Heritage Day is about celebrating cultural diversity. Two decades into the post-Apartheid South Africa it’s about uniting to ultimately create a vibrant and powerful society. It’s also about acknowledging the different generations of people and the role they play in contributing to the overall community. We’re always saying to the youth, “Listen to your elders and respect their wisdom.” Yes, of course, but the older generation South Africans could learn a thing or two from the younger generation, too, especially when it comes to adapting to the diverse landscape that South Africa has become.

In business, we need to take into consideration a generation of people who are doing things quite differently. They are the Millennials. Born between 1980 and 2000, this generation has come of age and become a major contributor to the economy. In South Africa, the Millennials haven’t only grasped the concept of a united country; they are also changing things up completely, bringing about a new collaborative approach to business and life in general. It’s apt then that I write about the new and exciting collaborative economy which has emerged because of our tech-savvy Millennials.

So what do the Millennials have to do with our collaborative economy and how can we learn and benefit from them? Well, the biggest thing to consider is that they came of age during a time of technological transformation and have therefore done everything on a computer. They are the digital generation. The internet has allowed them to connect virtually on a global level which has led to a sharing or collaborative mentality. This extends into their real world, too.

3 ways we can learn from the Millennials in business:

Be flexible – The Millennial generation work at their best in a flexible environment where they can collaborate freely because they have grown up living in a virtual world where they connect with all types of people in various situations and arenas. By working flexibly, they are showing us that we no longer need to operate from the old 9 to 5 office set up. With technology where it is, we can work anywhere and this frees us from a stagnant ‘clock-in clock-out’ office mentality where internal politics dictate. It gives us the room to be productive and creative. More and more corporates are leaning towards a less formal work environment, providing staff with virtual offices or giving them flexi-hours. These companies are placing more emphasis on the job’s end result rather than the controlling, micro-managed process of how the job is getting done. Because they are showing their Millennials that they have faith in them, they are producing smart and confident employees who execute the job brilliantly and on time.

Learn and adapt – The mentally-agile, tech-savvy Millennial generation require constant challenges and you need to adapt to a faster moving, ever-changing environment in order to provide them with job satisfaction. Learn from your employees by asking them what they need in order to do their jobs well. Don’t be afraid to shake things up by taking an unconventional approach because Millennials will respect you for it. Also, be open to adopting new and immediate methods of online communication – for example, if your Millennial staff are talking about a more current social media platform, ask them about it, learn how to use it and integrate it into your processes.

Encourage transparency and collaboration – Build a collaborative working environment for your Millennials to share information and connect with the people around them. Sharing office space with various other like-minded companies is a great way of doing this. Don’t be afraid to share and be completely transparent in everything you do. Again, Millennials have grown up in a digital age. They communicate and connect online so all they know is a world where everything is shared. In many ways they have brought an honesty and integrity to the workplace that never existed to this degree before. Take advantage of their ‘sharing is caring’ attitude and develop a collaborative culture. There is much to be gained from this.

Millennials don’t only share online, they have taken this attitude offline and into their everyday lifestyles, too. One example is car sharing, which is gaining popularity because the Millennial generation has adopted a more caring approach to the environment and has also grown up during a global recession. While many of the older generations are waiting for the economy to lift, the younger generation is getting on with life and business in the current financial climate, the new ‘sharing economy’. The Millennials’ collaborative approach is far more beneficial in the recession. And, in case you’re still holding your breath waiting for ‘the good old days’ to re-emerge in all of its materialistic glory now would be a good time to let go, downsize and embrace the recession because it’s here to stay.

So, to sum up, the biggest lesson for companies to take away from our Millennial generation is that quality workspace rules. Make sure your place of business allows for staff to connect and collaborate on all levels. In South Africa corporates must start waking up to this new approach. Plan your workspace like a veritable Heritage Day celebration. By incorporating diversity and a multi-culture of personalities, skills, generations and experiences, your business will remain competitive while ultimately making a profit.