Technology critical for younger workers

Nov 07 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

They've grown up knowing nothing but instant, mobile 24-hour access, so it's perhaps no surprise young workers expect to be allowed to use mobiles, social networks, instant messaging and other new technologies at work. And if they're not, they'll walk.

A study by consultancy firm Accenture has found that the "millennial" generation of students and employees, or those aged 14 to 27, expect to be able to use their own technology and mobile devices both for and at work.

As a result, they are increasingly choosing where they work based on how accommodating managers are to their personal technology preferences.

The poll of 400 workers found an increasing demand for high-tech devices to connect with colleagues, peers, friends and family, rather than face-to-face contact.

When asked which technologies they used or accessed for work-related activities that are not supported by their employers, they cited mobile phones, open source technology, instant messaging, online applications and social networking sites.

They also regularly downloaded non-standard technology from free public websites such as open source communities, "mashup" and "widget" providers.

Three-quarters had accessed online collaborative tools and online applications from free public websites when those technologies were not available at work or not meeting their expectation.

Only four out of 10 said their employers had published detailed policies related to posting work or client information on public websites.

Nearly a third said they don't know if their company had such a policy, while six per cent said the policy that had been published was too complex to understand with a similar percentage saying they would post work or client information on public sites regardless of any policy, at least when communicating with colleagues.

More than half said state-of-the-art technology was an important consideration in selecting an employer.

They expected employers to provide communication channels such as online chat, instant messaging, mobile text messaging and RSS feeds to communicate with their customers and clients.

But just six per cent said their employer provided online chat and instant messaging and five per cent said their organisation supported text messaging. Just five per cent said their organisation provided RSS feeds.

While older millennials said they spent an average of 9.5 hours a week writing or receiving work-related emails, younger millennials already in the workforce spent just 7.7 hours a week on email.

High school and young college students spent even less time, two hours a week, on it, preferring text and instant messaging and communicating on social networking sites.

Regardless of age, millennials spent an average of 30 minutes a week blogging, with much more of their time spent searching for information on the internet, listening to portable devices, text messaging, instant messaging, communicating on social network sites or interacting in virtual communities.

"The message from millennials is clear: to lure them into the workplace, prospective employers must provide state-of-the-art technologies," said Gary Curtis, managing director of Accenture Technology Consulting.

"And if their employers don't support their preferred technologies, millennials will acquire and use them anyway. In order to acquire and retain the best talent, organisations must understand the technologies that the new workforce expects and then find a way to support their employees without compromising enterprise security," he added.

At the same time, employers are seeing the rise of so-called "Jelly" working, where freelance, casual and home-based workers get together, both physically and online, to brain-storm and exchange information.

The concept, which is named after jelly beans, was started three years ago by a 25-year-old Web entrepreneur called Amit Gupta, and is now becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in big cities around the world.

Groups will normally consist of around 15-20 people but membership of Jellies can run into the hundreds of people.

According to HR compensation and benefits body WorldatWork, Jellies can be a great way for employers to motivate tele-commuters and home workers.

Yahoo! has already pioneered the approach by sponsoring the concept at a national level.

"Particularly with younger workers, this is a great way to keep them motivated and getting the creative thinking going," said Kathie Lingle, executive director at WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress.

But employers also need to ensure workers don't end up being lured to a rival through contact through a Jelly, and that in its relaxed environment they don't end up inadvertently giving away commercial secrets, even just by someone peaking at their screen.