The Tech-Native Generation at Work

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 11-05-2008 Print Email
A new book on what Generation Y brings to the workplace offers helpful points on how Millennials can reshape technology.

Aimed at members of Generation Y who are preparing to enter the workforce, Tamara Erickson's new book also tells the employers of these young people a lot worth knowing. In this excerpt from Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work, consultant and author Erickson speaks directly to the next-gen workforce about what they bring to the table in terms of technology.

A ski instructor told me that he could always tell whether a person learned to ski as an adult or as a child. Even though you could become a very good skier as an adult, you would never ski in exactly the same way that you would have had you learned as a child.

There's a parallel in this story to the use of technology. Older adults have learned to use the available technology, but many of them use it in ways that are fundamentally different from the way you [individuals born between the early 1980s and 2001] do. Technology for you is ubiquitous and an essential part of how you operate day to day. You absorbed intuitively things that others have learned intellectually.

Inevitably, you will bring innovation to the workplace, because the ideas you have about how things might work will almost certainly be new and largely unrelated to the way things have been done for the past 50 years. Your real gift is not so much that you know how to use the technology; it's that the way you use the technology causes you to think and act differently.

You find new uses for technology that's "good enough." Text messaging and camera phones are two prime examples.

Both applications traded off poorer quality for a different level of functionality. But whenever you limit a new technology in this way, asking whether it will be of comparable quality to the existing approach, you miss another critical question: Will it allow us to do things that we've never done before?

You are comfortable living asynchronously. Share news with friends? Not with a phone call, but with a post on Facebook to be read at your friends' convenience. Gen Y's who have been in the workplace for only a year or two say that one of their biggest surprises has been how inefficient most corporate processes seem. With your generation, time-shifting will come to the workplace.

You coordinate rather than plan. I suspect that you rarely, if ever, suggest to your friends on Wednesday that you all meet at a particular place and time on Saturday. Instead, you wait until Saturday and then coordinate. Your work in the future will, in all likelihood, involve much more coordinating and far less planning than is common in most organizations today.

You use multiple technologies simultaneously. And you multitask, dividing your activities into long-term and short-term units. You will bring to the workplace the need for speed and the habit of using the most effective technology for each task.

You solve problems and perform tasks collaboratively. Because the technologies you use allow you to share information easily, you are inclined to solve problems by tapping communal wisdom. Collaboration is becoming increasingly important to organizations.

You understand how to build and use digital networks. The importance of financial capital is giving way to social capital. The unit of economic value is becoming the number of relationships you have. The peer-to-peer experience will increasingly play out in the corporate world.

You're comfortable working anywhere--and alone. The increasing prevalence of non-office-based working arrangements means that many of you will also work physically alone (although you may be "alone" in a Starbucks, surrounded by dozens of other telecommuters).

You redraw the line between institutional and personal technology. In your world, technology is not the domain of the specialist. Soon the concept of corporations supplying computers (and cell phones) will be as outdated as the clothing allowances of the 1950s. All tomorrow's employees will ask is that the company beam them in.

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