How millennials and Gen Z are transforming the enterprise through flexible work

Karen Roby talks with Lisa Walker about how millennials and Gen Z are reshaping the workforce.

How millennials and Gen Z are transforming the enterprise through flexible work Karen Roby talks with Lisa Walker about how millennials and Gen Z are reshaping the workforce. The Flex Summit promoted by Fuze in Boston will bring company leaders together to better understand how flexible work concepts will help drive the enterprise into the future.

Our workforce is changing as millennials and Gen Z transforms the concepts we typically associate with a "normal" work environment. Lisa Walker, VP of Brand for Fuze, is talking with Karen Roby about flexible workspaces and how companies must embrace this new way of working to attract top talent. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Karen Roby: This is really an interesting topic, so much so that you guys are putting on the Flex Summit, an upcoming conference to discuss this very topic. So let's just start with flexible workspaces and distributing teams globally, what does all of that look like?

Lisa Walker: I think there's sort of two pieces to this. One is the flexible workforce as a whole, and the other is what does that mean for workspaces? 

I think one of the things we're seeing in our research is that the employees that are coming into enterprise-size companies today have really changing expectations, especially that younger demographic coming in, and they're looking for flexibility as part of the job, and they're demanding that of employers. So that's forcing managers up through executive teams to really think about flexibility not as a special benefit that's offered only when people ask, but flexibility as part of the overall job. What that can mean could be anything from working from home a couple of days a week to working entirely remotely, and then that has implications on your workspace. Because if you don't have people coming into an office every single day, how you design workspace changes, and we call that term resimercial. 

When you look at offices today, they're changing what the actual office looks like. No longer do you necessarily need to come in every day to a dedicated desk with a huge desktop computer on it. Really what you can come into today is more of a kind of living room environment where you're moving about throughout the day to maybe sitting on a couch, standing at a standing desk, going into a huddle room with a team, into a phone booth for a private call. It's a whole different design of space when you think about flexibility.

SEE: Recruiting and hiring top talent: A guide for business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Karen Roby: You mentioned, that this isn't necessarily considered just a perk for a job anymore. I mean, this is really something companies pretty much have to do as they're fighting for top talent.

Lisa Walker: We did research last year of 6,600 information workers globally, 18% told us they would take a pay cut for more flexibility, which kind of blew my mind, and then 89% said to us they expect flexibility to be built into their next job. So this wave is coming whether or not you're ready for it.

Karen Roby: It's not necessarily an IT problem but more of something that we need to talk about in terms of changes with just people, our mindset and culture in general.

Lisa Walker: I think one of the things, again, that our research told us is that some of the biggest cultural challenges around this are actually middle managers who were maybe brought up in a time where face time was sort of how you gained credibility in the workplace, and so they still have that mindset of first one in, last one out. What you're finding is you really need your executive team on down through your managers to change how they think about people getting their best work done and sort of let go of that expectation that I have to see you to know that you're getting your work done. You have to let go of that when you think about flexible work and working with a remote team. It really is a matter of building trust. 

So you need technology to do that. You need the right technology for your team to be able to work together remotely, and the other piece of that, of course, is building the culture of remote work. Here at Fuze, we make video conferencing and collab technology. What that means for us, certainly, is your video is always on, and you start with your video on and then you go from there. I think building a culture is important, but you have to have the technology to underpin that. So this is really a shared problem with both the people and the tech leaders at a company to figure out how to build the technology to underpin a remote culture.

SEE: Working remotely: A professional's guide to the essential tools (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Karen Roby: So it's not something that just IT needs to worry about or your CIO. This is something CEOs, CIOs, CMOs, everyone needs to be involved to make the changes that really are necessary just to keep pace.

Lisa Walker: We're all in it together, and I think, like you said, the talent piece of this in this job market... I'm here in Boston. This market is super, super tight. You have to be thinking about what the employee needs to do their best work and to be most productive for the company, and that doesn't mean necessarily that they need to be in an office. If you don't have the right technology and the right culture to support that, you're going to lose some really great talent right now because the next generation is just not going to even consider your company. You won't be an employer of choice.

Karen Roby: It's obviously important enough of a topic and something that we need to talk about, Lisa, that you guys are putting on, for the first time this year, a summit to discuss this, a conference. So tell us just a little bit more about that, what can people expect.

 Lisa Walker: We're super excited, we actually brought in a former TED producer to help us. We knew we wanted to do something around the future of work, and that's a super broad topic. So when we sat down, we said, "All right, what around the future of work do we feel most passionately about?" When we did that, we realized, of course, it's flexibility. I mean, we not only have the technology here... We're lucky in that respect, but we have a policy here at our own company at Fuze called the Work from Anywhere Policy. Anyone here has the ability to work from anywhere, and you create a personalized structure with your manager. It's something that people are super passionate about here as employees, and it's something that we know that our customers are passionate about. That's why they bring our tech in.

So, we landed on this concept of what if we built sort of the first big event around this concept of flexible work and what the future's going to be for building global distributed and hybrid teams. What does that mean for people? How do you bring AI into the mix there? Where do robots fit in? Once we got into that conversation, it snowballed into a million different ideas so we are really excited for year one and what's to come.

SEE: Policy pack: Workplace ethics (Tech Pro Research)

Karen Roby: There're so many pieces to this, as you mentioned, so many parts that need to work together to figure out the best way to go about changing things as we move. When you talk about the millennials or the younger generation that's coming now out of school, does it seem like of them they're just so used to being able to work from wherever, in their laptop and the library or in a parking lot somewhere or on a park bench, so that's what they're expecting when they enter the workforce?

Lisa Walker: They are and they're expecting consumer tools. So, like you said, I have younger kids. They don't do their homework at desks. There's this great story someone told me, who had a daughter in college, and he went into her dorm freshman year, and all of the desks were in the hallway because no one wanted desks in their dorm rooms anymore. So this is already happening and we're seeing it with this next generation. They're already coming into the workforce saying "Wait, why do I have to sit at this desk? What is this phone doing on this desk? What is this phone doing here? Was that a fax machine?" 

So they're just coming into the workforce with completely different expectations for technology, and that same group, when we polled them on what their preferred work device is going to be, it's not the laptop. It's going to be their phone. So you now need to think about their preferred tech choices. As they come into your workplace, what does that mean for your technology stack as a company? What tools are you going to give them because they're coming in... they're on video as they walk in the door where they're FaceTiming with their friends. They're using X number of different chat applications and all of these different tools to stay connected in their personal life, and they're expecting all of that in the workplace. So, if you're not ready for that wave of people coming in, they're going to come into your company with archaic tools, and they're not going to stay. It's not going to work out.

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By Karen Roby

Karen Roby is a reporter for TechRepublic. Prior to joining CBS Interactive, Karen worked as an anchor and reporter for several CBS affiliate stations owned by Hearst Communications and Gray Television.