One in a millennial: Reconciling culture and technology in the modern enterprise

Millennials have been a real talking point of late, particularly relative to their impact, both positive and negative, on the future of businesses across the globe.

The millennial generation, born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, has a different attitude to work, adopting a more fluid, project-oriented approach compared to their seniors, for whom adherence to a nine to five structure has long reigned.

For employers, this shift in behaviour must not go unaddressed. As the largest generation in history, millennials hold more power to effect change in the workplace than any other previous generation before them. How much emphasis, then, should the enterprise place on this group when seeking to shape its workplace culture?

How an enterprise utilises technology, in particular communications technologies, is inextricably linked to this discussion. Millennials have grown up plugged into a digital world of instant sharing via mobile devices. Not unreasonably, their expectation is that this mode of operation will be carried through into the office. Young, bleeding-edge organisations like Google and Facebook, that already elicit these trends, are held on a pedestal as to how we should all aspire to work.

This is an unachievable expectation, of course, not least because the vast majority of enterprise workforces are not comprised of twenty-somethings. Even if millennials are now the largest group in the workplace, enterprise Board directors must also recognise that their firms are made up from four generations, millennials, generations X and Y, as well as the baby boomers in senior management. With that in mind, emulating firms like Google and Facebook, that ‘move fast and break things’ is not only unrealistic, it’s inappropriate.

What’s more, digital services organisations like Facebook and Google are knowledge businesses. They don’t run manufacturing outlets, manage the movement of goods through a supply chain, run a chain of high street retail outlets, or have fleets of construction workers continuously deployed in the field. Their growth and influence online has cast them in a glowing light of aspiration that has overshadowed the truth: they’re not really reflective of a ‘modern enterprise’ at all.

Where does that leave us? Should millennials scale back their ambitions and accept the status quo with the rest of us? Well, it’s true that adapting to a firm’s social, historic and economic context is a key part of settling into any new role, no matter which generation you belong to. But no, to dampen the spirits of the group that is maximising its use of prevailing communications technologies would be folly.

A middle ground is what is required; one that bridges between those that are comfortable brainstorming in the office and those mobile workers that prefer to thrash it out via a Google hangout from any place they choose.

The digital space is the place where this collaboration can be accomplished. Open plan, free flowing offices without formal workspaces may suit a universally youthful enterprise, but when trialled across an age-diverse organisation, this style of office is more commonly associated with higher levels of stress and elevated blood pressure. The creation of open-plan spaces has already proven counterproductive, as it tends to alienate older staff who yearn for a room of their own.

Past history is no indicator of future success. Take unified communications (UC) as an example. In the last decade, we’ve seen UC championed as the next big thing, capable of solving most enterprise collaboration and mobility challenges. During that time many companies set about buying in the latest UC technologies and changing their working policies to suit the needs of new, flexible workforce demographics. Most implementations never came to fruition, due in large part to the complexities inherent in their integration with the host organisation’s networked infrastructure and IT assets.

Since the advent of the cloud, however, and unified communications as a service (UCaaS), the future of UC is looking vastly different. With the headaches of managing machine-by-machine and network-by-network installations removed from the equation, UC now offers a truly powerful proposition. It has the potential to deliver a consolidated working environment where a range of collaboration and communication tools, both old and new, can comfortably coexist, serving the generational variances in working culture that most modern enterprises display.

Such environments are starting to take shape, bringing the full range of skills and experience from across the enterprise together and making a tangible impact on workforce productivity and innovation.

One thing that UC does have in common with the millennial business generation is that, to coin a Facebook phrase, it has had the ‘freedom to fail’. Ironically, it has taken the cloud to bring clarity to the world of UC. Now we will discover if it can also trigger the kind of collaboration that today’s modern enterprises so desperately need.

Indi Sall, technical director, NG Bailey’s IT Services division

Image source: Shutterstock/iQoncept