Emerging 'Gen M' workforce requires a rethink of IT strategy

In today’s digital age, more and more of us are using mobile devices to make the most of our time. The recent launch of the Apple Watch, which received 2.3 million pre-orders and sales forecasts of up to $15 million in the US alone, is a strong indicator that consumer demand for mobile is on the rise.

We see this in our personal lives every day. It’s little surprise that we’re now beginning to see it in our professional lives as well. Mobile technologies are giving employees the flexibility to manage their personal and professional tasks however they choose to, regardless of whether they are in the office or at home.

Mobile is changing our behaviour and our workforce demographic. A recent independent survey revealed an emerging demographic of workers called Generation Mobile (‘Gen M’). Best represented by males aged 18-34 and people with children under the age of 18 at home, this group completes 26 per cent of its work on smartphones and tablets. They are also adept at ‘shadow tasking’, meaning that they use mobile phones to rapidly switch between work and personal tasks throughout the day.

More mobile, more challenges

As employees become more mobile-savvy, IT must do the same. When mobiles began entering the workplace, the traditional IT approach was to either restrict or tightly regulate mobile use. However, this approach simply encouraged workers to bypass IT guidelines, giving rise to a new tidal wave of Shadow IT.

New wearable technologies will create similar challenges. Linked to smartphones, these devices will enter the workplace immediately, giving companies very little time to design their strategies and policies. Wearables are arguably even more personal than phones since many of them will also be tracking health and wellness information. This reinforces the need to separate work and personal data to preserve privacy.

Privacy must become a priority for every CIO. The value of mobile to a Gen M employee is in large part driven by the ability to shadow task – the practice of switching back and forth between work and personal tasks. This means almost every mobile device, even if owned by the company, will hold deeply personal information as well as highly sensitive business information.

Supporting the Gen M trend

Gen M is growing up in a world where the 'consumerisation of IT' – that is, when technologies are built primarily for consumers rather than enterprises – is an expectation. Studies have shown that more than 40 per cent of employees are willing to use consumer apps on a personal device to complete work, regardless of what their employer’s IT policy stipulates. If the company doesn’t give Gen M employees effective mobile apps to do their work, they will not adopt them and instead go seek out their own.

Today’s IT policies will not effectively support Gen M. Companies must employ a multilateral approach encompassing the shifting nature of work, the cultural norms in question, and the need to secure data selectively. To begin with, IT departments will need to step back and monitor the workflows of representative employees to understand the decisions they are making to be productive – as understanding today’s actions will better align tomorrow’s policies with employee needs.

Similarly, in order to address cultural norms it’s vital to encourage open conversations about the role of shadow tasking in company culture. This helps create transparency and encourages the feedback essential to refining work policies.

In order to secure data on a selective basis, IT should design a security framework that protects business data on the mobile device without compromising the privacy of personal data, regardless of whether the employee in question owns the device. After all, few of us want to carry two phones with us at all times.

Mobile changes behaviour and has created the new demographic we call Gen M. This evolution of working practice will not stop here and, if anything, will only accelerate with the advent of wearables.

IT should expect to be continuously presented with new scenarios and challenges and so will need to be proactive and flexible in designing and implementing new workplace strategies.. Gen M is here to stay and companies that want to build the workforce of the future will have to effectively meet its needs.

Ojas Rege, Vice President of Strategy, MobileIron.