Over the next few years, businesses worldwide will be welcoming in a new generation of employees. The MySpace/Facebook/Bebo generation is finally graduating and a wave of people that are accustomed to being connected anywhere, at anytime will soon be coming to an office near you, writes Andy McLoughlin, co-founder and global vice-president for business development at Huddle.
While their entrance into the world of work has been on the horizon for years, are organisations really prepared for a generation that cannot recall life without the internet, has always owned a mobile phone and communicates with family and friends via tools such as Twitter and Facebook? With a global survey by Cisco revealing that more than half of IT decision makers still ban the use of social media applications, the answer to this question seems to be no.
As many companies still view social media as bad for business and restrict employees' access to collaborative tools, they may soon have a battle on their hands.
Today's graduates have grown accustomed to flexibility, openness and instantly connecting with people regardless of their location. They are simply not used to constraints and being restricted by an IT department will be an alien experience for them.
Traditional enterprise software will present the new wave of workers with an unfamiliar situation as it tends to reflect the hierarchical structure of traditional organisations. Rather than being able to communicate effectively with everyone involved in a project, employees can often find themselves working in silos. There is little communication beyond their department and, instead of being able to collaborate with geographically-dispersed colleagues, partners and suppliers, workers find themselves stuck behind their office firewall.
There are a number of reasons as to why businesses put restrictions in place. Security risks, a reduction in staff productivity, the impact on an organisation's available bandwidth and the leaking of corporate information are just some of the explanations that could be given for barring access to social media tools. However, the issue at the heart of the social software in the workplace debate is control. By introducing the likes of wikis, blogs, podcasting and instant messaging into the work environment, IT departments are relinquishing control over what users can and cannot do.
As daunting as this may seem for businesses, increased flexibility and collaboration will be vital for attracting the brightest sparks of the MySpace generation to join your workforce. By failing to examine how you can use social business software in your organisation, you may also be missing out on an opportunity to use the best tools for the job and stay ahead of your competitors.
Introducing Web 2.0 tools into the workplace will start to break down constrictions and enable everybody to connect with everyone else. As a result, the flow of information within the enterprise becomes far more efficient, communicating effectively beyond the office walls becomes a reality and overall productivity increases.
How many of us have played telephone tag with colleagues when they re offsite, sat there waiting for e-mails with attachments to hit our inbox, struggled to establish which is the latest version of a document or spent a whole day travelling to and from a meeting that lasted just a couple of hours? Thanks to social media tools many of these pain points can be resolved.
Small steps pave the way
Changing an organisation's policies and approach to working will not take place overnight, but small steps can be taken to pave the way for the MySpace generation in the office.
While cloud-based e-mail, word processors and communication tools such as Skype and Windows Messenger challenge the traditional boundaries of an IT department, the advantage is that employees simply need a web browser to access them. Consequently, they can work far more flexibly and don't have to be shackled to their desks from 9am to 5pm.
Barring social media tools in the office also sends out a very clear signal that you don't trust your staff. As well as trusting the people they hire, businesses can ensure that the right policies and security measures in place to reduce risk. By enabling access, you suddenly increase the number of channels through which employees can engage in real-time with business partners, colleagues and suppliers.
A key piece of advice for businesses bracing themselves for the invasion of MySpace generation workers is: be prepared to listen and learn. If a member of your team suggests a new tool that they feel would improve working practices, increase productivity and make office life a little easier, take the time to listen and consider whether deployment is viable. After all, the new generation of workers live and breathe technology and they may be able to teach their managers a thing or two.