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The New Norm: Generational Differences — Adjusting to a Virtual Work Environment


As we’ve learned in Parts I (Defining the Times) and II (Who We Aren’t) of this series, varying generational characteristics, tendencies and misconceptions often result in workplace tensions among team members, particularly during stressful situations when swift changes must be made. Today, both individuals and organizations are struggling to cope with new and unfamiliar work environments where tensions threaten to destroy employee morale, hinder productivity and curb success. Together, we can overcome this.


Employees value work environments which enable the open and equal sharing of ideas and information. In response to changes that have recently occurred due to COVID-19, managers and organizations must set realistic expectations and allow ample time for adaptation to new remote work environments. As a manager, take a moment to ensure that everyone is:

  • Working toward the same overarching goals

  • Adjusting for the greater good of the organization

  • Given sufficient time in which to make the adjustment

Once a feeling of “safety” has been achieved, tensions will gradually dissipate. Working in a tension-free zone increases productivity, optimism and self-motivation, and enables employees to recognize the strengths of individuals from outside generations. Employees who feel safe will be more inclined to ask for help from others and, in turn, feel more comfortable communicating via technology like virtual meetings, which have only recently become essential.


One should not assume that the transition from in-person to virtual work will be smooth for everyone. Several will struggle with technology. Others will be hard pressed to believe that working from home could ever lead to positive results. Hold seminars and training sessions meant to educate employees and managers of all generations on how best to work together from afar.

When working in remote teams, an employee representative from each respective generation should be assigned to inform administration of challenges and to offer suggestions for improvement. 


The first step in overcoming generational tensions and misconceptions in the workplace includes separating generational differences from social styles. The successful promotion of effective workplace communication will enable organizations to bridge the gap between generations. Behavioral assessments, such as the Wiley EverythingDiSC® Workplace tool, can be beneficial in helping individuals gain not only a better understanding of themselves but also of how to communicate more meaningfully with others.

Effective communication has gone from important to imperative, as we transition to this 100 percent virtual environment where personal interaction is limited and tendencies are often misconstrued. Pausing in the midst of this pandemic to participate in a one- or two-day facilitated training session on effective workplace communication can vastly improve your future success. Those armed with knowledge about generational diversity and workplace tensions will be at a competitive advantage among society during this ever-evolving situation.


Recognizing that each generation operates differently and that misconceptions do indeed exist and should not be ignored can assist you in developing a positive and productive work atmosphere. Generational differences should be managed head-on and viewed as opportunities for progression rather than regression.

By applying what we know for the good of the organization and joining together as one cohesive group of individuals from varying age groups, we can achieve collective results. Depending on your outlook, times like these can be viewed as either an obstacle or an opportunity. A pessimist will point out the wrong in any situation, argue about why things won’t work and blame other persons or items, like technology, for his or her inability to work together with colleagues. An optimist, on the other hand, will adapt to change and search for bringing out the best in others in new and fascinating ways in order to enhance teamwork and productivity both now and in the future. Which perspective will you choose?

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