It’s Saturday and I’m at home. I have my Mom trying to work out how to open the lid of our laptop and I have my two kids surrounded by multi-coloured devices, happily flicking between one and the other.  A Traditionalist x 2 GenZ-ers and only myself and my wife (GenXers) to bridge the gap.  Interestingly I am sat here observing what is going on and some interesting traits on interactions and technology preferences are evident, which I feel could be played out in business as we head to the 2020 workplace.

1, My Mom’s preferred device is a traditional desktop – here she is out of her comfort zone on a laptop but after one week is starting to get the hang of it. Which is helpful for my sanity in so many way…”Just press that THEN that and it will refresh!” …”It’s called Word – it’s the same on a laptop as your desktop!” ; “Just click here..!”- you get the picture. That said, she is on the technology and here are some of her clear preferences:

  • email is the beginning and the end. Indispensable.
  • typing via a keyboard is the only way to go. Touchscreens don’t cut it.
  • social media happens to someone else
  • smartphones are for calling people (imagine that!) and occasionally texting.
  • electronic games and gaming is the undiscovered country and holds no interest.
  • kids can do anything with technology so useful to have around

2, My kids are comfortable on any device be it ipod, my wife’s iphone, my galaxy, tablets and laptops. But there are clear preferences and differences when compared to my Mom – perhaps unsurprisingly!

  • They prefer ipod / iphone and it’s for gaming and instant messaging
  • Whatsapp groups and Hangouts – so easy
  • email is in case of emergencies, homework or thank you messages J
  • they do all their homework on line through the laptop and submit automatically. Everything is on auto back-up. They can online chat with their teachers and colleagues in a protected environment.
  • It’s how they work, play and communicate
  • Touch screen rules – keyboards are for homework only!
  • My daughter embraces a wider range of technologies to communicate with her friends than my son (she is 18 months older)
  • They curate music / interests etc and can link their devices to other devices in our home (ie TV, speakers etc)
  • It’s second nature – they don’t think about this, they just do it.My conclusion is that with technology being such a big part of their day to day education and way of operating at school and home, it does become a kind of appendage. One step removed from artificial intelligence integrated with the human – but quite close when I observe them some days!

3, So what for us GenXers?

  • My wife’s clear preference is a mini-tablet. She can read, do facebook and her emails on it
  • My preference over the weekend is a full sized tablet – again for reading, catching up on the odd email and managing entertainment (music, planning weekend, food spots etc via the web and social sites). When out and about though I still prefer my Galaxy S5 – the larger size helps me manage my twitter and tweet on the go, but small enough for my pocket.
  • We are both comfortable with desktops, laptops and tablets, although don’t work too much with our smartphones. We tend to use for texting, whatsapp and calling – but not as much as we used to use our Nokia’s!
  • Touch screens and typing is OK with us
  • While we can ‘work things out’, our kids are far more intuitive and will help us do things quicker when needed via the technology. Again they don’t seem to have to try, it appears to be second nature.
  • For us, the human connection is as important as the technology which enables our closeness to others – Facebook with our friends and family in the UK makes it so much more personal. For our kids technology I suspect is more than an enabler and merely the way they roll.

Perhaps GenXers have to be more adaptable due to where they are in the cross generational mix. Sandwiched in the middle with the ability to be the golden thread to link each element of the spectrum.

So – fast forward to the 2020 workplace. My kids will be starting jobs, my Mom may be able to use a touch screen (maybe) and GenXers will be gamely trying to keep up with the technology upgrades, new tools and ways of working. Crucially though, as in our house currently, GenX will be Glue in the middle of the Silver Stars and the Young Guns of Gen Y&Z.

  • GenX-ers are Leaders in waiting – their role to meld the technology with the Human touch will be key to success
  • It wont all be about GenY anymore – the focus will be on the GenZ intake. The ‘’me’’ generation will need to play second fiddle for a change.
  • GenZ will expect the workplace to be very different to what it is now. How we work and learn with integration of appropriate technologies will be key. They will be capable, ready to contribute and could form a powerful engine room for businesses. Let us see! May be the end of the road for traditional email.
  • Integrating our aging populations in this increasingly technologically enabled world will be key for GenX Leaders.  The Human heart of work, learning and life will not be replaced – far from it – it will be more important than it ever has been.

Perhaps this is the central element that will bring all generations together – the human touch at GenZ end to give them the interpersonal skills required in business and for communication across the generations and cultures within the 2020 workplace.  At the other end of the spectrum, a recognition that at the heart of things is the human and that is how business will still get done. Perhaps 2020 is a great opportunity for a mass ‘’coming together’’ rather than the fear of a further drift.  Humans may yet still be in charge!