How to deal with the younger, more digital workforce

Today’s most productive knowledge workers — business professionals who are contributing, sharing insight and experiences, participating in decision making and influencing change — are a company’s true competitive advantage. They are paid to think and collaborate with distributed team members, contractors, partners, suppliers and vendors across an increasingly global workplace to help grow an enterprise’s bottom line.

However, the composition of this critical asset is changing. According to Pew Research Center, two-thirds of the workforce is now made up of Millennials and Gen Xers and the way they work is different from their older colleagues. They opt for quick, casual and efficient and choose tools that meet these needs. Millennials, in particular, are the first generation to grow up in a connected world. Most do not remember a time without the Internet.

Consequently, Millennials are unhappy with the tools available for them to collaborate at work. Our recently conducted survey revealed that 59 per cent of all knowledge workers were dissatisfied with their collaboration tools; the number was even higher for Millennials – 71 per cent said they face challenges, compared to 45 per cent of Baby Boomers.

One such challenge is linked to the methods of communication being facilitated within the workplace. In terms of collaboration, 40 per cent of Millennials prefer online meetings to in-person, compared to only 26 per cent of Baby Boomers. Additionally, nearly half of Millennials (45 per cent) prefer chat or text to collaborate with coworkers, vendors, or partners. On the opposite side, 36 per cent of Baby Boomers find chat or text to be the least effective form of collaboration at their disposal.

In regards to the use of technology, 32 per cent of Millennials collaborate on their mobile devices compared to 23 per cent of Baby Boomers. More than half of all Millennials (60 per cent) and Gen Xers (56 per cent) are also using publicly available document sharing platforms, including Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and Instagram, for work collaboration. In contrast, only 38 per cent of Baby Boomers use these same platforms.

The problem is that savvy knowledge workers, particularly Millennials and Gen Xers, seek the most efficient ways to work. If their company collaboration tools do not meet their needs, they will find options elsewhere. Yet there can be severe consequences when employees rely on solutions not designed with the enterprise in mind. Often security and privacy are overlooked when business professionals employ alternative collaboration tools at work. What can organisations do to manage this?

  • Adopt flexible tools. Today’s enterprise collaboration solutions are not flexible enough for the younger workforce. Now more than ever, companies need tools that can work effortlessly on the most popular computing systems and devices, including mobile, provide user-friendly capabilities for wide adoption, and, most importantly, safeguard critical content.
  • Be somewhat scrupulous. Just because employees are using everything doesn’t mean that you need to adopt everything. Managing digital content and the workflow associated requires some careful thought to facilitate collaboration while also protecting the enterprise. As new tools flood the market, make sure you are carefully vetting them to ensure they meet your needs, both from the user point of view, and from the executive point of view.
  • Educate your employees. One of the more interesting insights of our survey is that younger employees simply don’t think about the security and privacy implications of the tools they use. While 49 per cent of Baby Boomers always consider data security or privacy issues only 37 per cent of Gen Xers and 28 per cent of Millennials do. Take the time to educate employees, either formally or informally, about the security issues with the tools they are using and not only how they can negatively impact your business, but also the individual employees themselves.

Without a doubt, there is great power to be unleashed through workplace collaboration. By working together, employees can help develop better products and services, connect strategy with execution, make more effective business decisions and increase revenue. But, as our workforce gets younger and more digital, companies must ensure that effective workplace collaboration keeps pace.

Paul Hampton is Senior Director of Product Marketing at Alfresco

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