George Muir has been working at a global home furnishings retailer for over 26 years but his first encounter with the company came with a little culture shock.

Back in 1990, Muir was focused on building an IT consultancy in Scotland when he was asked to fly out to Austria for a one-week engagement. Dressed in a suit and tie, his “first culture shock” came in the form of repeated requests by coworkers to remove his tie. Muir finally did so, after the managing director of the organization said otherwise “I would be kicked out of the office and would never get paid!”

Take Advantage of All Co-workers’ Competencies

Muir went on to join the company in an IT leadership role and since then, has held a variety of positions including chief application architect and global HR business developer. In his current role as process developer, Muir works on identifying, developing and evangelizing the ideas, strategies and standards to define the workplace of the future.

One area Muir looks at is how best to support a multigenerational workforce. When meeting people, he likes to ask, “How many of you know how to use Snapchat?” People often answer that their children are familiar with the app but “nobody typically can explain how to use Snapchat within their business environment.” 

This conversational exchange provides an opening for Muir to promote the benefits of reverse mentoring programs, which pair younger workers with more experienced peers to work together to achieve specific business objectives.

Muir will be speaking at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 19 through 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will give a workshop titled “Engaging Five Generations in the Modern Workplace” June 19. We spoke with Muir about the importance of building collaborative work relationships, the benefits a culture of togetherness can bring and his expectations for the future of work.

Build Collaborative Relationships to Share Knowledge Transparently

CMSWire: What do you see as some of the primary benefits and challenges of today’s workplace where companies may employ five generations of staff?

Muir: To be perfectly honest, when we are talking about multiple generations in a workplace, there is nothing new. It has always happened that there are many generations working together. What is different is how we can handle the question. Yes, of course, there are new technologies and the rate of change seems to be increasing, but l want to challenge this myth.

First, we need to separate workplace ergonomics from the workplace generations question.

Workplace ergonomics is the ability to perform physical tasks, such as lifting a heavy package, climbing flights of stairs or just scanning a package. Age might be an inhibitor but it is not always so. Whether one is 16 or 61, it may be just difficult to perform manual tasks. Technology can and should help with workplace ergonomics.

When we talk about generations — baby boomers or millennials or post-millennials — what are we doing? We are creating stereotypes based on world events and a segmentation of ages.

CMSWire: How can organizations work to bridge or dismantle the divides which may exist between generations?

Muir: We should discuss how to use the competencies co-workers have — their knowledge, motivation and capabilities or skills. The challenge is therefore to overcome the existing stereotypes.

The first task is to study the demographics of your current workforce and the projected demographics of your future workforce to determine what they want out of their jobs as these things are different generation to generation. Once you know your employees, then start to create an inclusive workforce.

Learning Opportunities

Build collaborative relationships to share knowledge transparently and freely so as to learn from one another. Shift workloads to break up unexpected bottlenecks, to help one another complete jobs and meet deadlines. Ultimately the goal is to work in network of teams, that can be formed and disbanded quickly to be able to be agile and high performing.

CMSWire: What, in your opinion, are some of the current misconceptions about the future of work? How do you see work evolving?

Muir: Some years ago we talked about “work/life balance,” and then with the introduction of smartphones, remote working and new technologies we talked about “work/life blend.” The future of work cannot be classified as one size fits all.

The Gig Economy will develop, I believe, into the “Uberization of Work,” meaning that people will work when they have the will for it and for whom they want to work. We will choose these activities based on the balance of head, heart and pocket. In other words, I will work for money (my pocket), or because it stimulates me (my head), or because it’s my passion (my heart), or for a combination of the three reasons. Traditional 9-to-5 jobs will exist but for how long I am not sure!

What is important is that humans need the ability to interact with one another and that goes back to the heart of my belief: togetherness will prevail.

CMSWire: As a keen amateur photographer, what’s your favorite artwork and why?

Muir: I studied art/design at school and I was always fascinated with the Impressionist and Post Impressionist painters and for my 40th birthday I went to Amsterdam to the Van Gogh Museum to visit his "Wheatfield with Crows." I love the colors and the contrast, the texture of the painting, and the sadness and greatness at the same time. It is believed that it is Van Gogh’s last painting. 

It is strange that some years after seeing this painting, I now live in the Swedish countryside and the picture is also a reality here.

Editor's note: Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience hereRegister today.

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