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StrategyOct 03, 2019

How Gen Z and Agile Are Creating the Workforce of the Future

JoLynn Smith

Gen Z comprises 61 million people born between 1996 and 2010 and is poised to comprise 40% of the consumer and workforce population by 2020. Driven by their unique early experiences, gen Z’s preferences and behaviors later in life will vary from past generations. This is a generation that grew up during the Great Recession. They don’t remember a time without cell phones. They came of age with Netflix and Instagram. In short, gen Z is wired differently from other generations. With the oldest range of gen Z just starting to enter the workforce, we are beginning to see what their professional approach looks like. Because this generation is poised to disrupt current trends in the workforce, it is essential that companies start preparing now to create the environment and patterns needed for the success of gen Z in the workplace.

Many companies are ahead of the curve, with several executives naming “creating the organization of the future” as one of their main priorities. In creating the organization of the future, many companies are exploring the concept of agile methodology. Agile is a way of working that emphasizes short delivery cycles, frequent feedback, and rapid iterations in order to drive solutions to market faster and with higher quality. Because of the benefits agile provides, 90% of senior executives are placing a high priority on transitioning their company to agile ways of working. This makes agile transformation a trend that, like gen Z, shouldn’t be ignored.

Given that gen Z is the workforce of the future and agile is trending to be the workplace of the future, this article explores the relationship between the two. In looking at the work preferences of gen Z, there is a natural correlation between gen Z’s work preferences and agile ways of working. This relationship is discussed below. These findings are not only exciting, but translate into practical recommendations as companies prepare to create the optimal environment for gen Z.

there is no “i” in “team” … or in “gen z”

Gen Z is a social generation. Maybe it’s because they grew up with social media where interaction was only a click away. No matter the reason, gen Z prioritizes socializing and teamwork. This is a generation that expects to work in teams and views teamwork as a way to build positive work relationships. Nearly a quarter of gen Z would not take a job if these positive work relationships didn’t exist, so companies must adapt now to create team opportunities for gen Z.

This team-centric perspective of gen Z ties into agile, as a core tenant of agile is its emphasis on self-forming, self-governing teams. Gen Z places a high priority on working with people with diverse education and skill levels, and this generation shows a natural inclination for forming the type of cross-functional teams necessary for the successful use of agile. Gen Z is more likely to view community as stemming from a shared cause or interest versus having a common educational or economic background. As agile teams are dedicated to developing and deploying specific features, the very foundation of an agile team is a shared cause or interest. Gen Z’s preference for and ability to form communities can be a crucial force in driving agile teams to success.

working together, separately

Gen Z believes you can get work done anywhere, with anyone. In fact, they prefer a degree of independence in their workplace environment. This work from home attitude is driving an increase in remote working; it is estimated that by 2028, 73% of teams will include remote workers.

This emphasis on remote work may stem from the fact that by 2000, the majority of Americans had a personal computer in their home. This means gen Z grew up accessing the internet from home. Not only did gen Z have access to personal computers and smartphones, they also had widespread access to free Wifi for as long as they can remember. This makes gen Z the first generation of true digital natives. Their comfort with technology has grown to the point where the average member of gen Z uses five screens (a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and tablet) and is online for over 10 hours a day. Being digital natives, gen Z is comfortable mixing online and offline experiences to create a work reality that includes remote workers.

Remote work is a reality that is consistent with agile because it encourages the use of collaborative technologies. These technologies allow for collaboration across geographic location, allowing gen Z’s preference for remote work to seamlessly integrate with current work processes. Beyond promoting collaboration, agile is most effective when technology and tools remain consistent across teams. Consistent tools and technologies allow workers to contribute meaningfully, no matter what their location is or who they are working with. Currently, 68% of agile teams do so with multiple, co-located teams. This means multiple agile teams collaborate across geographic boundaries, showing a natural accommodation of agile methodologies in allowing for the reality of gen Z’s interest in remote work.

what do they want? feedback. when do they want it? now.

Gen Z values frequent check-ins, continuous feedback, and the ability to contribute to their surroundings. As the driving force behind the over 4.2 billion daily “likes” on Instagram, it is no surprise that this generation values instant feedback and the ability to feel heard. This means the annual performance review is not enough for this generation. Instead, 97% of gen Z prefers feedback on an ongoing basis or after completing a large project or task.

This desire for continuous feedback parallels the work processes created through agile. One way agile allows for consistent and frequent feedback is through daily stand-ups. This allows each team member to discuss what they worked on the day before, what they plan to work on that day, and any blockers they are encountering. This daily touchpoint among teams provides a natural outlet for feedback, tying into gen Z’s strong preference for continuous feedback.

Another common element of agile is the emphasis on short development cycles called sprints. As most sprints tend to be a week or two weeks long, this promotes shorter feedback cycles. The sprint cycle aligns with gen Z’s strong preference for feedback after finishing up a large project or task. By executing using agile methodologies, companies can naturally create the feedback cycles desired by its gen Z workers.

gen z: the agile workforce of the future

These three factors—an emphasis on teamwork, prioritizing flexible work conditions, and a desire for feedback—are just the beginning in determining what the future of work will look like. What is clear is that those factors show a natural alignment between gen Z work habits and preferences and the principles behind agile methodologies. Currently, transforming the culture and ways of working at a company is seen as the biggest barrier to a successful agile transformation. With gen Z entering the workforce in a way that naturally accommodates for agile there is no longer a reason to delay this transformation.

Credera specializes in agile development and partners with leading companies to implement, adopt, and sustain agile practices in their product, technology, and marketing departments. Please reach out to us here if you want to learn more about our perspective on agile.