A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Jun 25, 2015

When It Comes to Office Technology, Millennials Are Boss - And/Or Boomers Are Pathetic

Boomers have progressed beyond the 'what is this interweb thingy?' stage, but the 'what happens if I push this button?' question remains. JL

Jennifer Levitz reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Younger workers offer support to befuddled older colleagues.
Larry Carpman has handled plenty of predicaments as an expert in crisis communications. But recently, the 62-year-old partner at Boston’s Northwind Strategies found himself stumped about how to edit his email signature.
“I knew it was some doohickey you had to click,” he said.
So, he asked a youngster.
He took his question to 23-year-old account coordinator Kate Lagreca, who did the job in seconds. Like many workers her age, she isn’t an IT specialist, but she plays that role at work because older workers, for one reason or another, need help.
Greener workers all over are finding themselves playing the role of tech support as they help their venerable but sometimes confused co-workers navigate an expanding array of contraptions, apps, software upgrades and social media.
Questions aren’t limited to work issues. David Carneal, a 33-year-old who works in marketing for a San Clemente, Calif., company that does billing for optometrists, was recently pressed into action to help an older colleague transfer music from an iPod to a smartphone. Chris Davis, who is 26 and answers the phones at P.J. Callaghan Construction in Clearwater, Fla., assisted a colleague who wanted to text a photo of his car to his mechanic. Sam Raziuddin, 23, who works in marketing near Tampa, has even been asked to explain Instagram.
“We, the 20- and 30-somethings, seem to be the go-to,” said Alison Schurick, 25, an Annapolis, Md., lawyer who clerks at the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. When the court upgraded its computer system recently, Ms. Schurick got the same question about how to adjust font sizes on the new program so often that she wrote out step-by-step instructions for the whole office. The queries keep coming. “When I came in this morning, the first thing my admin said to me was, ‘Hey, since you’re the young techy person, I have a question about Apple TV,’ ” Ms. Schurick said.
Of course, younger people have always helped the older generations adjust to innovations in the workplace. It is a young-brain old-brain problem encountered even by the parents of very young children, who pick things up easily by just pushing buttons. “It’s more prevalent now than ever because technology has changed so dramatically and so rapidly,” said Sharalyn Orr, executive director for generational strategies at Frank N. Magid Associates Inc., a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that advises businesses on demographic shifts.
Millennials, those roughly 18 to 34, are often fearless about adapting to new gadgets and consider life online second nature. They already helped their baby boomer parents become more efficient at technology. “Now, I think we’re seeing a similar dynamic in the workplace,” Ms. Orr said.
Real-life IT specialists aren’t feeling threatened. Many offices still have help desks. Employment in the field is on the uptick, growing faster than the average for all occupations, according to federal labor statistics.
In some ways, said Barbara Viola, president of the Association of Information Technology Professionals, companies are happy when technology headaches get solved quickly between generations. “Usually, the help desk is involved with more critical things,” she said.
Laura Napolitano, 28, a fundraising coordinator at Middlebury College in Vermont, said she handles daily inquiries related to computers and cellphones and has been asked to help a co-worker change her Facebook profile picture. The other day, a colleague had downloaded an app but couldn’t find it on her iPhone. “I swiped over a couple times and said, ‘It’s right there,’” Ms. Napolitano said.
Being the office technophile has its ups and downs. “If I’m in the middle of something, I’ll ask, ‘Can it wait five minutes?’ ” Ms. Napolitano said. “But other than that, it’s usually pretty funny.”
Steve Wagner, 63, Mr. Carneal’s employer, said that decades ago as a young accountant, his help was in demand because he was the one guy in a large firm who knew how to use a hand-held financial calculator.
But now, he is trying to keep up with all the new generations of office technology, never mind smartphones and LinkedIn. “There’s too much,” he said.
Fortunately, he can just go down the hall to the 33-year-old Mr. Carneal. “He just knows. Kids know,” Mr. Wagner said.
Along with helping a co-worker transfer music from one mobile device to another, Mr. Carneal said he has often been summoned to desks to troubleshoot. A common query, he said: “What’s this popping up on the screen? Am I allowed to touch this?”
“It’s head-scratching moments,” he said.
While getting interrupted with tech questions isn’t always welcome, young people are often pleased to help and see a plus: more face-time with their superiors.
In Maryland, Ms. Schurick , the law clerk, said the new computer system at the courthouse has prompted more interaction with her boss, a judge more than twice her age.
“Lately, it’s been a lot of over-the-shoulder interactions, showing her step by step on the computer,” said Ms. Schurick, who has been clicking on keyboards since elementary school.
Of course, the passing of wisdom can go both ways. Earlier this year, 23-year-old Ms. Lagreca, of Northwind Strategies in Boston, was asked to send a fax to a news station whose email was down in a winter storm. “I had never done it before,” she said.
Mr. Carpman, the partner, peeked his head out of his office to witness the milestone and offer help. He guided her, teaching her to put the paper in the feeder faceup. She vaguely recognized the squawking sound of the fax machine’s dial-up connection from childhood. A small audience gathered.
“Everyone thought it was a riot,” she said.

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