A fundamental characteristic of a successful company is its ability to know what the future looks like. Whether through financial planning, transformation goals or long-term business strategy, it is essential to get a handle on the business challenges of tomorrow, as well as those of today.
But what about people? How well do businesses know the employees who will enter the workforce in the coming decade? What influences and motivates them? And what do they define as good technology?
Mainstream media demonstrates that the appetite for knowledge about Generation Z is growing. People want to get a handle on post-Millennials before they come to prominence, understanding their cultural preferences, consumer habits and prospects in the housing and job markets. Yet, for tech-dependent businesses, the most pressing concern about Generation Z is their relationship with IT and how it will impact upon the workplace.
Prospective Generation Z employees will not only be used to working with tech different to that used by the current workforce, but also be used to having an entirely different relationship with it. For example, recent research suggests that 84 find of the Generation Z population surveyed multitask, usually while watching online videos (for context, just 2 find of the working population today do the same). They use mobile and social by default, rather than adopting these technologies through trend or necessity. And they share sensitive information across a number of platforms, without a second thought.
To work effectively with Generation Z, businesses face the task of balancing two things. The first is creating workplace conditions that will appeal to the best and most innovative emerging business people. The second is ensuring that the new apps and devices that form part of those conditions do not compromise data security. The key for business will be to find a way to cater to each.
Tech user demand is not necessarily new. As modern devices, apps and software enter the consumer space, employees will look for functionality similar to what they are using at work. But the contemporary workforce has come to the fore during an age of development for social media and online video. So they see these technologies as benefits, rather than expectations.
For Generation Z, the picture will be wildly different. The brightest minds born after 1996 will want to work for companies that are able to use modern tech as standard – and who encourage a professional approach to technology usage that mirrors the personal. While that doesn’t mean making Snapchat a business comms tool, it does mean identifying the benefits of social media and using them to create platforms that enable highly personal interaction and immediate-response data access.
It may be easy to dismiss or gloss over Gen Z tech desires. But the impact of that kind of thinking can be highly damaging, both in terms of business productivity and corporate profile. The unhappy truth is that businesses that fail to accommodate the tech needs of Gen Z will lose out on securing the best staff of 2020 and beyond.
Even with a good understanding of Generation Z, many businesses will still find themselves asking which is the bigger priority: tech expectations or safety? Especially as the new tools Gen Z want to work with may not come with adequate security measures as standard; and that this new set of employees are used to finding work-arounds to tech problems, using video tutorials and crowd-sourced knowledge – which may present significant IT risk.
Companies operating in industries that use sensitive information cannot be left vulnerable. Data hacks on transport firms that hold passport data, or pharmaceutical companies with medical records, can bring those businesses to their knees, inflicting damage that can last years. Similarly DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks on retailers can collapse services for days on end.
Unfortunately, attack attempts are not likely to decrease in the future. And, at the same time, the entry of Generation Z into the workplace is getting closer. So perhaps the answer to that big question around ‘Expectations vs Security?’ is not one or the other – but both.
The imperative for business will not be to resist change, but to find ways to innovate safely. The trick will be to provide systems that do not ask Generation Z to conform to an alien and outdated tech relationship, while at the same time maintaining business and personal security.
This approach will only be possible through designing or buying tech that has the behavioural desires of Generation Z built in, alongside robust hack defences. Naturally this will require investment. But that investment will eventually pay for itself through ensuring better protection against cyber threat, and the ability to appeal to Generation Z employees as they enter the workplace.
The fact is that businesses need to be future-ready for the emerging workforce. In addition, their security systems need to keep everyone, and everything, secure in an increasingly uncertain cyber-world.
By Sandro Lindner, Head of EMEA Sales Commercial for Unisys