By Lars Wittig

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A lot has been said about the headline-dominating screen generation who have their own ideas about how companies should be run. The time has come for Human Resource (HR) managers to start paying attention to this generation and the forces of change currently at play in the modern workplace.

For a Baby Boomer like me, Millennials are the most successful generation that I’ve come across during my professional life. They work in the evenings, on Saturdays, and Sundays. Why? Because they’re always connected. They don’t separate work and leisure as the older generations do. I think they practice work-life integration much better than their older peers.

Blurring of the lines

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For their dedicated work ethic and the positive impact from this blurred distinction between their work and personal lives, Millennials demand certain flexibility in return. They want to belong to a community because that is where they find their gratification, both in working and socializing, learning and in being productive. Separation between the classroom and production is blurred because it’s always both.

The Millennials’ more cynical critics have said that excessive pandering to their whims and fancies is over-indulgent, which is myopic, short-sighted, and only telling half of the story. This flexible work arrangement  has saved companies significant amounts of money. Knowing what the employee wants makes the HR manager deliver more. Chief financial officers are even happier because they can cut down on approximately 55 percent of their capital investments and fixed expenses, through flexible workspace arrangements.

Cost of unused real estate

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According to office real estate studies, more than 55 percent of office desks are empty at any one point in time. Chief executives and financial officers have worked out that their organizations are unable to completely utilize their office real estate throughout the duration of the lease. As such the office is typically under-utilized and stands empty for up to 40 to 55 percent of the time.

Hence, transferring to flexible desks reduces the number of actual desks needed and management of facilities become more cost efficient. This becomes an imperative when more employees work remotely. Therefore, the economics of flexibility is undeniable.

Another central element to the talk is the speed of change in business. With economic cycles becoming more dynamic and frequent, we are unable to accurately predict where a company will be in 10 years—or even in six months. With that kind of dynamic change, the need to be flexible is even more pronounced. Agility is key, for the expenses as well as the liabilities.

Alongside flexible working and a sense of community, adaptability is the last of the three key lessons that HR must learn from Millennials. And not just for the sake of the younger generation, but also to survive as a modern business. After all, it won’t be long before these workers are calling the shots.

The future of business sector

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Ten years from now, Millennials will be the decision makers. It can easily be argued that they are perhaps more successful than their age and experience justifies. But for business to succeed in this digitally dynamic economic environment, it is pivotal for Millennials to get access to the other generations, including Baby Boomers, just as it is for us to get access to them and learn from them.

As HR managers’ primary focus and goal is to derive the best value from all of their human resources talent, it is rapidly becoming imperative that we learn to build modern business organizations with flexible workplace arrangements, are cost efficient, have agile business environments, and are truly collaborative spaces where the different generations comingle and share in a community.
Otherwise, we will wake up and learn too late that the world has changed.

Lars Wittig is International Workplace Group (WIG) country manager for the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and South Korea.

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