Millennials are now the largest working demographic in the United States. The oldest among them are entering their 40s, and many have children of their own. So it makes sense that today’s workplace is almost completely designed around how millennials communicate with colleagues, leaders, customers, and clients.
You’ll see it in the kinds of technology employees use to speak to one another—for example, the shift toward instant messaging and away from email. It can also be found in our evolving communication styles, or in the design of the physical workspaces where teams collaborate and share ideas.
WeWork designs workplace solutions with flexibility and communication in mind, providing office environments in locations around the world that encourage creativity and foster innovation. For even more flexibility, WeWork All Access and WeWork On Demand let you access workspaces and meeting rooms in hundreds of locations across multiple cities, allowing teams to do their best work wherever they are.
When we talk about millennials, what do we mean?
Generally speaking, the term “millennial” refers to anyone who reached young adulthood in the early 2000s. Like most demographics, it doesn’t have a hard-and-fast boundary—generations blend into one another. But the general consensus is millennials were born between 1981 and 1996.
Despite being a broad categorization, placing people into these generational groups helps us to understand and measure cultural and social changes over time. This is especially true in advertising and marketing, where teams race to find new ways to appeal to target customers. But it’s important in a business context, too, when thinking about how we hire new talent and how we communicate in the workplace.
How have millennials changed the workplace?
Millennials are the first generation to grow up with the internet. Often considered the first “digital natives,” they tend to have a greater familiarity with social media and online tools than their parents do, and they are more willing to embrace new technology.
Millennials are also characterized by the series of unprecedented challenges they’ve faced since entering the workplace. This generation finished their education during the time of the global recession of 2008—the worst economic downturn since the 1930s—which was followed 12 years later by the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
These tumultuous events have made millennials arguably more comfortable with major changes, allowing them to thrive in a more flexible workplace and to be resilient when faced with an unpredictable business environment.
Having grown up alongside the internet, millennials have continually adapted to evolving modes of online communication, from AIM and MSN Messenger in the late 1990s to Slack and Teams today. They’ve easily embraced new ways of collaborating in the workplace, meaning that organizations can be more agile and responsive to change.
Finally, millennials are often lauded for their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. This is evident with the rise of the gig economy, as an increasing number of millennials have chosen to freelance. This flexibility and willingness to experiment has resulted in millennials impacting the shape of the workspace itself, from the rise of dedicated desks for digital nomads to full-floor offices configured to perform as creativity-focused collaboration hubs.
Key things to know about millennials for better communication
- They value their time. The oldest millennials are entering their 40s. They have families, children, and social obligations to juggle, which means they have less time for small talk. When you want to communicate with them, get straight to the point.
- They want flexibility. According to a 2020 survey by Deloitte, 69 percent of millennials say that having the flexibility to choose when and where they do their work would relieve stress. Factor this into the types of tools your teams use to communicate.
- They prefer flat corporate structures. Millennials think of their careers as scaffolding, not as a ladder—that means they focus on building their professional networks horizontally as well as vertically. They also want to be able to speak to and access their leaders and managers just as easily as they can speak to their own teammates.
- They need more feedback. Gallup research found that millennials crave feedback more than any other generation. When you are communicating with them, be sure to provide feedback that’s frequent, specific, personalized, and actionable.
- They are activists. According to that same survey by Deloitte, millennials are more likely than Gen Z to say they want to make a difference through the work that they do. Millennials are also slightly more environmentally conscious than their younger colleagues, but both generations are considerably more eco-aware than previous generations.
- They are tech-savvy. Born in the era of Tamagotchis, the Nokia 3210, and dial-up internet, millennials are comfortable with the latest technology and can quickly adapt to new modes of communication.
The role of leadership when it comes to healthy communication with millennials
When it comes to fostering healthy workplace communication, leaders have an important role to play. Here are a few key things leaders can do to create an environment in which millennials can thrive.
- Encourage transparency. Millennials value transparency. They want to know what’s going on in the organization—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Leaders should create an environment in which information flows freely, and teams feel comfortable speaking up about both successes and challenges.
- Foster collaboration. Millennials thrive in collaborative environments, so it’s important to create a workplace that supports teamwork. Leaders can do this by setting up regular team-building exercises in a shared office, building spaces that encourage frictionless collaboration, and using online tools like Slack and Teams to involve remote workers.
- Give employees a voice. Millennials want to be heard, so it’s important that employees feel like their opinions matter. Leaders can do this by soliciting feedback, encouraging open dialogue, and creating opportunities for employees to share their ideas.
The future of communication with millennials in the workplace
The way we communicate in the workplace is always evolving, and as the largest working generation today, millennials find themselves leading the charge. As the first generation to grow up with the internet, millennials have had a front-row seat as the traditional workspace has undergone an enormous transformation. The reimagined office is one that’s built around their changing needs: More flexibility. More comfort. Better tools. On-demand access. And closer to where they live.
How we communicate in the workplace of the future will continue to change, driven by millennials today and Gen Z tomorrow. What remains important is having an office space that supports the evolving ways in which teams collaborate, while inspiring companies to embrace new and innovative ways of doing business.
Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.