Today’s workforce is global. It’s virtually connected with document sharing programs, video conferencing, instant messaging and collaborative tools. Gartner says worldwide PC, tablet and mobile phone combined shipments are currently 2.5 billion. By 2017, it’s projected there will be an overall increase to 2,964,783.
Enter the Millennials. As they begin to infuse the workforce, comprising 50% of the global workforce by 2020, the likelihood of working collaboratively and virtually will continue to rise. Millennials are the most technology savvy and connected generation to join the ranks of the employed. They have grown up in an Internet, social media and Smart phone world. A report by PWC titled Millennials at work - Reshaping the workplace states “This is the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of a key business tool than more senior workers.”
Millennials in the workplace expect to be multi-connected through instant messaging, blogs, video conferencing and texting. This is what they’re accustom to, and how they work and communicate. They use technology seamlessly and naturally, which may make them more productive and communicative.
The future of the workplace has already begun to change because of technology, but as Millennials join the ranks of the employed, their presence will demand a digital workplace environment. The PWC report states: “41% of Millennials questioned said they would rather communicate electronically than face-to-face or over the telephone.” Also, almost half responded that their managers do not always understand how they use technology at work.
Both of these statements show an opportunity for education and training. As much as we have become a technology connected world, there still is the need for, and an importance in communicating face-to-face and working side-by-side with someone. Working collaboratively goes beyond connecting virtually. Encouraging impromptu meetings through an informal environment still has benefit and may result in great new ideas and development. Secondly, as Gen Xers and Baby Boomers stay on the job longer, it’s important to train them on using new communication technologies, showing them the value they bring to a global workplace, and their effectiveness as collaborative tools within the organization.
At the core of these changes and the way in which technology is used, is a new way of working that is more collaborative. It recognizes the power of “the crowd” and that co-creation may generate greater creativity and innovation. Today, the use of technology allows groups to unite around common goals to build social communities in the workplace where ideas and expertise can be shared. How the organization is structured will need to shift in response to collaborative work groups that are creating and innovating across the organization.
The challenge for the organization, when individuals use technology and collaborative platforms not part of an organizational initiative spearheading their use, is that a lot of work becomes informal or ad hoc that isn’t captured in organizational memory or shared with those that may need it. Informal collaboration is important in supporting creativity and opportunity for brainstorming. However, work that is needed to drive the organization forward and possibly make substantive changes must be managed, monitored and documented so all players are kept informed. (This is a separate conversation around informal learning and how to manage and capture output. See my article, Formalizing Informal Learning on Training Industry, http://tinyurl.com/qx4nb2u
In a study completed by McKinsey & Company titled, Harnessing the power of informal employee networks, it identified that more company information and knowledge passes through informal networks than through the structured hierarchy of the organization. This is the risk of informal groups. Although they serve a purpose, sometimes their existence can increase confusion around who said what, who’s in charge and what’s the final decision.
Technology in the Future Workplace
In recognizing how Millennials work and communicate, it’s clear informal networks will grow as collaboration and social interaction becomes the norm in the work environment. So the question is, how to keep the value these informal groups bring, while formalizing them to be part of the organizational infrastructure. The McKinsey report suggests that “companies design and manage new formal structures that boost the value of networks…… By building network infrastructures, assigning “leaders” to focus discussion, and combining hierarchy and collaboration to bring together natural professional communities…..” As the organization responds to using social platforms and collaborative technologies, it’s important to ensure there is a trained workforce across generations in how to use these tools and how to work beside someone. As a result, this new way of getting work done may increase productivity, creativity and overall organizational success.