Adapting the workplace for a tech-savvy generation
A new breed of worker is entering the workforce. The 80 million individuals born between 1980 and 1995 that are entering the office have a different relationship to digital technologies than the 76 million post-WWII baby boomers, who are contemplating retirement.
This latest group, the ‘digital natives’, belong to a generation that was born after the widespread adoption of internet. Previous generations recall planning, organising and interacting with one another without mobile phones, computers or the Internet. Digital natives, however, have never experienced life without technology and the Internet.
Since childhood, they have integrated technologies into their lives and have developed skills to naturally adapt to continuous technological progress. Standing at the forefront of technological evolution, digital natives are more than tech-savvy. They desire to be connected at all times, from anywhere. Multitasking comes naturally to them and their mobile devices, tablets, laptops and other gadgets have become extensions of their bodies.
Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Innovation’s recent study of digital natives helps understand their unique relationship with technology. The goal was to identify ways the workplace may need to change in order to accommodate this new generation.
The majority of digital natives spend between two and four hours per day on the Internet. However, a quarter of them are online between four and six hours per day. Nearly 74 per cent of respondents said that they agreed that new technologies are addictive; 83 per cent said that they carried a mobile phone with them at all times. Additionally, 61 per cent said that they felt cut off from friends and missed out on a large part of their life when they were disconnected, while 55 per cent said that they could not keep up with life without technologies.
Most important for companies is the fact that 77 per cent of respondents considered advanced technologies in their workplace to be important or extremely important, while 53 per cent indicated they were satisfied with the technologies they had in the workplace.
The study also revealed a fusion of the business and social spheres, blurring the boundaries between life and work. Digital natives also stated that whenever they use their mobile phone for leisure they inevitably saw incoming business mails.
Although digital natives have many of the same needs as previous generations, they are different in how they communicate and integrate technology into their daily lives and how they approach their work. Encouraging digital natives to share their knowledge of technology with older workers could result in significant productivity gains.
Digital natives’ heightened intuition with technology, coupled with the fact that new products are easier to use than their predecessors, means that integration will be less of an issue for all generations. If a technology gap currently exists, it will lessen if all employees strive to understand new technologies. Encouraging workers from all generations to embrace today’s modern technologies can also lead to lower travel costs, as employees explore the use of video conferencing platforms.
The right workspace with access to technology, collaborative spaces, comfort and flexibility creates a company culture that generation Y workers are attracted to. A work environment that enables creativity and flexibility is a priority for digital natives and crucial to a company’s ability to attract and retain a new generation of workers. The best workplace naturally engages employees and stimulates interaction among team members, therefore fostering innovation.
Businesses are now challenged to create a balanced work environment that attracts digital natives without excluding other generations. Businesses who do not invest in updating their office space to a modern work environment might have a hard time attracting the next generation of talent.
Dr. Marie Puybaraud is director of Global Workplace Innovation for Johnson Controls Global Workplace Solutions. She is one of the most recognised world thought leader on workplace innovation, with a significant track record of research projects on industry futures, workplace strategies, technologies impacting work and generational issues at work.