Will Your Document & Information Processes Attract and Retain Digital Natives

You may know them as Millennials, Echo Boomers or the Peter Pan Generation.  Whatever you call them, “Digital Natives1 will form 70% of the workforce by 20252—and the ability to attract and retain them will be critical to your company’s success. Because of their immersion in and ease of interacting with technology, Digital Natives are changing the way businesses must work in order to prosper.

Significant business organizations across different market sectors have already taken proactive steps to adapt to Digital Native work preferences.  IBM supports the mentoring and collaboration, and not coincidentally the productivity, of Digital Natives who are filling the ranks of their iWorkers3 through a special internal program BlueIQ: “BlueIQ provides consulting for IBMers on how to best use social software to perform collaborative work and quickly connect with the resources and people they need to reach. Since IBM is a large, global organization, BlueIQ, is especially beneficial for new employees to help them navigate around the organization and quickly find experts, share online materials, run effective online meetings, and locate resources from IBM global communities.”4

Digital Natives using their online expertise to help support large companies

Best Buy has seen tremendous success with a corporate policy recognizing the changing attitudes toward where and when one can do effective work: “Best Buy launched the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, where employees in participating departments are allowed to work virtually anywhere, anytime, as long as they successfully complete their assignments on time. This shift increased productivity 41% at headquarters and decreased turnover by as much as 90%, according to Ferris’ Four Hour Work Week.”5

Both of these initiatives address the different ways Digital Natives approach absorbing, using, and managing “business” information.  One difference is the use of information is as critical to the way they live as it is to the way they work.  ln fact, there is a blurring of the distinction between the two. Another is the changing mentoring and collaborative processes Digital Natives require in order for them (and you) to succeed in the wired, global economy.  The efficiency and effectiveness of your processes can serve as a kind of proving ground in your ability to attract and retain the best of this new generation of iWorker.

Who Are Digital Natives and How Do They Use Information?

In the U.S. at least, the Internet was already in place when Digital Natives entered kindergarten—making them the first generation to grow up in an online world.  They went on to define the use of text, chat and social media as a primary communication medium. As adults, Digital Natives transact most of their personal business online (as opposed to their predecessors who prefer in person or a voice over the phone); immediate accessibility and self-service are the hallmarks of the highest levels of service.

These behaviors and expectations carry over into their work life.  A recent speaker at World Economic Forum as part of the first Global Shaper delegation, a group of 70 millennial leaders from around the world, characterized her workday as a consultant: “Last Friday, I had two work-related Skype calls, one to Nassau and another to England, during my Amtrak train ride from Boston to New York. For my work, I use Dropbox for online shared folders, Evernote to store and categorize information, and Skype videoconferencing or iPhone’s Facetime application to connect with my colleagues across the world. This flexibility and technology give me the freedom to operate my business anytime, anywhere.”6

Let’s look at four characteristics of Digital Native information handling, their expectations and specific behaviors.

  • They expect the same immediate access to information at work as in their personal transactions—they make less of a distinction between the two;
  • They do not want to be bound to a desk, but use the same, smart mobile devices for work and personal life. This may encourage working off-premises and outside of traditional business hours.  At the same time, these work preferences might also limit the more traditional “hands on,” face to face collaboration and mentoring relationships for effective knowledge transfer;
  • They are energized, not stressed, by technological change:  they are unlikely to be satisfied with last year’s technology.  Some 37 percent of Millennials (ages 18-27) globally say that state-of- the-art technology is a vital consideration in selecting an employer;7
  • They rely less on static information acquired through research and more on experiential knowledge to inform their work. And they share experiences and expect to collaborate online and remotely through social media;

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Highlights from the Full Paper

  • “Digital Natives” (the generation of iWorkers that have grown up with the internet) are changing the way businesses work. 
  • They expect immediate accessibility to information and self-service,  are energized by technological change, and leverage social media and online tools to collaborate.
  • The efficiency and effectiveness of your processes can serve as a kind of proving ground in your ability to attract and retain the best of this new generation of iWorker.
  • Digital Natives may not hesitate to find a more efficient and energized work environment, leaving you with a growing talent shortage in the years to come.
  • Improving your processes not only makes your business attractive to Digital Natives but also delivers the benefits of becoming a more agile and productive business – a win-win situation.

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1 Prensky, Marc. Digital natives, digital immigrants. From On the Horizon, MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001. Note: Digital Natives was first coined by Marc Prensky to
refer to those who have grown up with digital technology, as opposed to “Digital Immigrants”, those who have become acquainted with technology later in life.
2 Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. “Gen Y Women in the Workplace: Focus Group Summary Report,” April 2011. Note: statistic quoted refers to both men and women in the workplace.
3 iWorkers are knowledge workers who rely on electronic and printed information in their daily jobs.
4 Koplowitz, Rob with Matthew Brown and Joseph Dang “Leveraging Millennials To Drive Enterprise Social Initiatives,” Forrester, April 28, 2011.
5 Dhawan, Erica. “Gen-Y Workforce and Workplace Are Out Of Sync,” Forbes, January 23, 2012.
6 Dhawan, Erica. “Gen-Y Workforce And Workplace Are Out Of Sync,” Forbes, January 23, 2012.
7Jumping the boundaries of corporate IT: Accenture global research on Millennials’ use of technology.” Accenture, 2010.