How to design workplace tools for the knowledge-sharing styles of Millennials

Knowledge workers are an integral part of the UK economy, driving growth and prosperity in the years to come. Yet work is undergoing a fundamental shift as new ways of working – and new age Millennials – begin to dominate the workforce.

Automation is set to replace repetitive and regular office based tasks, stripping out whole layers of traditional ‘office’ work. IT teams are also under increasing pressure to meet the demands of the work-anywhere, anytime, on any device mode of getting business done.

A new class of connected employees are driving expectations for ease of use, a habit shaped by consumer web services.

Information workers want to find documents as easily as they can browse for books online. The approach to work by Millennials – or those born in the 1980s – is shaping these expectations.

Over the next five years, organisations will increasingly need a solution that will support this more dynamic working style. Three-quarters of the global workforce will be Millennials by 2020, according to the BPW Foundation.

Currently most legacy content management systems are already in failure mode due to poor user adoption, can’t keep up and lack support for inter-company sharing and remote access.

It is also a conundrum of modern life that that we seem to be getting less productive, rather than more so, as we are deluged by increasing amounts of data on a daily basis. Our handy gadgets, such as tablets, smart phones, or laptops, seem to be a distraction, rather than a focus, in our 24/7 working lives.

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So, companies need to keep their information flows simple. They are over burdened by ‘information fat’ and this slows them down. Professional body AIIM notes £15bn is wasted looking for ‘lost’ documents at work.

This shouldn’t be the case given the number of technological tools at business leaders’ disposal that can be implemented to skim the fat. Now is the time to look for systems that are simple to use and have the ability to make your company more information-agile.

Sharing and caring

By working together, employees help develop better products and services, connect strategy with execution, make more business decisions and increase revenue. Collaboration refers to working together with co-workers, partners, and external stakeholders on documents, project plans, reports and other types of content in order to execute a project.

It is no great surprise that the vast majority of us are willing and eager to collaborate on work-based projects. More than 9-in-ten (94%) workers recognise the importance of collaboration, and 8-in-ten (83%) already use technology to collaborate. That’s the good news. What is not so good is that there is obvious dissatisfaction, with 59% saying they are unhappy with the tools they have been given.

The problem only gets worse with the generation gap. Baby Boomers and Generation Y’ers – those born prior to the computer revolution – are still stuck in the antiquated age where face-to-face interaction and sit down meetings are the norm.

But for the Millennials, this is anathema. They would rather communicate using online meetings, chat apps or online tools to get things done. A coffee and a face-to-face meeting is too outdated for them.

But any failure to provide the right tools will ultimately lead to problems. Like a drop of water running down a hill, it will take the path of least resistance to get to the bottom. The same applies for knowledge workers, who increasingly turn to social file sharing tools with scant regard to security.

A new survey from Alfresco has revealed that just over half (51%) of knowledge workers used personal emails for work purposes, and the same proportion (51%) used public document sharing for collaboration. Only 38% always think of the security implications when collaborating, a huge problem when sensitive company data is at stake.

Again, it is the Millennials who want tools to help them work through a problem the fastest. When looked at by age groups, a large number of Millennials (71%) said they face challenges with their collaboration tools, compared with Generation Xers (62%) and baby boomers (45%). The always on generation need to fix their cravings for information instantly.

There was also a marked difference in attitudes depending on the industries or sectors worked in; government knowledge workers were perhaps the most security conscious, with 56% always thinking of the security implications of what they do.

This drops appreciably when it comes to the healthcare (43%) or financial services sector (40%) and presumably will be even lower for those in general manufacturing companies.

> See also: How do you create a millennial-friendly workplace that is inclusive of older staff?

Age also plays a part. Older workers have a higher regard for security (49%) than Gen Xers (37%) or those darned Millennials (28%).

What we can do?

It is clear, from the study, that knowledge workers crave the tools to help them to do their job more effectively. They readily use their own devices, including mobile phones, tablets, and laptops in order to connect with work whilst working from home or outside working hours. Legacy file sharing systems that don’t allow access to smart technology is potentially the biggest barrier to collaboration in the modern office.

If companies have networking tools that are deemed too restrictive or ‘clunky’ to use, then workers will choose public file sharing networks or personal emails instead. Without security checks or protocols, then there is nothing to stop information from going missing or ending up in the hands of the wrong people. It leads to a cycle of information ‘spillage’ that is impossible to police or control.

This is a Pandora’s box as information is conveyed across public channels, potentially exposing companies to all sorts of critical data loss threats. The solution is to provide a flexible, workable file sharing system whilst installing protocols that everyone understands and appreciates.

Checks and balances are not in place to frustrate and hinder people, but ensure that vital information is not exposed and compromised.

Getting that balance right is key to getting the best out of your staff. If you can manage to provide the right content management tools – balancing collaboration with security – then the potential to unlock the productivity and creativity of your staff is unlimited.

Sourced from John Newton, CTO and founder, Alfresco

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...