The expectations employees have for the technology they use in the workplace are rising, and that rise isn’t just being driven by millennials, as conventional wisdom would have it. All of us have increasingly high expectations, especially in the realm of remote collaboration.
That was one of my takeaways from the 2016 Future Workforce Study, a collaborative effort of Dell and Intel aimed at identifying global trends that are shaping today’s workplace. I discussed the findings last week with Dell global marketing manager Kelli Hodges, and I kicked off the conversation by asking Hodges for the backstory around how the collaboration between Dell and Intel for this particular purpose came about. She said it stemmed from an awareness that it takes multiple perspectives to develop the right technology for the end user:
One of the critical pieces we need to look at is, as Intel’s processors drive innovation, the product Dell develops needs to be a product that not only meets the needs of IT, but also is pleasing to the end user. It needs to allow them to be as productive as they can possibly be.
The way we’re going to be able to do that best is to understand where the workplace and the workforce are going. Intel and Dell have a true partnership in ensuring that as they improve their technology, it fosters the right level of productivity to allow end users to collaborate. Whereas in the past, product would be developed because a new processor came out, now we’re looking at it differently. We’re looking at who the star of the show is that we should be developing the product for, and going back to make sure we’re developing the right components for them.
From my perspective, one of the things that made this study noteworthy was that it was global in nature. So I asked Hodges if Dell and Intel were able to draw any general conclusions about how the preferences and expectations of employees in the United States differ from those in other countries. She said one of the differences has to do with how office space is used:
When you look at places like the UK and Germany, they have been faster in moving into what I would call the ‘evolving workplace,’ where they have developed systems around ‘hoteling,”’ for example, where more than one individual will share a single office space. They’re moving more toward a remote work force, coming into the office on some days. We see in our study that they’ve moved more quickly to do that; the United States has lagged, and is just now starting to move into that space. And it’s not just a space change; how people work changes. It’s a movement toward developing more collaboration that takes some coaching and learning, and we see they have drawn themselves to that more quickly than what we see in the United States.
When I asked Hodges to what she would attribute that lag, she cited the brick-and-mortar culture in the United States:
When I look at Dell, with some of our new initiatives, the goal is that by 2020, 50 percent of our workers at Dell will work from home. Now, the average Dell employee spends 9.6 days a month working remotely. That never used to be the case [with companies in the United States]. People would want to buy their own building, and put their own logo on it. Now, the culture across the U.S. is that we’re buying into that shared economy, which is moving us into those collaborative spaces, looking at brick-and-mortar differently, and allowing people to work from wherever they need to work from.
A finding of the survey that I found especially interesting was that while 57 percent of global employees still prefer to have face-to-face conversations with colleagues, half of global employees, and three in five millennials, think better communication technology and remote teams will make face-to-face conversation obsolete in the near future. In that sense, the expectation is that technology will strip us of our preferred means of communication, which makes you wonder whether technology is doing us any favors in that regard. I asked Hodges for her thoughts on that, and she agreed that those stats are indeed contradictory:
But if you step back and take a 30,000-ft. view, when you look around you see, for example, that millennials often aren’t having phone conversations — they’re having Facetime conversations on their phones, or they’re using Skype. So if you think about it, as the collaboration tools get better and better, we can say that face-to-face is still going to be important in how people collaborate, but those faces may have a screen between them.
Yes, we are a culture that likes to have face time with people. So one of the things we have to look at, in terms of the technology and collaboration tools such as Skype, is that those need to continue to improve. That puts pressure on us, as a technology company, to ensure that we have the best cameras and video technology built into our products. That’s part of being productive, and I think we’re all going to have to learn how to work in that manner.
I asked Hodges if the study debunked any myths around what we understand the preferences and expectations of millennial employees to be. She said it did more to debunk a myth around the preferences and expectations of the rest of us:
I think one of the things brought forward in the study is it’s not just millennials that are beginning to have a higher level of expectation on what their technology does for them. We hear that millennials are driving all this change, but those of us who aren’t millennials also have a high level of expectation on what our technology can do.
So I think there was some value in presenting this bigger picture, showing it’s not just the millennials — it’s all of us in the workforce who are beginning to have a different expectation, and to work with technology in a different way. Our offices today are not at the level where we really want them to be — the study showed that our technology at home works much better than our technology at the office. I think we have to keep a keen eye on that, because the idea that I have personal technology, and I have work technology, is going away — they’re converging. I do work things on my personal technology, and I do personal things on my work technology. So I think the study brought to light that we really need to look at the bigger picture. Yes, millennials are driving change. But others in the workspace are asking for it, as well.
Finally, I asked what the buzz is within Dell around the findings of this study, in terms of how Dell’s own work force and workplace strategies might change. Her response:
When you put all these statistics together, it really brings to light that we need to focus on how people work. Internally at Dell, what’s happening is that the type of technology we provide you is not based on your job grade — it’s based on what you do. So all of our salespeople out in the field are going to get everything they need to be an on-the-go professional. They’re going to have the thinnest and lightest device, with the right processing power to do their job. So we’ve taken it to heart.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.