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New Tools for New

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 12-12-2007 Print

When Reef surfwear's Schneider, who is 49, speaks to co-workers, he makes eye contact and gives clear signals that he is in fact listening to what the other person is saying. But when he does that with some younger workers, he says, they keep looking at the screen of whatever device they are using at the moment. Multitasking and what's known as continuous partial attention are endemic to Generation Y. Younger workers at computers typically have multiple windows open—not just an SAP screen for the work at hand, for instance, but a side discussion with a colleague and an Internet window for research. "They don't work in serial fashion, but in parallel," he says.

That takes getting used to. So do the tools younger workers use to multitask. "Talking on the phone is their last resort," Schneider says. Phone calls take too long. Even e-mail takes too long—instant messaging has largely replaced it—and Facebook has become the way of communicating across a broader audience. The phone is a platform for text messaging and IM.

Young people use the technology to different ends, too, according to Erickson. They are amazed at the amount of time their seniors spend on what she calls social scheduling activities. "They very rarely schedule— they coordinate—and they are comfortable working asynchronously," she says. "They don't need a conference call, they just put the question out. They are more used to working physically alone, as opposed to more frequent social interactions."

Ben, the 30-year-old engineer, works remotely and connects with his team via IM. He can't imagine doing things differently, and it bugs him when his older colleagues are behind the curve. "A lot of the people I work with are tied into this old-school way of doing business," he says. "They say, let's get together to set up a call. It's like, another useless meeting. People today want it to be more like, 'Get out of my way and let me do my thing.' That's why so many people use the tools like texting and IM— because it's fast, the response time is quick. My team is all IM all the time."

The tools are changing. "I think that in a lot of cases, like the expectation that people will read and write blogs, the older generation has to catch up," says Ryan Shell, 28, who works in public relations and marketing in North Carolina. The same may be true of more esoteric technologies.


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