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Hustlin': For Millenials, Chat Rooms Are the New Conference Rooms Hustlin': For Millenials, Chat Rooms Are the New Conference Rooms
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Hustlin': For Millenials, Chat Rooms Are the New Conference Rooms

by Nona Willis Aronowitz

January 24, 2012


In our weekly Hustlin' series, we go beyond the pitying articles about recession-era youth and illuminate ways our generation is coping. The last few years may have been a rude awakening, but we're surviving. Here's how.

A couple months ago, my inbox was inundated with links, unearthed and curated by my Google alerts, that led to a very depressing survey. Apparently, almost 70 percent of American adults think Millennials are "less motivated to take on responsibility and produce quality work." About half of the respondents said our generation is "less engaged at work" than other employees.

At first, I ignored the canned, alarmist responses; the survey only consisted of 637 people, and considering my boss is two years older than me, I didn't take it personally. But months later, we're still mulling over this supposed feud between Boomer bosses and Millennial employees. I figured it was time to defend my generation, who, left to their own devices (and workplaces), definitively hold their own.

First things first: Only a little more than half of people ages 16 to 24 are actually employed. And 46 percent of those who do have work are in the food and retail industries, holding thankless jobs that pay poverty wages, so it's hardly surprising that many young adults don't feel invested in their workplaces. I have a feeling, though, that the survey's respondents—half of whom were Boomers—were envisioning young people in desk jobs at conventional offices where middle-aged folks are the bosses and we're the employees. In this case, there's a fairly simple explanation for Millennials' supposed disengagement: We're speaking entirely different office languages.

Even though nearly 80 percent of the survey respondents admitted we're more tech-savvy than other generations, it's not as simple as the (exaggerated) tech gap. It's also about how we like to strategize. It's about how we're disregarding bygone ideas of "professionalism," how we're more comfortable in our own informal, spontaneous, enterprising skins. 

Nothing exemplifies this divide than our different approaches to the Office Meeting.

You know the kind. The gathering that's scheduled on an Outlook calendar, that throws around buzzwords roundly lampooned on shows like The Office, that leaves you with a vague sense of defeat shortly after you walk out of the conference room. That's the old model, the one that dominates at workplaces where Millennials feel unmotivated and unsatisfied. Even at Gen Y-run companies, where there is no era divide (at GOOD, virtually the entire editorial staff is 30 or younger), those meetings are still a necessary evil. Many of us have multiple meetings per day. 

But increasingly, Millennials are replacing the meeting with a new (yet Internet-old) method: "chats." We've taken what we do socially—Gchat, text, BBM, WhatsApp—and transposed it to the workplace. At GOOD, the edit team is constantly in communication via a group chat called Campfire, which is essentially a 1998-style chatroom with a few bells and whistles (literally—one can administer sound effects with any remark). In our Campfire room, we share news, links, gripes, jokes, viral videos, and big-thinks. Sure, it can be a time-waster. But it can also lead to ideas for pieces, series, projects, and parties in a way that scheduled, jargony meetings seldom do. Just last week, perusing Twitter during a lull in the day, I took to Campfire to complain about the many users who crowd their handle's profile with the sentence "RTs are not endorsements." Cord shared my annoyance, responding that he's always wanted to write an article about this very subject. Two days later, a post was born.

And then there's good ol' Gchat, the generational equivalent of note-passing that New York Magazine paid tribute to back in October. In offices where 40- and 50-somethings are in charge, younger employees are likely to "x" out their blinking messages when their bosses pass by. Some companies block the function altogether. But in workplaces where young people call the shots, Gchat is our lifeblood—a way to brainstorm between venting sessions, to avoid the passive-aggressiveness of email without losing its efficiency. It's not replacing face-to-face meetings altogether; it's making that precious face-time more productive by getting the juices flowing beforehand and sustaining the momentum by following up afterward.

Both ways of "meeting" are distinctly generational. They happen with the help of technology, but they're not impersonal. They allow ideas to flow organically and constantly throughout the day, a dynamic that can ease uncomfortable, damaging office hierarchies. They also break down the boundary between the "real" you and the "work" you, which is a genuinely exciting prospect. Chat rooms are the new conference rooms. And that's nothing to be depressed about.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user justgrimes.

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