The CCIL seminar last Wednesday addressed the issue of “generational communication preferences” within the workplace. The seminar began with a brief overview of the four major generations that are present in today’s job market: the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials. We were then introduced to the three guest panelists: Azure Collier, the youngest of the panelists, then Alicja Januszewicz, the Training Manager over at Boston Scientific (whose perspective on the “very traditional” tendencies of the place may not be entirely accurate), and finally Jose Ramirez, the Director of Diversity at UMass Memorial and the most senior of the three panelists. I appreciated the age differences between the three panelists – it made for a much more varied and insightful discussion. To be honest, the topic of the seminar was one that I had never before considered. Yet once the discussion began, its implications became immediately apparent – while communication technology continues to advance, those generations that do not advance along with it are at a severe disadvantage. As such, there must necessarily be some compromise between the ever-advancing technology of the workplace and those employees who are unfamiliar, or uncomfortable, with these virtual means of communication. Such a compromise can be, for example, a hospital-wide training program designed to familiarize employees with a new piece of technology, or it can be the simultaneous use of both newer and older methods of communication, i.e. sending out a mass email as well as posting a notice on the company bulletin board.
Jose addressed this issue by making a particularly interesting observation: although things like texting, tweeting, and email provide a much quicker and more convenient method of communication, not every employee uses, or is able to use, these devices. As such, today’s workplace is experiencing an overlap period in which all forms of communication must be used in order to reach everyone. Due to the increasing number of available channels, today’s workplace communications are actually less streamlined than they were a decade or so ago.
This point was supported Azure, WPI’s Director of Social Media, who said that, in an effort to reach all available alumni, she has to utilize as many different means of communication as are at her disposal. This includes traditional measures such as letters, phone calls, and newsletters. However, according to Azure, the majority of the response she receives comes from WPI’s facebook page. Yet even though most of Azure’s success occurs via virtual means, she made it clear that her job is to get the alumni back to the actual campus itself for events, fundraisers, etc. The goal of her job is to utilize WPI’s social media outlets in order to attract people back to Worcester for annual gatherings. I found this to be an interesting hybrid of traditional and modern approaches to communications – use technology to attract them back, and then old-fashioned face-to-face interaction to acquire donations.
Another aspect of discussion that I found particularly interesting was Dr. J’s question, “What new trends will appear in the workplace as newer and newer technology is introduced?” Azure tended to think that mobility will become more significant as phone technology is broadened. As it is, she mentioned a couple iPhone apps that are currently available that are increasing this trend: one that allows individuals to take an online tour of WPI, and another that lets the user know, like radar, if anyone in his/her phone book is within a certain range of his/her location. I found this idea to be intriguing – for some reason I often think of the virtual world and the real world as being separate, as though they are two distinct and individual things. While surfing the web, I do not really consider myself looking at real life, but at internet life. Azure’s theory of mobility seems to meld the two somewhat. A virtual world that can interact within the real world is novel to me, and I look forward to seeing it come to fruition. It has tremendous implications for the healthcare world – as phone technology improves, it may become less necessary for patients to actually go to hospitals for routine checkups, or it may allow for specialists to become infinitely more available to long-distance patients.
These are just a couple issues that resonated with me. I thoroughly enjoyed the seminar – it is an important subject, and one that I am glad I am now conscious of. In class we have spoken extensively about the dangers of miscommunication in healthcare, and so it was interesting to hear how certain organizations’ communications are handled. I also enjoyed gauging the panelists’ differing attitudes towards communication technology: Azure spoke of her iPhone and its apps with exuberance, whereas Jose seemed to view technology more as a necessary chore, and Alicja appeared to be indifferent. In that respect, the three panelists embodied their representative generations flawlessly.
by Andrew Aho