they are, what they view as important and how they function.
They focus on several things at once (such as listening to music while they work), they’re almost always accessible and they’re used to having options in their lives.
Through their experiences, digital natives bring many upsides workplace. They:
- Are comfortable leveraging new digital tools and using technology in new ways
- Adapt quickly, so they are good candidates to pilot new processes and help streamline technological transitions
- Multi-task well and tend to be good at juggling multiple tasks and projects
- Can effectively – and efficiently – navigate information
At the same time, digital natives rely heavily on technology to communicate, 24/7. In addition to the challenge many of us face in unplugging from work, this means they may not have had the opportunity to practice verbal communication skills in business situations. As leaders, we can teach them about the benefits of face-to-face communication and tap them to help us better navigate new technologies.
To engage digital natives – like a member of any audience – you need to understand where they’re coming from and what motivates them. The ideas and values they hold are neither good nor bad; they just are. We can learn a lot from them; they can learn from us.
What lessons have you learned from digital natives on your team, and what lessons have you passed on to them?
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