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Collaboration Jumble or Dry Run for Gen Z's Arrival?

Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Box, Wrike, Trello, Flowdock, ProofHub, Zoho Workplace... the list of available collaboration tools is endless, as is the variety of offerings. Microsoft alone has packed its Office 365 suite with several collaboration tools, including Yammer, Outlook Groups, SharePoint Online, and Teams (which will absorb the Skype for Business UC capabilities, as announced last month at Microsoft Ignite). Are vendors racing for a win in collaboration, or is this really a dry run before Generation Z arrives at work in full force?

Why Gen Zers Are Special

Born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, Gen Z workers are just starting to enter the workforce. By 2020, Gen Z is expected to swell to a quarter of the U.S. workforce. Most Gen Zers are extremely tech-oriented, but a technology addiction isn't the only thing that makes them special. What requires employers' utmost attention is Gen Zer's expectations about work and collaboration habits.

Here are four critical characteristics that will influence organizational processes -- and determine winners among team collaboration solutions. Gen Z:

  1. Wants flexibility -- In short, Gen Zers don't want to be glued to their office chairs but rather want the freedom to move around the workplace for work activities. Their major requirement is being able to work remotely. This puts a heavy load on collaboration tools, as they will have to ensure quality working processes regardless of employee locations.
  2. Prefers regular feedback -- Gen Zers live in a chat-based reality, receiving instant feedback from peers on their activities. As such, they're inclined to apply the same collaboration pattern to their work. Research from HR consulting firm Randstad shows that almost 30% of Gen Z employees wait for feedback from their managers after every project or task. This will require companies to accept collaboration tools as essential feedback channels.
  3. Chooses online knowledge sharing -- Sixty percent of Gen Zers like to share their knowledge online, studies show. This preference is critical for companies that stick to knowledge management practices. They'll need to include collaboration-driven knowledge management tools if they expect the youngest employees to share their knowledge with the rest of the company.
  4. Engages via collaboration -- Intensive collaboration and communication impacts Gen Zers' engagement and retention directly, Randstad reported. This is where companies should make big improvements, as currently only 55% of employees' worldwide affirm their companies are good enough at cross-department and cross-functional collaboration.

What Collaboration Tools Do Gen Zers Need?

So what do Gen Zers see as the optimal in collaboration tools? Here are at least three things to consider:

  1. Mobile-enabled collaboration -- Gen Zers are heavily attached to their smartphones, and tend to check them every few seconds -- some even spend their entire days with their "smart friends." So if your company doesn't adopt mobile collaboration tools, get ready to see Gen Zers wave goodbye to you.
  2. Video conferencing is a must -- Gen Zers prefer video conferencing as the least annoying collaboration tool, according to the Randstad report. At the same time, they consider popular collaborative technologies like social networking, text messaging, or email as highly distracting.
  3. Chatbots are welcome -- Gen Z uses chatbots heavily because they can be funny, conversational, and helpful. A lot of brands already use chatbots to promote their products and services, so it's time for organizations to use them as Gen Z engagement catchers.

What Will Gen Z Fall for in Office 365?

Circling back to Office 365, we can take a look at how available tools meet Gen Z's collaboration expectations.

  • Outlook Groups -- Although email-related collaboration is unlikely to disappear within the next few years, emailing itself is very unpopular among Gen Zers. That's why expecting Gen Z employees to use Outlook Groups willingly is hard.
  • SharePoint Online -- This will remain the tool for creating team and community hubs, and will power all the document-related collaboration. SharePoint Online sites can help Gen Z stay tuned into their colleagues' activities and can satisfy their need for online knowledge sharing. User-friendly design and entertaining social features will be a must for SharePoint Online sites. Otherwise, Gen Z will visit them only upon request.
  • Yammer -- Offers a forum-like collaboration experience. For this reason, employees often use Yammer to collaborate with external users or manage slow-motion and broad cross-department and cross-team collaboration. Yammer alone will most probably have a quite moderate popularity among Gen Z. However, if coupled with other collaboration tools, such as a live chat, Yammer can pull a heavier collaboration weight.
  • Teams -- This teams-oriented tool tops the list of collaboration capabilities, and this is no coincidence. The tool became available in March as Microsoft's answer to Slack's swift advance. However, even being so young, Teams has a real chance to become Gen Zers' everyday assistant. Teams is well-designed and offers Gen Z-focused features such as comfortable channel-based conversations, click to video calling, and a variety of bots for assisting users in their work. A meme generator is another great feature that adds fun to a working routine.

Bridge Among Generations

All in all, the abundance of collaboration tools in the Office 365 suite can become Microsoft's competitive advantage and an important strategic step before Gen Z's arrival. Various tools can bridge the gap in collaboration habits and needs of different generations.

That's why it's just the right time for companies to try out the existing team collaboration solutions in various business conditions. A good idea is to let several teams, including representatives of different generations, to collaborate with different tools. Gather feedback, weigh the pros and cons of each tool, and identify the most Gen Z-oriented one for your organization's future success with collaboration.

Learn more about Team Collaboration at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advance Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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