The Changing Workplace: That Gap is Technological

Rich Berens
President and Chief Operating Officer
Root


Learning

Have you felt the shift at your workplace? Things are changing. Some people blame the discomfort on mixing four generations with four worldviews. I think it’s more honest to sort differences by technological comfort. That “technology wedge” between Millennials and other generations is simply about comfort levels and expectations. And that’s natural. All generations have brought new technologies into the workplace and changed the way we work, from the telephone a few decades ago to social networking applications today.

What is different today is that changes are occurring faster. It took 38 years for radio to acquire 50 million users, and only three years for Facebook to reach twice that number. The rate of change feels scary, but change is here, and we can get in the way of it or channel it to make our businesses better.

Three Shifts

In looking at this rapid technology evolution, we need to be aware of three shifts that impact how we work and communicate with one another.

1. The Work-to-Home/Home-to-Work Shift

Until recently, workers were exposed to new technology at work, and then migrated it into their homes – personal computers, for example. Instead of IT departments guiding workers, employees are now leading the way. Their home experiences are setting the agenda for what’s expected at work. The iPhone now has over 50,000 applications and Facebook has over 300 million users worldwide.

The most relevant question from a corporate use standpoint is when these technologies reach a tipping point and become essential in your workplace for productivity advantage. For its first two years, Facebook was a must for 18-to-24-year-olds – not a big concern for the corporate world. But about a year ago, it reached a tipping point and became ubiquitous across all generations. The age boundaries are gone for social networks. At 92, actor Kirk Douglas communicates with his fans via MySpace. When a technology cuts across all generations, you know it’s ready for the workplace.

2. The User-Generated Content Shift

Another tipping-point trend is user-generated content – information created by end users (consumers and employees). We all rely on Amazon reader reviews and Trip Advisor recommendations. We often put more credence into information that is user-generated than from formal news sources. From a consumer standpoint, what we deem authentic and how we send and receive information is very close to a tipping point. Companies like Intel and others already use it for significant business benefit. For organizations, the question is, “How can we harness user-generated content to share best practices and communication so we can take advantage of the technology that our employees now expect?”

3. The Rich Media Quality Shift

You may have seen a story on the band Journey and its search for a new lead singer to replace the legendary Steve Perry. As the band agonized over traditional talent searches, one of them discovered their new singer on a video on YouTube. Arnel Pineda, a 40-year-old homeless man from the Philippines, had posted his spot-on rendition of a Steve Perry vocal. (For a more detailed story, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89_2UivtEhs.) The band solved its problem in a way that would never have been possible without new technology. Imagine using this kind of method to find your own “lead singer” for your critical projects at the right time – using technology!

The point is that rich video-based media is becoming a standard we all use and expect on a daily basis to learn and share information. We can now convey the emotion and passion of our product or service to employees and customers in a way that can’t be matched by any traditional media. Rich media has reached a tipping point, but we are not very savvy at using it yet in the corporate world to engage our employees in the business better.

All three trends have hit a tipping point and are entering your corporate culture whether you want them to or not. If you channel these trends, you can create greater engagement and business productivity for your company.

In 2009, Rich partnered with Procter & Gamble to host a summit on “Changing How We Change.” Leaders from various industries focused their experiences on new ways to think about change. In 2008, Rich was appointed by the Governor of Ohio to serve on the state’s Workforce Advisory Board.