Can You Hear Me?

By Ian Thomson

I used to work in an organised environment. I should probably clarify. I’m still organised, obviously(!), but I used to work for a corporation. The BBC, to be exact, where I was an arts broadcaster and journalist. So I was used to lots of sharing office space and watercooler moments.

Now that I run my own business, those watercooler moments are rarely in real time. Especially as many of my peripatetic team are in their twenties. We even have one employee who is 19. We love the energy that this brings, the new perspectives and invaluable insights into the lives of millennials and the generation behind them (now I feel old – for the record I’m 45). But it can sometimes feel as though we are communicating on different planets.

Take actually using a phone to make a telephone call. According to O2, telephone apps on smartphones are only the fifth most-used app, and it’s the millennials who are behind this. They’re more likely to text (and even this is considered a bit retro) SnapChat or WhatsApp. This can make it difficult for me to get hold of an employee and get confirmation that what I’m asking them to do is being done. Psychologists refer to this reluctance to use a phone as a form of communication anxiety. It’s particulary because you have to stop what you’re doing to answer a call, whereas with Instant Messenger or Whatsapp you can answer when you want.

Surveys reveal that 68% of millennials text constantly throughout the day. I sometimes find the media tricky in a work context, particularly with texts peppered with emojis. What can I say but “:-o”. Which I think means, ‘Completely shocked that you think this is a suitable way to communicate in a non-social context. You’re working, not going to a party. OMG’. Texting can also be problematic with a generation who won’t tolerate paying for individual messages, hence the popularity of apps like WhatsApp and others offering free, instant messaging.

A staggering 205 billion emails are sent every single day. Gulp. The last time I was in a mainstream office email was in its infancy, and my children laugh when they hear of one computer set up per office to use it. I slightly struggle with the media because to me it feels as though emails need an immediate response, which can be stressful when emails ping from all corners of the globe 24/7. Millennials are so used to emails that they manage them far more effectively, being more likely than any other age group to give a fake email address when prompted to avoid spamming, and happily deleting irrelevant emails without opening them. 70% of millennials are also perfectly happy to check their email out of work hours – it’s how they cut their teeth in the work place.

Millennials are also massive over-sharers, photographing everything from their smashed avocado on toast breakfast to the shoes they’re thinking of buying in order to canvas opinion from friends. This gives marketers the chance to offer them content they genuinely find interesting. As a former broadcaster I’m used to being part of the picture, as it were, but this informal way of sharing takes some getting used to. My young team has taught me about Live Facebook, Instagram Stories and all kinds of face filters. One thing I’m not planning to do is post anything of myself wearing cartoon bunny ears or a twitchy bunny nose, but never say never. Technology, like fashion, has a way of catching up with you.

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