If you feel as though you’re just getting to grips with the needs of the Millennials within your organisation, I’ve got some bad news. Millennials are so, like, 2014… it’s all about Generation Z now.

This generational group (made of up people born from the mid-90s onwards) is just starting to enter the workforce, and researchers are already finding clear differences between the way that they think and act at work, and the approach of their more experienced colleagues.

At the latest IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) World Conference, held this year in spooky but exhilarating New Orleans, more than 1,200 delegates – including yours truly – caught up on the latest thinking in the world of comms.

‘Millennials are so, like, 2014… it’s all about Generation Z now.’

And one of the most fascinating revelations was this tension between – broadly speaking – people with roughly 15 years or more of experience and those with 14 or less.

Here’s an example. Those of us who’ve been around a while tend to respect workplace hierarchies. In other words, our history has often been ‘start at the bottom as the junior dogsbody; pay your dues; gather information; and work your way up the corporate ladder rung by rung’.

Younger people, who’ve grown up with digital social tools, typically don’t think this way. Their life has been governed by networks, not hierarchies.

They’re used to sharing information, partly because they’ve grown up as part of a crowd that helps others to answer questions.

And they would think nothing of starting a new job by inviting the Chief Executive out for a drink – to them that’s a natural way of developing their network.

Conversely, we often see examples of more experienced people deferring to the Chief Executive, perhaps not even being able to look him or her in the eye, because their leader is ‘special’ and they’re ‘just an employee’.

So what does this mean for those of us working in the world of IC?

Well, as we mentioned, younger people are – typically – much more likely to share knowledge because they’ve grown up in a connected environment.

This means that, thanks to social intranets and other digital tools in particular, more and more information is going to be shared within organisations; so we have a crucial part to play in shaping and repurposing that content.

Organisations are frequently asking us for guidance to help them share more effective stories, because they connect with audiences.

Recently we ran a training session with a client organisation, as part of which we talked about presentation skills. We asked attendees to present at the start of the session about a topic they’re passionate about. Most of them spoke about their favourite films, novels and places.

Then, after we’d spent a couple of hours running through some tips and exercises, we asked them to refine their presentations and to present them again, focusing on telling a story to the audience.

One of the attendees had spoken about her favourite novel. A colleague told her, after her second presentation: ‘The first time, I was mildly interested in the book you were talking about, but I wasn’t really fussed about reading it. But during your second presentation I actually wrote the name of the book down, because I’m going to order it from Amazon on the way home.’

We see similar examples from other organisations all the time. And there’s a good reason for that: as far as our brains are concerned, there’s no difference between hearing about an experience and actually going through it. This is why movies, for instance, are so enduringly popular.

So communicators’ skills – the ability to analyse, sort and share information – will continue to be crucial in the new world: what will change, though, is the technologies we use to tell our stories.

As we heard in New Orleans, new opportunities are already emerging in video, through virtual reality / immersive platforms, which put you at the centre of the action.

A comms manager from one global organisation, which I’d better not mention, explained how immersive video is helping with recruitment and retention.

One of the entry-level jobs at this organisation is, let’s say, not for everyone. There are time pressures, lots of colleagues to keep happy, and it can be a whirlwind for new recruits – some of whom go off for a break on their first morning and, well, just don’t come back.

Now, let’s be clear – compared to working down a mine or carrying out brain surgery this entry-level role is a walk in the park. Many AQ readers will have started out as editorial assistants or as the new kid who makes the tea. We’ve all had to start somewhere. But, like I say, this particular role isn’t for everyone.

‘Robots aren’t going to take over our roles… for now, anyway…’

So creating immersive videos in which potential employees can experience a little of the day-to-day job reality before they start for real helps in two ways.

Firstly, it helps to separate those who are up for the challenge from those who aren’t. And secondly, when the select few who start the job turn up on day one, they’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect.

But no matter the technology, we believe that good internal comms is about ‘making the important interesting’, and here’s an opportunity to do just that.

What the latest IABC World Conference showed is that – thankfully – communicators’ skills as storytellers have never been more important. Robots aren’t going to take over our roles… for now, anyway…

By Paul Jones, Associate Director- Strategy, Sequel