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Summary:

When your team starts working virtually, people of different generations are going to adjust to the situation better, and perhaps faster, than others. Here are some technology and management considerations to take into account when planning a multi-generational virtual team.

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When your team starts working virtually, some people are going to adjust to the situation better, and perhaps faster, than others. You may find that you get very different responses to the very concept of working virtually from team members of varying ages.

Here are some technology and management considerations to take into account when managing a multi-generational virtual team.

Technology

If some team members are young enough to have been around computers most of their lives, it’s reasonable to expect they will be comfortable with the idea of virtual working.

Younger employees are more likely to be comfortable with the technologies that go along with working online, but that may not always hold true. For instance, while a younger team member may be very comfortable with social collaboration tools, she will likely need training when it comes to industry-specific applications.

Management Styles

Younger members of the workforce, especially those in Generation Y, may need more management feedback, and may expect a more collaborative work environment, than their predecessors. While Generation X-ers may have a preference for handling projects on their own, Generation Y members may struggle in a virtual work environment because of the reduced feedback that often happens in such situations.

While the situation is not simply a matter of age — Generation Y-ers are showing similarities to previous generations as they age — you do need to take the age of your team members into account when managing a virtual workforce. You need to make sure that you’re providing a work environment that supports them, whether they need an in-depth support network, as a Millennial might, or whether they want you to cut the interference and get out of their way, as a member of Generation X might.

Beyond Age Differences

The names of different generations, from Millennials to Baby Boomers, are simply shorthand for general trends. Employees of the same generation will never be identical. While you can certainly expect management techniques to change, the most important thing is to keep an eye on individual team members. The best way to minimize the issues that go along with online team collaboration is to pay attention to what’s really going on. You can prepare for certain eventualities by looking at generational trends, but you can’t implement every management technique your team needs until you see the team in action.

That said, it is certainly worth your while to read up on proven techniques for managing the age groups you’re working with. Having specialized tools will let you find the best answers. After all, by working with a virtual team, you have less face-to-face interaction on which to judge situations. Having a few extra techniques is the least you can do to make up for that lack.

How do you bridge the “generation gap” among team members?

Photo courtesy Flickr user xflickrx

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  1. I love that you’re pointing out some key points that many writing generational-type articles overlook…like the similarities among generations as they age. However, I can never understand the statements involving correlation without causation. For example, growing up with technology *may* correlate with an overall comfort level with certain types of technology (*if* one was exposed and had access to the technology) but that doesn’t mean that if you are comfortable with technology, you “grew up” with it. And, why would that matter? Someone born in 1994 (17 y/o) probably has used technology since the age of 5 (“grew up” with it). Someone born in 1965 may have used that same technology for more than the 17 years the young adult has been alive (again, *if* they were exposed and had access to the technology) but didn’t “grow up” with it. I’m not sure current age would have anything to do with comfort level in that case. I have to wonder if GenX and baby boomer writers are creating millennial generation trends. Of course your message is to focus on the individuals that make up a virtual team and I’m sure no one would disagree with that.

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