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Millennials and Messaging: The Workplace Communication Gap


Millennials’ workplace communications styles are creating a generation gap. Instead of picking up the phone or sending an email, they prefer to jump onto messaging apps. They want to incorporate visuals, emojis, and all the other tools of modern communication, and become frustrated when they can’t. What’s behind this trend, and what should employers do about it?

Millennials’ Workplace Communications

Young employees have a very different communication style from their employers. They fear phone calls and prefer messaging services to texts or email. In any office, you’ll find employees using WhatsApp or messaging clients by WeChat. The old order, only established twenty years ago, is being swept away, with email now seen as prehistoric.

It’s easy to dismiss this as millennials using what’s trendy and popular. But the truth goes deeper. This is a generation who have had smartphones for most of their adult life. Everything runs through that single lump of electronics, from their calendar to their music to the maps they use to navigate the world. In any situation, their first instinct is to use phone apps, and that extends to work.

The New Reality of Communications

In this cyberpunk world of pocket-sized computers and online lives, people have grown up with long, ongoing conversations that wind around each other as they flip constantly from one to the next. They check their phones constantly for updates and notifications, whether on urgent work issues or their Instagram likes.

Everything is instant for this generation, from checking the news on their phones to ordering a next day delivery from Amazon. Yet they’ve turned their back on what used to be the only instant means of communication – phone calls. Millennials see phone calls as intrusive and less effective for communication, as they don’t give them space to consider and shape their words. Emotions previously expressed through tone of voice are instead conveyed through emojis.

The reality of business communication is very different for millennials than for their elders. WhatsApp, messengers like WeChat, and other encrypted services like Telegram are all part of everyday life. They use these services to stay in contact with family and friends, so it’s natural that they’ll use them for work as well. It would feel odd not to.

The Benefits of Messengers in the Workplace

To younger workers, the idea that you might message clients by WhatsApp is the most natural thing in the world. To employers, moving business communications to messengers seems absurd. They’re happy to keep on working how they’ve always done, changing only when change is forced on them. It’s created a divergence of views, in which 44% of millennials say that their companies’ communications are outdate.

But while change is challenging, there are good reasons to follow the lead of younger staff.

Messaging apps provide options for communication that are missing from other formats. These include gifs, emojis, and even integrating voice messages into threads of text and images. This provides more ways to express yourself, and so aids communication. Email is infamous for lacking the emotional nuance of direct conversation, but emojis let you put the emotion back in, and remove much of the uncertainty in reading someone else’s mood.

The format of conversations on messengers’ communication software also encourages a more flowing style, with short sentences and swift responses keeping up the conversation. Communication is delivered a sentence at a time, becoming open-ended and flexible, instead of arriving in chunks. There’s less formality, which makes it easier for people to express what they mean on their own terms.

A Visual World

Perhaps the most striking addition is the use of visual content. Teachers and communicators have known for decades that people absorb information in different ways, and that adding visuals helps us absorb information. Now, thanks to messaging systems, businesses can act on that.

Messaging apps allow the use of many different visuals, from the compact emotive carriers of emojis to the eye-catching and referential movement of gifs. This plays to the strengths of millennials, over half of whom say that they understand information faster and remember more of it for longer if there’s a visual element.

But it extends beyond this younger generation. A study has found that two-thirds of employees are better at completing tasks when the instructions include videos or screenshots than when they are just text. Visuals provide clarity and variety to communications.

Messengers’ Business Communication Solutions

Tech companies like TiVo are finding ways to make messaging software more office friendly without losing its benefits. Tools like Slack have employer-customizable options but keep the informal style that marks millennials’ workplace communications.

It’s not about finding a single messenger app that will work for you. The secret to engaging with millennials, and to spreading the benefits of their world view, is variety. Look for specific apps geared toward specific forms of communication. For example, Slack is good for real time chat, while Google Hangouts is better for remote meetings. There are no “one size fits all” solutions, but there are a huge range of useful tools that millennials are already adapted to.

Email itself first entered many workplaces with private AOL and Hotmail accounts, before being adopted by businesses. A similar shift is taking place with newer messaging systems. The old guard are learning from younger colleagues and so improving business communications.

Embracing New Ways of Communicating

For some employers, it’s enough to know that employees communicate in this way. But most need to go further. Unmanaged messaging can create huge corporate risks (read here), and employers need clear guidelines and appropriate technology to avoid them. LeapXpert b2c Federated Messaging Orchestration Platform (about us)  elevates messaging to a formal business communication channel, similar to calling or emailing.

If you can, then embrace these new forms of communication. They allow a freer flow of ideas and make millennials feel at ease. They let you get more out of bright young employees, as well as better communication with clients, and who wouldn’t want that?

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