As the generation that pioneered the social media persona, Gen Y isn’t known for fading into the background. But despite their desire to stand out, today’s young people are equally apt at working together – and the workplace is no exception.

With 38% of Gen Y noting that outdated modes of collaboration obstruct their companies’ ability to innovate, they’re taking it upon themselves to create collaborative atmospheres and push for diverse voices.

Workplace and Canvas8 spoke to Maurice Schweitzer, co-author of Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both and professor at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

We found out how Gen Y is navigating the balance between working together and setting oneself apart at work.

With regards to collaboration, what are Gen Yers expecting from work?

In any successful workplace, people expect to work together. This is even more important for Gen Y than it has been for generations before them because work isn’t static anymore. Where, who or how you’re working can all change from one week to the next.

Having grown up with technology, Gen Yers expect work environments that encourage them to share ideas and learn

This constant state of flux has become the norm and Gen Yers are learning that they have to be adaptable, flexible and open to new ways of working. Having grown up with technology, they’re expecting work environments that encourage them to share ideas and learn from one another, both physically and virtually.

What’s the balance between collaboration and competition?

There’s a huge tension between collaboration and competition in the workplace. While there’s a rising emphasis on group work, we’re often also competing with the same people we’re collaborating with – whether that’s for a promotion, for recognition or for a pay rise.

This is especially true for Gen Y workers who’ve yet to establish a reputation. They’re clamoring for recognition and promotions, but also looking to prove that they’re flexible. Knowledge sharing is a prime example of this tension.

While there’s a rising emphasis on group work, we’re often also competing with the same people we’re collaborating with

We like people to share their knowledge, yet the private knowledge one has is a social competitive advantage. Due to this, Gen Yers are navigating the balance of working at both at the same time. So, they’re constantly shifting back and forth – in a sense, doing both things together – to help navigate a workplace borne from both collaboration and competition.

Why is a collaborative approach to work important?

When we work together, the successes we have helps to build trust within that team. This trust perpetuates a virtuous cycle of knowledge sharing, which encourages more effective work. By establishing this sense of trust, people who are lacking physical proximity with one another can feel comfortable sharing information or expressing complex ideas. And that all leads to better work.

Workplace technologies can help to bridge the trust gap that’s left in teams who work virtually

Consider the shift towards a freelance economy and remote work. As more people work independently, trust and the ability to collaborate via technology across space and time becomes even more important. By building a sense of group identity and getting people to believe that we have shared goals and values, companies can help build trust internally.

This is where workplace technologies can help to bridge the trust gap that’s left in teams who work virtually even if it doesn’t replace in-person interaction altogether.

How is technology making collaboration both within and across companies easier?

There’s no doubt that technology is facilitating our ability to collaborate.

‘Digital tools are diminishing the importance of place in everyday interactions’

Whether it’s sharing documents, communicating more completely or transmitting ideas across continents, digital tools are diminishing the importance of place in everyday interactions. And this is only going to become more important as global trade increases and we move towards a service-based economy of ideas.

Workplace technologies where we can create online communities are exposing Gen Yers to different people. This makes them more familiar and more receptive to ideas or voices that are unlike their own. This marketplace of ideas makes for better business.

How is the workplace evolving to better encourage collaboration?

This evolution is already underway as we move towards open working and digital communication tools – and it’s only going to accelerate as Gen Z enter the workforce. This generation grew up on iPads and, as a result, expect even richer digital connections in their online worlds.

The people who are good at interacting with others – building collaboration and sharing ideas – are going to be the most successful

They’re going to be thinking about this digital workplace as an extension of their physical space.

Younger generations continue to break down the barriers between the physical and the virtual world. As this happens, people’s ability to communicate and collaborate online will become even more important – even though physical interaction will never wholly fade away.

Looking forward, it’s going to be the people who have these rich connections and who are good at interacting with other people, building collaboration and sharing ideas, who are going to be the most successful.

Watch how Virgin Atlantic is using Workplace to take collaboration to new heights. Or try Workplace Premium free for 90 days.

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