Citrix research shows those ‘Born Digital’ can deliver superlative results — if leaders know what makes them tick

Self-awareness as an individual attribute provides the context to better understand others and to find common ground. But what about self-awareness of entire generations?

Are those born before the mass appeal and distribution of digital technology able to make the leap in their awareness of those who have essentially been Born Digital? Does the awareness gap extend to an even more profound disconnect between how today’s younger generations think and those more likely to be in the leadership positions in businesses?

Do the bosses really get their entry-level cohorts? And what, if any, impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had in amplifying these perception and cognition gaps?

Stay with us as BriefingsDirect explores new research into what makes the Born Digital generation tick. And we’ll also unpack ways that the gap between those born analog and more recently can be closed.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about the paybacks and advantages of understanding and embracing the Born Digital Effect, please welcome Tim Minahan, Executive Vice President of Business Strategy and Chief Marketing Officer at Citrix, and Amy Haworth, Senior Director of Employee Experience at Citrix. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tim, your latest research into what makes those Born Digital tick bucks conventional wisdom. Why did Citrix undertake this research in the first place?

Minahan: This is the first generation to grow up in an entirely digital world. In another decade or so, the success or failure of businesses — the entire global economy — will be in the hands of this Born Digital generation.

We wanted to get inside their heads to see what makes them tick. That helps us to help our customers design their post-pandemic work environments and work models to best support the needs of this emerging group of leaders.

The good news is that the Born Digital generation — those born after 1997 — is primed to deliver significant economic gains — some $1.9 trillion in corporate profits. But there certainly were some divergences in what they need to do that and how they view work.

Certainly, the pandemic has forever changed the way we all work, but it had a particularly profound impact on the Born Digital generation. Many of them began or had their early careers during the crisis. Remote and technology-driven work is all that they have ever known. Organizations need to be aware of these scenarios as they plan for the future so as to not leave out or disengage from this future generation of leaders.

The Born Digital difference

Gardner: Tim, like me, you were born analog. What surprised you most about this generation?

Minahan: Certain key findings debunked a lot of the myths around what motivates these workers. Our research reveals a fundamental disconnect. First, job stability and work-life balance are what matter most to these employees.

Citrix Research Shows Leaders Disconnected From Younger Employees.

Learn How to Unlock Their Full Potential.

Largely faced with an uncertain job environment, these younger workers are most focused on fundamental work factors like career stability and security. They also want to work in their own way. So, they are looking for a good work-life balance and more flexible work models.

And this is poorly understood by leaders, who — in the same research — showed that they think, behind access to technology, the Born Digital generation values opportunities for training and meaningful, impactful work. And, while those are important, they’re further down the list.

It turns out that job satisfaction, career stability and security, and a good work-life balance ranks above compensation and the manager they work with.

And it’s become very clear — business leaders overestimate the appeal of the office. Ninety percent of Born Digital generation employees do not want to return to the office full-time post-pandemic. They prefer a more flexible or hybrid model, which is in stark contrast to the leadership where 58 percent believe that young workers will want to spend most or all their time working in an office. And this is a real Catch-22 that we’re all going to need to grapple with not years from now but in the next few months.

Gardner: Amy, does the way companies misinterpret their employees mean we need an employee experience reboot?

Haworth: After reading this research, I felt an overwhelming sense of the importance of listening. That means getting really curious, and not only curious at big moments, like returning to the office or moving a vast number of employees out of offices — but getting curious all the time.

If we design employee experience strategies around old assumptions, we’re missing each other in the workplace. Experiences are built in the day-to-day moments. We need to build the hybrid workplace around trust and inclusivity.

It was so clear to me that if we are designing employee experience strategies around old assumptions, we’re missing each other in the workplace. One of the frameworks for employee experience we use heavily at Citrix is the idea that experiences are built in the day-to-day moments. The touchpoints that employees have in the human space, the physical space, and the digital space. At Citrix, we have rethought and rebooted our own experience, coming back into a hybrid workplace, and built around the idea of trust and inclusivity.

And it’s interesting in this research how much trust in autonomy and in inclusivity emerged as critical components for the Born Digitals. Interestingly, that seems to extend into other generations as well. It became the framework for us and our approach to hybrid work — a philosophy — and a way to build the infrastructure for that. We wanted to record and cultivate trust in our own culture.

Work together, even when apart

Minahan: Visionary leaders are using this moment in time to rethink future of work models and turn their work environments to competitive advantage. A growing number of our customers are now trying to navigate through these situations in their post-pandemic work model planning.

One of the big topics is not just about where people work. I think there’s a false-positive that some executives are doing with the belief that everyone wants to get back to the office full-time. Because the initial burst of productivity has declined, they’re using the last 15 months as a proxy for what remote work is.

Let’s be clear. The last year and a half has not been remote work, it’s been remote isolation. There needs to be a deeper level of understanding, as Amy said, as you move into your planning of what truly motivates people. You need to truly understand what’s going to attract the right talent and importantly what’s going to engage them and allow them to be successful in driving the business outcomes that you’re hoping for them to achieve.

Gardner: I find it not just a little ironic that we’re going to be seeking to better listen and better communicate when we’re not together in an office. There may be an inability to see the trees for the forest when you’re in the same office going through the same work patterns. Maybe breaking that pattern leads to even better communication. Amy?

Haworth: I think you are spot-on, Dana. One of the metaphors I’ve come to love is the idea of being at the ocean. If you’ve ever been anywhere where the tide comes in, at first you can’t see certain things. Then as the tide goes back out, there are tide pools full of life and vibrancy. They have been there all along, but you just couldn’t see them.

And that clearly emulates what is happening in organizations. These opportunities around hybrid work give us another chance to break the script. It helps us discover pieces in our organizations that may not have been working that great to start with and were causing friction all along.

Distributed work is happening. We’re having to be more explicit about the conversations around communication, collaboration, the expectations of each other, and what it means to help each other. Raising up those things anew is so important no matter the setting, no matter the workplace.

We’re now in a unique environment where we have this window of time to get very specific and not take it for granted — but to rebuild with intention. I truly hope that organizations are smart and do that with a concerted effort, with concerted energy, and then reap the rewards.

Distributed and dynamic workplaces

Minahan: Amy hits on two great points. One is there’s a real risk, as we move to hybrid work, that we create a culture of unintentional biases for those office-first-focused folks who may be conducting meetings or collaboration styles that preclude, or don’t include, folks working remotely.

It isn’t just about having the right technology in place, it’s also about having the right policies in place. The cultural aspects and expectations need to create a workplace that has inclusivity and equality — no matter where work is done. The reality is we are going to continue to work in a very distributed mode, where certain team members won’t all be in the same room.

Those Born Digital Will Soon Determine Your Business’s Success.

Here’s How to Understand Them Better.

You must harness technology, institute policies, and set the expectations that remote workers are still active participants in the process and that information flows freely. That means investing in collaborative work management solutions that create a secure digital collaboration environment. These solutions align people around similar goals and objectives and key results (OKRs) that have visibility into the status and into how projects are progressing, whether you’re in the office or somewhere else.

By understanding the dependencies between the dispersed teams and other actions that need to be done, you create the business outcomes you want. These are the types of tools and policies that support the hybrid work environments that people are so desperately trying to create right now.

Gardner: The last year and a half has given us an opportunity to change the playbook. What we’re hearing from the younger generations is they’re not opposed to that. As we seek to best change the playbook, what has the Citrix research told you?

Born free to choose how to work

Minahan: We engaged with two external research partners on this, Coleman Parkes Research and Oxford Analytica. They surveyed and did qualitative interviews with more than 1,000 business leaders and more than 2,000 knowledge workers across 10 countries. To prepare for the future, it was very clear that leaders need to get a grip on the expectations and motivations of this Born Digital generation and adapt their work models, workplaces, and work practices to better cultivate them.

There were three primary findings. You should focus on where this generation wants to work. Prepare them for success in distributed work environments. Companies need to give employees freedom to choose where they work best.

You should focus on where this generation wants to work. Prepare them for success in distributed work environments. Companies need to give employees freedom to choose where they work best.

To Amy’s point, it’s about fit and function. Sometimes it is important to come together in offices for collaboration and social and cultural connections. For other forms of work, it is optimal for individuals to have the space they need to think, be creative, and succeed. The Born Digital cohort wants and needs that flexibility — to have both work environments purpose-fit for the work they need to get done.

Secondly, beyond where they work, the five-day work week that has vestiges of the industrial revolution is probably not appropriate. Same for the 9 am to 5 pm workday. We’re finding that a lot of folks need to take a break mid-day to recharge. So instead of thinking about one big block of time, think about sub-blocks that allow workers to optimize the work-life balance and to recharge. That drives the best energy to do your best work. And this is a very clear finding from the study on how the Born Digital want to work.

The last part is about how they work. They want autonomy and the opportunity to work in a high-trust environment. They want to have the right tools to have transparency, collaborate, and drive connectivity with their co-workers and peers — even if they’re not physically in the room together. They want compensation that recognizes and rewards performance, as well as strong and visible leadership.

And so those are some of the key attributes that are important as companies design their new work models.

Gardner: Amy, we’re now talking about things like trust and motivation. It seems to me that those are universally important, whether you’re born with digital technology or not.

Why does the digital technology generation have a stronger concept around trust and motivation? Is there a connection between being Born Digital and those intrinsic-but-profound values?

Haworth: Think about how these Born Digital knowledge workers have come into the workforce. Most have had some level of college education. They were used to being very autonomous university students as they figured out their activity-based work habits. How do they get the most done? Where does work happen best — in the library, or in their dorm rooms, or apartments?

The Future of Work Demands Flexibility,

Choice, and Autonomy.

Lean to Foster a More Engaged Workforce.

The transition into an office is simply another step in developing a capability that they’ve been building for years. And so, if organizations are not leading with trust, transparency, autonomy, and allowing the digital tools they’ve come to expect and leverage in their educational path, that feels like there’s a massive disconnect. They’re not only undoing some of the amazing self-leadership that these Born Digitals have grown within themselves, but organizations are also depriving themselves of rethinking the ideas that the Born Digital generation is coming up with.

They are more accustomed than some of their predecessor generations to having seniority when it comes to using digital tools. And as we take an opportunity to flip our mindset, most of the time business leaders with more seniority are thinking, “Well, we have to groom this next generation of leaders.”

We may want to flip that mindset. Instead, think about how this new generation of leaders can groom the current leadership through things like reverse-mentorships or by sharing their voices. A manager with a team that includes Born Digitals can ask for their input and give permission for them to help shape the future of work together.

The organizations that do so are going to be much more well-suited to the economic benefits of this talent, as Tim highlighted at the beginning. It’s latent talent until we unlock it. It will take a conscious decision of leadership to think about how they can we best learn from this generation. They have a whole lot of things to teach us from what they envision as the future of work.

Increase your app-titude

Minahan: Amy brings up a good point that showed up in the research. That is dissonance between what older workers and leaders perceive as their experience and that of the Born Digital generation. That gap extends to both in the tools they use to do their work, as well as on how they communicate.

On the technology side, for example, young workers and leaders inhabit very different digital worlds. The research found that only 21 percent of business leaders use instant messaging apps such as Slack or WhatsAppfor work, as compared with 81 percent of Born Digital employees.

If you want to build trust and communication, it’s very hard if you are not hanging out in the same places. Similarly, only 26 percent of business leaders like using these apps for work compared to 82 percent of the Born Digitals. Clearly, there are very different work habits and work tools that the Born Digitals prefer. As leaders look to cultivate, engage with, and recruit these Born Digital workers, they are going to need to understand what tools to use to communicate to foster the next generation of leaders.

Haworth: That statistic also caught my eye; that 26 percent of business leaders like using these apps for work compared with 82 percent of Born Digital workers. Every organization that I have spoken with in my career, honestly, but especially in the last 36 months, has talked about how hard it is to get messages out into the organization. And when you step back and say, “Well, how are you trying to communicate that message?” Oftentimes what I hear is a company intranet or email.

Citrix Research Shows Leaders Disconnected From Younger Employees.

Learn How to Unlock Their Full Potential.

If we take something as incredibly important as communication and think about what could be applied from this data to specific segments — to communication, to leadership, to recruiting — this becomes a really salient point and very relevant for the planning and strategy of how to best reach these workers.

In the employee experience space, one of the key ideas is not everybody is the same. Employee experience is built around personalization. Much of this research data is rich with aligning a strategy to personalize the experience for the Born Digitals for both their own benefit as well as the benefit of the organization. If people only take one thing from this report, to me that could be it right there.

Minahan: Yes, we could fill up a whole list of Slack conversations with that topic, absolutely!

Gardner: It strikes me that there is a propensity for these younger workers to naturally innovate. If you give them a task, they are ready and willing to figure out how to do it on their own. Older workers wait around to be told how to do things.

I wonder if this innovation propensity in the younger workers is an untapped, productivity boom, and that allowing people to do things their own way — as long as the job gets done — is a huge benefit to all.

Innovation generation integrates AI

Minahan: I think you are onto something there. With the do-it-yourself or YouTube generation, you see it in your own children, they teach themselves or find ways to figure things out — whether it’s a math problem or a hobby.

Best practice sharing mentoring as a benefit applies to solving problems, of how to adapt and learn. Reverse mentoring, formal or informal, has a big opportunity to raise all boats.

Amy mentioned earlier the importance of reverse-mentoring, and that’s no joke. We first talked about it as teaching the older generation how to use technology. But there is a best-practice-sharing benefit as applies to solving problems, of how to constantly adapt, and continue to learn. That reverse mentoring, whether it’s formal or informal, has a real big opportunity to lift all boats.

Gardner: As these folks innovate, we also now have the means to digitally track what they are doing. We can learn, on a process basis through the data, what works better, which allows us to improve our processes constantly and iteratively. Before, we were all told how to do things. We did it, and then we redid it, and not much changed.

Is there an opportunity here to create a new business style combining the data-driven capability to measure what people are doing as well as having them continue to do it in an experimental fashion?

Haworth: Yes, there is now an amazing opportunity to think about how machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) can become a guide. As the data fuels insights, those insights can help make workers more effective and potentially far more productive.

When I think of reverse-mentoring, I not only would love to have a Born Digital mentor me on technology, but I also wouldn’t mind having an AI coach tap into places where I’m missing things. They could intervene and help me find a better way, to guide my work, or to think about who else might be interested in this topic. That could fuel an interesting discussion and help me make connections within my organization.

Those Born Digital Will Soon Determine Your Business’s Success.

Here’s How to Understand Them Better.

The Born Digital generation also specified in the Citrix report how distinct their experiences are when it comes to building new connections within organizations. Technology can play a role in that, not only by removing friction to give us time to connect with other human beings, but to also guide us to where those connections might be productive ones. And by productive, I don’t necessarily mean only output, but where it leads to idea generation, further innovation, scaling, and to creating coalitions and influence that lead to desirable outcomes.

Minahan: The world is moving so quickly today. Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace; it’s changing how we engage and do business. The growth-hack skillset for the individual career right now is those who can continuously learn and quickly adapt. That’s going to be critical.

We think the Born Digital generation has a lot to offer on that front, and they can teach the entire culture to support that. As Amy said, then augmenting that culture with AI or ML and other tools so that it becomes an institutional upgrade in skills, knowledge, and best-practice-sharing — so that everyone is absolutely performing at their best and everyone can begin to see around corners and adapt much quicker — that’s what’s going to create the high-performing, curious, and growth-oriented organizations of the future.

Gardner: How do we now take this research into action? How do we move from the observation that there is an awareness and perceptions gap — and maybe $1.9 trillion at stake — and go about self-evaluating and changing?

Listen fully to learn and lead

Haworth: Number one for me is to listen. And listening is hard for some. It requires time, but I will advocate that it doesn’t take a lot of time.

I have a little game to offer everyone. It’s called 5 for 5, which means talk to five people with five questions, and ask those five questions to all of them. Don’t defend. Don’t explain. Just get genuinely curious — and start with your Born Digitals. Most organizations have an easy way for leaders to find them. They might be on your team. They might be your kids, your nieces, your nephews, or a neighbor down the street. But spend a little bit of time just listening.

And from those five people, we know you are likely to find some themes, just those five conversations. And then put it on your calendar to do that at least once a quarter. These are the most interesting opportunities leaders have to inform strategy, to think about what’s next, and to learn something about a person that they may never have known before.

Talk to five people and ask five questions of all of them. Start with your Born Digitals. You are likely to find themes that will inform strategy for leaders.

We recently went through a cycle of this internally at Citrix as part of our hybrid philosophy building and to help develop the capabilities and tools we need in the organization for teams to be effective. I happened to be aligned to interview our Born Digital segment. Most of them were fairly new in their careers, and some had started during COVID.

My favorite question was, “If you were a manager right now, what would you be focused on?” Across the board, each of these interviewees, employees at our organization, said, “I would be very clear on what’s expected as far as working hours and when it’s okay to log off.”

That insight alone was validated in the research. Not only is this generation looking for job stability and security, but they are also very likely to not be the ones to ask for permission. They are looking around to figure out what’s okay and not okay.

We need to be clear about helping them define boundaries and to model those boundaries because Born Digital doesn’t mean born burnt out. We want to be sure that we keep the engagement, curiosity, innovation, creativity, and energy that the Born Digital population brings into organizations. We need to help them be successful by developing a sustainable pattern for work.

Gardner: Tim, how do you see us closing the gap in the near term?

Keep it simple to reduce daily din

Minahan: The convergence of the digital workspace demands tools that facilitate open and equitable collaboration and transparency across teams, whether they are in the office or working remotely. That includes driving continuous learning and best-practice-sharing and achieving better business outcomes together. The physical workplace needs to be fitted for purpose when is it important to come together, when we do benefit from that, whether it’s for collaborative projects or the social aspects, such as for creating that water-cooler dynamic.

The Future of Work Demands Flexibility,

Choice, and Autonomy.

Lean to Foster a More Engaged Workforce.

As Amy just mentioned, which I think is so critically important, the ultimate success in this is going to require how you transition your culture. How do you make it okay for people to turn off in this always-connected world? How do you set norms on how we create an equitable, inclusive workplace for those that work in the office and those who work remotely?

Amy has put in place here at Citrix a very good framework. Similar to that, we are advising our customers to triangulate between a Venn diagram of creating the right digital workplace, coupling it with the right purpose-built workspace, and then enabling it all with common policies and culture that foster equality, inclusiveness and focus on business outcomes.

Gardner: Is there something about the way technology itself has been delivered into the marketplace by vendors, including Citrix, that also needs to change? When we talk about culture, behavior, and motivations, that’s not the way that technology has been shaped and delivered. Is there a lesson from this research?

Haworth: Great employee experiences are shaped by empowerment of employees at a very personal level. When technology guides and automates work experiences to free the person up from the noise, the friction, of having to log-in to multiple tools, to context switch — all of that creates a draining effect on a human. The technology is now positioned to remove that friction by letting technology do what technology does best, which is to automate, guide, and organize based on personal preferences.

New innovations from platforms such as Citrix help unite work all in one place to simplify tasks for the employee. It means there is more that the employee doesn’t have to think about. It’s seamless. That quality of interaction is a key lever in creating positive employee experiences, which lead to engagement and commitment to an organization in a world that is fraught right now with finding talent, with fighting attrition, and cultivating the right talent to innovate into the future. All of these elements really matter, and technology has a big role to play.

Gardner: It sounds like automation is another word we should be using. We talked about using ML and AI to help, but the more you can automate, even though that sounds in conflict with allowing people to be flexible, is important.

Minahan: Amy hit the nail on the head. It is about automating and guiding employees, but it’s also removing the noise from their day. The dirty little secret in business is each of these individual tools that we have introduced into our workday on their own added productivity, helping us do our jobs, but collectively they have created such a cacophony of noise and distraction in our day, it’s actually frustrating employees.

If you think back to pre-pandemic, one of the dynamics was a Gallup study that showed employees were more disengaged than at any other time in history. Some 86 percent of employees felt they were disengaged at work because they were frustrated with the complexity of the work environment, all the tools, the apps, and chat channels that were interrupting them from doing their jobs. And that’s only been exacerbated throughout the pandemic as people don’t even have a clearly defined beginning and end to their days. And so it continues.

As we introduce technology, we need to mute the noise. We need to automate mundane tasks so employees don’t change context every two seconds. Create a unifying workspace that allows access to all tools and content in the right context.

One of the things we need to be thinking about as technologists, as we introduce technology or we build solutions, is how do you mute this noise? How do you automate some of the mundane tasks so that employees don’t need to switch context every two seconds? How do you create a unifying workspace that allows them to have access to all the tools, all the apps, all the content, all the business services they need to get their job done without needing to remember multiple passwords and go everywhere else?

And how do you begin to literally use things like AI and ML to guide them through their day, presenting them with the right information at the right time, not all the information, allowing them to execute tasks without needing to navigate multiple different environments? Then, how do you create a collaborative workspace that is equitable and provides transparency and a common place for folks to align around common goals, execute against projects, understand the status, no matter whether they are working in an office in a conference room together or are distributed to all corners of the globe?

Gardner: For those older leaders or younger entrants into the workspace who want to learn more about this research, how can they? And what comes next for Citrix research?

Design the future of work

Minahan: Anyone can find this research available on citrix.com. This research effort, as well as future research efforts, are part of an initiative we took together with academia, research organizations, and governments starting well over a year ago called the Work 2035 Project to try to understand the skills, organizational structures, and role technology plays in shaping the future of work. The only difference is the future of work is arriving a heck of a lot faster than any of us ever expected.

The next big event is that we are hosting a thought leadership event that will be based in part on the latest research effort in October, a virtual summit we are calling Fieldwork, where we are going to bring together some of the industry thought leaders around the topic of how the future of work is evolving and have an open dialogue, and we will be providing more information on that as we get closer.

Gardner: Amy, for those organizations that may have learned more about the employee experience function of governance, leadership, and management, what advice do you have for organizations should they be interested in setting up an employee experience organization?

Haworth: First, I say congratulations to those organizations for investing and taking the time to invest in understanding what employee experience means in the context of their particular desire for business outcomes and in their particular culture.

Citrix published this year some very helpful research around the employee experience operating model. It can be found on citrix.com in the Fieldwork section. I personally have leveraged this in setting up some of the key pillars of our own philosophy and approach to employee experience. It is deep and it will also be a great springboard for moving forward with establishing both a mindset and some practices and programs leading to exceptional stronger employee experiences.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Citrix.

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Gardner is a creative thought leader on enterprise software, cloud, mobile, big data and social strategies. He is a prolific blogger and podcaster.

Gardner is a creative thought leader on enterprise software, cloud, mobile, big data and social strategies. He is a prolific blogger and podcaster.