How to recognize the digital native

One theme Shel and I have discussed quite a few times on the FIR podcast is the different behaviours younger people exhibit in how they communicate compared to the traditional behaviours in the workplace.

We have a terrific example – in FIR #133, Shel’s teenage daughter Rachel talks about how she and her friends communicate. It’s nothing like you see in the typical organization where email is the indispensible communication tool.

Forget email for this generation. Don’t even think about file attachments. They use instant messaging. They use mobile phone text messaging. They’re online all the time. They don’t think of tools like Skype as making a phone call – they’re just extended informal conversation devices.

These different behaviours will have enormous impact on organizations as these kids finish school and university and enter the workplace, bringing their behaviours and expectations with them.

Of all those expectations, being online whenever and wherever they want to be is the top one. Interesting to see a powerful message yesterday from Anne Kirah, Senior Design Anthropologist at Microsoft, with a clear warning to employers:

Jobseekers will think twice about employers who lock down work internet access, a senior Microsoft executive said today. “These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day.” […] “Companies all over the world are saying, oh, you can’t be on the internet while you’re at work. You can’t be on instant messaging at work… These are digital immigrant ideas.”

Kirah defines ‘digital immigrants’ as people who were not born into the digital lifestyle and view it as a distraction rather than an integral part of life. The younger generation of workers have been using computers and mobile phones since birth and she calls them ‘digital natives.’

“Digital communication is part of people’s lives now. Their friends online are the people they identify with.”

If you run a company that has blanket restrictions and rules about online usage, you need to think again. Find a way to satisfy your security needs while enabling employees to be online.


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