Gen Y is in your workplace...but out of your office

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Baby Boomers beware: Gen Y’s influence on workplace culture holds no chance of waning. Cisco’s latest Connected World Technology Report reveals that young people aged 18 to 29 are more invested in their technology than previously thought, an investment which will ultimately prove to have a much greater impact on both their recruitment and retention.

In order to understand the challenges companies face in an increasingly Gen Y, mobile and cyber security risk-prone world, the survey gathered insights and feedback across young professionals and university students in 14 countries. By focusing on a demographic of 18 to 29 year olds, the survey contributes concrete figures to the ongoing discussion about young people’s workplace expectations. In particular, its results have been useful in challenging the persistent, but ultimately vague, belief that Gen Y is simply Facebook and gadget obsessed. For HR departments seeking high employee engagement and young talent recruitment strategies, the report is the strongest indication yet that sound technology policies are critical to supporting and influencing the next generation workforce.

So profound is their attachment to technology, that one in three university students and young professionals surveyed consider the internet to be as important as air, water, food, and shelter. Not as surprisingly perhaps, the survey also found that their desire to use social media, mobile devices and the Internet more freely in the workplace is strong enough to influence their future job choice, sometimes even more than salary.

One of the most pertinent findings is the growing importance the younger generation places on workplace mobility. Across the board, both the university and young professional populations have expectations that they will be able to access work applications remotely from a home computer or personal mobile device. 26% of young professionals surveyed believe that being able to work remotely is a right (not a privilege) in today’s world and 74% of university students expect to access their corporate network using their home computer in the future.

And what of the bustling office hub? Only one in three young professionals indicated that they thought it was necessary for them to be physically ‘in the office’ in order to make  decisions more effectively and efficiently and nearly half indicated that it was unnecessary for their everyday job routines. In contrast, when asked to rate how the boss felt about working from home, the majority indicated that management deemed it necessary for them to be physically in the office in all situations.

As iPhones and other smartphones completely dominate this younger market it also fans the debate over the necessity of offices compared to the ability to connect to the Internet and work anywhere, such as at home. In fact, in the 2010 edition of the survey,  three out of five employees globally thought offices were unnecessary for being productive.

Regardless of whether construing workplace mobility in terms of workers’ rights is the best way to frame the issue, the overwhelming demand for these arrangements indicates both an evolution in factors influencing employee performance and a radical re-conceptualization of the workplace itself. These attitudes show that the desire to ‘deconstruct’ the physical workplace and its tradition of ‘9 to 5’ by working outside the office, and accessing work networks and data remotely, will increasingly impact businesses as they transition into an era defined by an explicitly individualized approach to work. The onus now lies squarely with organizations to leverage its potential to increase both productivity and employee engagement.

About the author

Kevin Bloch is the chief technology officer, Cisco Australia and New Zealand

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