Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the “new workplace” and what it is evolving into. I know you are conjuring in your mind something akin to the Jetsons with robots scampering around and lots of glass. As much as I would love a robot to get me coffee in the morning (no assistants at this non-profit), the evolving workplace is happening right now and isn’t all about technology. There are a number of trends emerging that affect workers and business alike including: multi-generational workplaces, diversity of the workforce, and technology.

Okay, I know that most of the hoopla is around Millennials in the workplace, but the fact is that we now have four generations in the workplace: Traditionalists (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Generation X (1965-1984), and Millennials (1984-2000). Right now the focus is on Millennials but the real issue is accommodating and working with folks from so many different frames of reference and tendencies. It is not helpful for so much energy being taken up with rants about why all the other generations “hate Millennials.” To succeed in this workplace stew, we need better awareness of the difference, similarities, and motivators of each generation.

Demographic shifts in this country tell the story of increasing diversity, especially among younger generations, which is driving increased diversity in the workplace. As Baby Boomers and Traditionalists retire, younger and more diverse populations will be moving into the workplace. This is also happening at a time when more companies see the value of diversity and the buying power of People of Color is growing; demanding products and companies that meet their needs. The second part of the equation is women. More women than ever are in the workplace and are going to college while the participation among men in the workforce and in higher education is on the decline. Fewer women are completely stepping out the workforce after the birth of a child which will shift policies around work/family balance.

The last factor to consider is technology. The use of technology in the office has become ubiquitous in a way that was hard to imagine just twenty years ago. Videoconferencing, smart phones, and other connectivity applications are allowing workers to exist remotely. There are also increasingly better tools for collaboration. This is reshaping personnel policies and creating new possibilities. Workers are arriving with their own technology which is forcing companies to figure out how to integrate our tablets and other devices into the networks. The cost of technology will be an increasing cost for businesses whether it is just the cost of keeping up or training workers. With such rapid change, it is hard to imagine how the workplace will look in 20 years.

The 21st century workplace is evolving before our eyes becoming more diverse and technology-driven. Understanding how to navigate these new waters will be incumbent on leaders to be aware-of and responsive to the trends. Workers also need to be aware of how this will affect them to allow them to pivot and take advantage of new opportunities. The companies and leaders of the Pioneer Valley can’t afford to ignore the trends or we will be left behind.

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