IT talent: Rethinking age in the hybrid work era

It's time to re-examine notions about workers who are 60-plus years old: They can bring valuable expertise and insight to hybrid work environments. Consider these lessons gleaned from real-world experience
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By now, many people have probably grown tired of prognostications on “the new normal,” post-pandemic. Although the future remains uncertain, leaders can use this time as an opportunity to invent and practice new models of engaging their workforce in ways that allow creativity and innovation to flourish.

It’s also clear that we are collectively less tolerant of the old corporate-life nemeses: long commutes, needless and unproductive meetings, and an abundance of time spent “managing” projects compared to actually getting work done. As we’ve struggled to address these issues, there is one source of wisdom we may have been missing: adults 60-plus years old.

They’re not the only generation wrestling with these questions, but they have been first to redefine their own perspectives on how to get the most from work in an era of “unretirement.”

5 productivity tips from adults 60-plus years old

Here are five lessons, based on how these adults are adapting their approach to productivity, that can offer wisdom for everyone in the age of hybrid work:

1. Use work to enhance our lives (and focus more on living)

As these adults approach retirement age, the traditional construct no longer fits what they want or need. ln later life, many shift from a “live-to-work” mentality toward a “work-to-live” focus, where they want to give back and support others by offering their collected wisdom.

[ Also read IT leadership: 5 ways to hire and retain women in your IT organization. ]

This stage of life offers them the opportunity to focus on their wants. It doesn’t necessarily mean not working. It does, however, mean having the opportunity to reassess priorities and think about what they require and what will enhance their enjoyment. In the age of The Great Resignation, this is now true for people of all ages. Why not mine what these adults have learned about making work meaningful, and apply that as a guide?

2. Judge others by what they can achieve (and not by how they look, dress, or get around)

Virtually everyone from this group has stories about how others perceive them due to physical characteristics such as gray hair, a change in posture, or perhaps reduced mobility. And alongside those stories are different ones about how the same adults have grown more engaged as they’ve aged.

As we’ve all now learned from seeing our colleagues on Zoom, spaces may look messy, and pets and kids may be roaming in the background. That doesn’t mean we are unable to dedicate real time and energy to make vital contributions to our teams and projects.

3. Look beyond the resume to evaluate one’s capabilities (even AI-driven algorithms can be overrated)

Never have an organization’s technical capabilities mattered less to its long-term differentiation and competitiveness. The rise of accessible, affordable outsourced vendors, SaaS platforms, and capabilities-on-demand means that most companies have the ability to acquire whatever leading-edge technologies and skill sets are needed at the moment.

Leaders know the companies that win are the ones that get the most out of their people and teams. Resumes don’t tell us much about the skills that matter most in our current climate, and the computers we “hire” to read resume keywords tell us even less.

These workers, having seen and been through countless configurations of teams, conflict, and trends have figured out how to focus on what makes a difference. We might learn more from them on how to spot and hire the unique capabilities that real people bring to real-people solutions in our workforce.

Leaders know the companies that win are the ones that get the most out of their people and teams.

4. Acknowledge that compensation needs to be more flexible (and better reflect one’s contribution)

Today, many people in this category explore alternative careers, dive into creative pursuits, or pick up extra cash doing part-time gigs. Still, many struggle to find fulfilling work that matches their desire for flexibility and offers fair compensation relevant to their experience. They want more ways to earn income through the knowledge, expertise, and value they provide.

How is your current workforce being paid to “be there” versus providing real value to customers, partners, suppliers, and teammates? Perhaps fewer full-time, permanent salaries and more project-based roles that can ebb and flow with peoples’ changes in life circumstances would make sense.

5. Celebrate that we all need mentors (and that we can all be mentors to others)

As our work becomes physically less proximate, we need to find ways to seek out guidance – not just in classes and courses, but in real time, from our colleagues.

Many of these adults are adept at navigating through times of change – and to have that expertise reciprocated with guidance and coaching on the latest tools to advance their own efficiency and productivity. We must find better ways to encourage these skills and knowledge exchanges, both formally and informally.

Most of us have been taught to value our elders, but we need to ask ourselves if we’ve valued them enough. Many innovators advocate for looking to “lead users” to find a future that’s already here but not evenly distributed. When it comes to finding models for working flexibly with a focus on meaning and value, the 60-plus crowd may just be the lead users we’ve been seeking.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

John Zapolski is the founder and CEO of Alive Ventures, a startup studio that creates bold new businesses to better serve older adults.