Who’s sitting at the workstation next to you? It might be Mindy, Raj, Jack, or Nicole, but chances are they also go by ‘baby boomer’, ‘Gen Xer’, ‘millennial’ or even ‘Gen Zer’. That means no matter how close your desks might be, you could stand far apart when it comes to workplace behavior.

As researchers David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom suggest, generational differences explain why many boomers think millennials have a ‘casual’ approach to work, or why Gen Zers can’t understand Gen Xers’ ‘arbitrary’ views about office behavior. However, to ensure that your team works in harmony, it is essential to open up room for dialogue and establish ground rules on office etiquette. Particularly, about the following:

#1: Forms of communication

Amongst millennials and the Gen Z like Jack and Nicole, text messages are as popular for getting things done as emails and face-to-face meetings. However, the baby boomers and the Gen X might think it is not emphatic enough, besides being intrusive. Find the middle ground. Use a rule of thumb that detailed conversations, highly sensitive topics, and interactions requiring a nuanced approach call for face-to-face communication.

By scheduling such meetings Nicole lets Raj know that he has her undivided attention. This also reduces chances of misinterpretation, especially in a diverse workplace. On the other hand, fact-oriented communication such as minutes of a meeting can be emailed – it attaches more permanence to them. And personal channels or social media could be used for conversation unrelated to work.

#2: Time management

As the workplace welcomes more young people into its fold, boomers and Gen X like Mindy and Raj feel they see tardy behavior from their younger coworkers. Millennials like Jack prefer a less regimented routine, which the boomers may consider too casual. So, while Mindy methodically finishes her tasks during office hours, Nicole tends to keep those lengthy reports for an all-nighter just before the deadline.

Make it easy for both sides with telecommuting options and flexible work timings. So, teams can focus more on the results, than on how they are achieved. Provided, there’s a non-negotiable: everyone communicates any change to their schedule in advance, so no colleague is left managing unexpected changes.

#3: Multi-tasking

While the ability to switch between tasks is often considered the millennials’ greatest strength, multi-tasking does come with its own set of problems. Younger workers like Jack may welcome the opportunity to shift focus onto different tasks. But, older workers may find it disruptive. Different workstyles are fine when approaching solo tasks, but how can team members across generations collaborate? Keep meetings and collaboration sessions short (30 minutes), just the way millennials like them, but focused, like the baby boomers would have it.

If these rules seem unnecessarily restrictive or lax, remember that they are rooted in respect for all and try to find a fair middle ground. With this etiquette established, it is easier to leverage the benefits of intergenerational work interactions and build teams that are diverse, creative, and productive.

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