Learning Virtual Work from the Next Generation

Back before the summer I was lamenting about how I’ve given up on Generation Y for inspiration and looking at the generation beyond them (see Forget the Millennials.  Why I’m Betting on Generation Z).  I found it amazing that 50% of 11 year-olds have their own cell phones and 40% of 8 year-olds use the internet daily.  If having to explain to my kids the difference between VHF and UHF television channels didn’t make me feel old, then watching them carry around tablets certainly does. 

But, I’m over it.  I may be a dinosaur, but I’m a dinosaur that can still learn a few new tricks.  That’s why I’ve been observing how younger kids use technology for clues as to how us “older” folks can be better virtual workers.  For example, I mentioned in an earlier post that some employers are requiring job applicants to hand over their Facebook passwords or forcing employees to ‘friend’ their managers (see Your Boss Wants Your Facebook Password).  While speaking with a few local high school kids, a thought occurred to me.

“Are you friends with your parents on Facebook?” I asked.  I didn’t bother asking if they even had a Facebook account.  A few of them said they had at least one parent as a Facebook friend – mandated by their parents.

“How do you get around that?” I asked.  It took a few minutes of coaxing and promising that I wasn’t going to turn them in, but one mentioned how he and his friends use Twitter to vent, express themselves, meet up, find the next party, etc. while keeping a very innocuous Facebook page to keep their parents happy.  At this point, I started to see the future if more employers start intruding on their employees’ Facebook pages.  Employees will simply find other social media or communication tools for personal use while placating their employers with a more professional social media face.

Beyond social media, kids can teach us how to use technology better and differently.  My kids, who are elementary school age, are teaching me a little about virtual collaboration.  My children have become addicted to an online game called Minecraft, in which players can construct anything they want with different types of blocks.  Sort of like a virtual Lego world.  My daughter, using her Kindle Fire, will work with my son on my iPad to build out their own landscape and designs.  What’s interesting is that they sit right next to each other on the sofa, heads down in their screens, while shouting commands to each other.  It got me thinking about typical web conferencing tools like WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc. are used.  We assume that these applications work when we are virtual, but limit their use when we are in person.  Watching my kids made me realize the value of collaborating virtually, even when we are face to face, and how the tool itself makes us more efficient when building out new ideas.

I challenge you to watch how your own kids use and how they interact with tools and technology.  You just might learn something.




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