Millennials and Collaborative Tech: 5 Reasons Not to Freak Out
Trying to make business communication plans based on how people spend their free time could be a fool's errand.
"You'd better be ready, when those millennials start working at your company, these are the things they are going to demand."
How many sales pitches of instant messaging tools, video, collaboration portals or corporate social networking have you heard that include this idea? As the story goes, the upcoming generation of workers are "digital natives", more connected and much more comfortable in a virtualized workplace, replacing office time with FaceTime and face to face meetings with video chat. The only way to optimize their talents will be to have the environment in place that they are used to functioning in!
There is no denying that enterprise technology has rapidly advanced (with significant influence from consumer technology), but this whole concept of the millennials’ special fluency in technology adds a new facet to planning for enterprise IT. Those actually making the financial decisions (typically Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers) are told that they need to implement things that might not make complete sense to them from a business standpoint. Anyone who dares to cast a skeptical eye on any of the collaboration tools being pedaled to the enterprise is told that they did not grow up "digital" and consequently "just don't get it".
I bristle against the idea that the newest members of the workforce will "demand" specific technology and connectivity. Maybe it's because I am a parent, a "digital immigrant", or both, but would millennials honestly let a job be given to a less demanding worker while they stay at home in a familiar environment of video games and Facebook?
Here are some points to consider when making plans for virtual workspaces, unified communications and collaboration. Nothing in these points will stop enterprise IT planners in their tracks, but perhaps a different perspective will help to make sure that what you end up with actually delivers the intended results:
1. The "Better watch out, kids are so much better at technology" proposition is nothing new.
Humanity has a seemingly unlimited capacity to invent, and then be amazed by our own inventions. We are subsequently amazed by how well consumers adapt to these very inventions, especially when the consumers are younger people. Some searching of archived publications reveals statements that could have been in the newspaper last week. A 1966 Los Angeles Times report said of the generation that in 2012 is now retiring: "There has never been a generation like this. They know more than their parents and grandparents did at a similar age. They are more aware, more sophisticated." Two years later, the Los Angeles Times reported on a speech by Chief Justice Earl Warren, "that the rebelliousness of youth may be due in part to their knowing more than their parents about modern technology...a 16-year-old boy may be an expert in computers and people many years older may have to be his disciples in that field." This speech, given in 1968, inferred that all that rebelliousness of the '60s was "linked to rapid technological change which has given young people skills their elders cannot understand."
Later, in 1983, an editorial complains about the lack of investment in computer training for current office workers compared with Gen-Xers, saying, "The kids are going to be comfortable with computers no matter what society does; the growing universe of consumer electronics will see to that very nicely." I suspect if we dug back even further, "kids today and their technology" statements would be preceded by "kids today and their solid state radios." Might we even be able to dig up worries about "kids today and their mechanical toys"? New technology has been and will continue to be disruptive. Plan for it, but remember that we are not the first generation to assume that there is an unprecedented generational shift. Planning should be based on current productivity potential rather than abstract concerns about how "differently" millennials think and work.
Next page: Evolving views on "Digital Natives"