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Enterprise Communication: Five ways Generation Y is changing everything

As an executive, when you walk through your office, you probably can't help but glance at passing computer screens. And when doing this, you probably catch a glimpse of a variety of consumer applications open and running, like Skype, Google Docs, AOL Instant Messenger, and the list goes on. According to a recent Forrester report, nearly half of all information workers use between four and seven different collaboration tools to do their jobs. Some may have been recommended by you. Others, you may not even recognize.

You've probably also noticed that the telephone and computer are no longer the only devices on your employees' desks. Blackberrys, iPads, Galaxy tablets, an assortment of smartphones, owned not by the company but by the employee, are just as prevalent and, frankly, necessary for work as the devices you have authorized and distributed.

How did these fundamental changes in the way employees communicate and collaborate change so quickly under your watch? What does this mean for your company's security? How do you stay ahead of the next bevy of tools that will swarm your office as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) takes hold? The answer lies in your younger workforce, Generation Y. They have brought their own methods of interacting with each other into the workplace, which have since been seamlessly adopted by other employees. In order to comprehend these changes, it is best to understand their origins.

Here's exactly how Generation Y has transformed employee communications:

1) The "Off-the-Grid" Extinction. If there is one word to describe Generation Y's communication habits, it is "constant." When they are not sleeping, they are finding ways to engage with others. Other employees have followed suit. The last ten years have also witnessed a dissolution of the line between office and home. Understandably, this change has been embraced by companies. Forrester Research states that 70 per cent of organizations now encourage teleworking.

2) BYOD. Generation Y has taken pride in being defined in-part by the devices they use (opens in new tab). Perhaps in a trade off for higher expectations in working hours, in recent years employees have increasingly demanded that they use their own devices for work, as younger people have been doing for years in classrooms. No iPhone, iPad or Android is off the table. In fact, a staggering 70 percent of iPads and 50 percent of smartphones used in corporate environments are purchased by the employee, also according to Forrester.

3) Instant Messaging. AOL first launched their Instant Messenger platform in 1997. It immediately became a social phenomenon. By 2001, nearly 3 out of 4 teenagers (opens in new tab) were using instant messaging, and its office use has grown with the age of its early adopters. IM platforms are now found in file sharing platforms, company intranets, and conference software, in addition to the contemporary ubiquity of consumer platforms, such as MSN Messenger (now absorbed by Skype (opens in new tab)) and Google Chat.

4) File-Sharing. The advent of file-sharing platforms may end up being the most important and necessary Gen Y innovation for the office. Bloated servers and crowded inboxes are issues that have infected all organizations. Infocentric Research deemed searching for files through the wastelands of old documents to be the biggest employee time waster (opens in new tab). File sharing platforms are one of the first significant technological achievements developed by Gen Y, with many being launched at the beginning of last decade. However, these are tools that can pose enormous security risks. Platforms such as DropBox have encountered (opens in new tab) security lapses in the recent past, and CIOs should be wary of similar consumer/enterprise hybrid file-sharing tools.

5) Social Networks. Created by one of their own, Facebook allowed Gen Y to take the first step in fully translating their lives onto the computer screen. Social networks have an enormous impact on businesses, and not only in the realm of marketing. Personal profiles, activity feeds and status updates are integrated effectively into many business tools. For example, we at Workshare have integrated all three into our document collaboration product so that employees can know who has made what changes and when, and to notify users that someone else is currently working in the same document.

The integration of personal mobile devices, consumer applications and social networks into the workplace is now permanent. As Gen Y continues to wield a stronger professional influence, it is inevitable that these tools will do so as well. But there is a change brewing on the horizon for corporations to take back control of these collaborative ecosystems and build the next wave of social business for, well, businesses – not consumers.

This puts the onus on managers to learn which tools best balance ease of use and employee familiarity with security, accountability and productivity. Organizations that don't do this are putting their intellectual property and investments at risk. Of course, some have tried the foolhardy approach of banning social collaboration within the office, only to learn this will stymie your organization's culture, productivity and ability to innovate.

Rather, we should learn from Generation Y, arguably the most communicatively adept generation in human history, and embrace the huge strides in collaboration brought forth by these new technologies. These innovations have streamlined business communications, while reducing inefficiencies – the next step is now for organizations to make sure they implement this technology properly. And those that do so have the potential to entirely reinvent and redefine what social collaboration means to their organizations.

Barrie was among the original founders and CTOs of Workshare, (opens in new tab) where he served as head of the company's research and development division. During his tenure, Workshare gained more than 14,000 enterprise customers in 70 countries. He brings over 20 years of experience conceiving, producing, and selling software.