Millennials at the gates? Baby boomers in the drivers’ seats? The modern workplace is evolving rapidly, and technology needs to evolve along with it. As organizations transition to a dramatically different vision of tomorrow’s workplace, the CIO will play a critical role in executing on the vision.
Embracing an increasingly virtual workplace requires more than a new technological infrastructure that is flexible enough to change when employee requirements change as well. The shift requires CIOs to play a role in addressing the generational divide between millennials and the more “experienced” members of the workforce. As the first fully digital generation, millennials often have a more natural affinity to technology than some of their co-workers. But they also may lack communication and other skills, which can create tension with colleagues.
David D. Burstein, author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, suggests mixing new and veteran employees on teams and projects. Such cross-pollination will help older workers learn some of the millennials’ newer tech skills, while millennials can absorb workplace culture lessons from their more experienced colleagues.
“Millennials should be empowered to use their tech savvy – a major asset – not just to help the company, but all their fellow employees as well,” Burstein wrote on Huffington Post.
CIOs can also influence the evolving policies around how employees communicate. Millennials are frequent texters, while older workers may disparage that form of communication. Burstein believes organizations should strive for a middle ground that accommodates texting as part of a broader set of communication policies.
Boosting the Business
Technology can help enable these cultural shifts. CIOs can and should drive adoption of what McKinsey calls Enterprise 2.0 tools – Web-based social technologies that originally were made popular by consumers, but that are becoming more central to businesses. This includes not just social networking, but also wikis, blogs, video sharing, and podcasts. Millennials expect to use the tools at work in the same way they use them as consumers. This can boost a business: McKinsey found that companies using these tools extensively perform better than businesses that don’t.
“Companies have to get more comfortable with this sense of openness,” Burstein said in an episode of Modern Workplace on YouTube. “It’s really important for companies to understand that social media is not this other thing that’s out there. It’s a fundamental part of our world and people of this generation really value it.”
To build tomorrow’s workplace, CIOs need to lead by following – following the requirements of employees, and then leading by building an infrastructure that enables them. It also means building a technology architecture that takes as its starting point the actual scenarios that employees encounter every day, and following the same type of design guidelines that customer experience designers use for consumer-facing apps.
Done right, CIOs will help their organizations craft a workplace that makes it easier for people to do their work, share ideas, and collaborate with others – wherever and whenever they wish.