Due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizations around the globe adopted remote work policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. On Thursday, Adobe’s Workfront released its annual State of Work report for 2021 outlining “how COVID-19 changed digital work,” generational differences among employees, the importance of useful technology in day-to-day workflows and more.
Overall, the report compares the results of two Center for Generational Kinetics-conducted studies. The first study was conducted in February and March of last year and the second was held eight months later in November and December. Each study involved 1,000 respondents who “worked on a computer and collaborated with other people” and were employed by a company with a minimum of 500 employees, the report said.
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In the telecommuter age, remote teams have leveraged a vast suite of technologies to enable collaboration from afar. The number of respondents who said technology was “very important” for collaboration increased 10 points and the number of respondents who said technology was similarly important for “doing their best work” increased nine points, according to the report.
The authors explain that “remote work has exposed the limits of outdated technologies,” noting that the number of respondents who felt that “old technology” made it harder to take on more work increased five points.
Prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, about one-quarter of workers said they had quit a position “because workplace tech made their jobs harder,” according to the report.
In the ensuing months, the report said the number of people who left a job due to tech inhibiting their “ability to do good work” jumped to 32%, and nearly half of respondents said they’d likely leave their current position “if they’re unhappy or frustrated with the technology” used in their day-to-day work.
A portion of the report parses out datasets by age groups; specifically focusing on millennials and Gen X workers. Compared to “pre-COVID-19 measures,” the number of people who said they’d quit a position over “bad technology” jumped 13 points for Gen Xers and seven points for millennials.
“The meme would be that a millennial generation is more technically savvy than a Gen X [generation], so you wouldn’t expect the Gen X generation to have such a visceral reaction to bad tech. So I think that was one that jumped out to me as a meme-buster, if you will,” said Alex Shootman VP and GM at Workfront, an Adobe company.
The number of respondents who said they’d turned down a position due to outdated tech increased 12 points and digital workers who said they’d applied for a position “because they heard a company’s employees use great technology” jumped seven points, according to the report.
“I do believe that we’re all going to go back into physical experiences. I don’t think that we’ll all just be completely virtual, so I think those physical experiences will matter, but we have to spend as much time thinking about the technology experience as we spend thinking about the physical experience,” Shootman said.
Overall, all respondents felt as though their daily work contributions made an “even bigger impact on the success of their companies than before the pandemic,” but Gen Xers believe “their contributions are much more valuable,” jumping eight points compared to millennials (three-point increase), the report said.
Digital workers are more comfortable with “a variety of foundational work elements,” but Gen Xers “appear to be thriving,” according to the report. For example, the number of millennials who said they were comfortable with communication ideas and expression opinions increased one point, while Gen Xers reported an eight-point increase in both categories.
In terms of a person’s ability to “build and reinforce trust in the workplace,” millennials’ comfort levels dropped three points while Gen Xers reported a four-point increase
Overall, both millennials and Gen Xers became more comfortable “dealing with work-related conflict and hard conversations,” but comfort among older employees with these situations increased 10 points compared to a three-point bump for younger workers.
“We tend to assume that because younger workers grew up as ‘digital natives,’ they’re very comfortable with a technology-enabled workplace and don’t need extra support,” said Laura Butler SVP people and culture at Adobe’s Workfront, in the report. “But younger workers haven’t had the opportunity to build collective resilience through a national catastrophe, are still growing their professional networks, and haven’t logged as many years absorbing all the nuances of corporate culture,”
“On top of all this, they’re more likely to have young children at home that they’re trying to care for and educate during the workday,” Butler said.
The report ends with a series of “takeaways” for business leaders and this includes treating “technology as a critical workforce issue.”
“Technology cannot be separated from the humans who use it. In making technology decisions, leaders must put at the center of their consideration how, and whether, technologies empower or hobble their workforces. Investing in new technologies is important, but investing in the right technologies is even more critical,” the report said.
It also suggests leaders should “personalize the employee experience” and this includes allowing employees to “work where and how they are most creative and productive” and using technology ecosystem investments to offer “common information and collaboration spaces” while allowing workers to use their preferred “tools of choice.”
The last takeaway is focused on leaders not taking “engagement for granted,” when it comes to its workforce and the report states that “employee engagement can’t be just an HR issue, it must become a strategic and multifaceted imperative.”