Over the next few years, businesses worldwide will be welcoming in a new generation of employees. Yes, the class of 2010 is finally graduating and a wave of young professionals accustomed to being connected anywhere, anytime are coming to an office near you. While their entrance into the world of work has been on the horizon for years, is your company really prepared for a generation that can't recall life without the Internet, have always owned a mobile phone and rely on Twitter and Facebook to communicate with family and friends? According to a 2010 survey by Cisco, which revealed that more than half of IT decision makers still ban the use of social media applications, the answer to this question seems to be no.
Companies clinging to the notion that social media is bad for business may soon have a big battle on their hands. The class of 2010 are accustomed to flexibility, openness and instantly connecting with people regardless of their location. They don't know how to produce under the rigid constraints of an IT department and legacy software systems that reflect the hierarchical structure of old school organizations. Rather than being able to communicate effectively with everyone involved in a project, employees will find themselves working in technology silos. Instead of being able to freely collaborate with geographically-dispersed colleagues, partners and suppliers, many young workers will find themselves trapped behind a firewall.
Today's restrictions were put in place for a reason. Security risks, a reduction in staff productivity, the impact on an organization's available bandwidth and the leaking of corporate information are just some of the explanations that could be given for barring access to social media tools. However, the issue at the heart of the enterprise social software debate is control. By introducing the likes of wikis, blogs, podcasting and instant messaging into the work environment, IT departments are relinquishing their control over what users can and can't do.
As daunting as this may seem for businesses, increased flexibility and collaboration will be vital for attracting the best and the brightest to join your workforce. By failing to examine how you can use social business software in your organization, you may also be missing out on an opportunity to use the best tools for the job and stay ahead of your competitors.
Introducing social tools into the workplace will start to break down silos and let people freely interconnect. Information will flow more efficiently, collaborating beyond the confines of your company will become a reality and overall productivity will increase. How many of us have played telephone tag with colleagues when they're offsite, sat there waiting for emails with attachments to hit our inbox, struggled to establish which is the latest version of a document or spent a whole day travelling to and from a meeting that lasted just a couple of hours? Thanks to social media tools many of these pain points can be resolved.
Changing your organization's policies and approach to working will not happen overnight, but small steps can be taken to pave the way for the class of 2010 and beyond. While cloud-based email, word processors and communication tools like Skype challenge the traditional boundaries of an IT department, they are accessible everywhere and mean people can work far more flexibly and don't have to be shackled to their desks from 9am to 5pm.
Keeping social media tools out of your workplace sends a very clear signal that you don't trust your staff. Trust the people you hire and ensure that the right policies and security measures are in place to reduce risk. By enabling access, you suddenly increase the number of channels through which employees can engage in real-time with your business partners, colleagues and suppliers.
A key piece of advice for businesses welcoming workers from the class of 2010 is: be prepared to listen and learn. If a member of your team suggests a new tool that they feel would improve business practices, increase productivity and make office life a little easier, take the time to listen and consider whether it is viable. After all, the new generation of workers live and breathe technology and they may be able to teach you a thing or two.