What Millennials Can Teach Us about Collaboration

Rethinking Communications

What Millennials Can Teach Us about Collaboration

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  December 05, 2013

Over the course of my recent columns here, I’ve been exploring the dynamics of technology personalization and how this impacts unified communications. Personalization means different things to different people, and my focus has mainly been on millennials. Vendors have a certain worldview of how UC should be deployed, as does IT, but getting those to line up with what end users think is supposed to happen will likely be a bigger challenge than expected.

To address that challenge, my position is that personalization has a lot to do with how effective UC will be once it gets rolled out across your organization. As noted previously, the underlying technology can certainly perform as advertised, and in a perfect world, IT would only need to be concerned with optimizing the network to support all the applications under the UC umbrella. Of course, this could easily consume all of IT’s resources, but just getting the technology right will not ensure success with UC.

Moving past this, IT must accept that every end user will utilize UC in his or her own way, regardless of how many guidelines or best practices you put in place. This is part of what makes IP-based technologies a dual-edged sword. On one hand, the flexibility inherent in all things IP provides IT with powerful options to integrate UC with a wide range of applications that drive business value. Conversely, this also gives end users great flexibility in how they use UC, most of which is beyond IT’s control. This means you have to place faith and trust in end users that they will use UC largely in its intended manner.

I’ve written previously of the need to view employees as equal partners in your UC implementation. You really can’t force them to use it, yet IT’s credibility rests on getting their buy-in. In this regard, you can provide lots of suggestions and training, but ultimately take-up will happen more on their terms than yours.

This brings us to the role of personalization, with the main idea being that the more employees come to view UC as their UC – instead of your UC – the more effectively they will adopt it. As addressed earlier in this series, personalization can be both a driver and an inhibitor for collaboration, which is really the main behavior UC is trying to stimulate. Your view here will likely be highly subjective, and I’ve been maintaining that much of this is generational. Millennials and older employees (pre-Internet) have different views on many things, including work styles and their relationships with technology.

While one can be quick to dismiss millennials as being too over-stimulated to be effective team players, you should keep in mind that their perspectives have not yet factored much into how UC solutions are developed and deployed. There is no rulebook for what constitutes collaboration, and if your workplace is millennial-heavy, you may be imposing expectations that are not aligned with how your employees view collaboration.

I hope you now see how the ideas of personalization and IP’s flexibility start to intersect with UC. Instead of laying out a set of best practices for collaboration with UC, you should instead present it as a clean slate from which employees can pick and choose. Every situation calls for its own set of communications tools as well as work styles for team members. Millennials place a high value on personalization, but that doesn’t mean it’s just to serve their individual needs. That same desire can also be channeled into collaborative activities, but they may not quite synch up with what you had in mind. To illustrate, consider the following examples:

  • Accessing UC applications almost entirely from mobile devices, even while working from their desk. This means your UC platform must have solid support for mobility and that the user interface be optimized for smaller screens and touch devices.
  • Millennials will be inclined to use different sources and methods to find information needed for a project. Online search engines will play a key role, and they will likely have highly evolved skills that go well beyond what a casual search would generate. This may well result in superior results that take less time based on other approaches, and if a lot of this work is done on the go, then UC will work best if it can somehow integrate mobile search results with other workflows.
  • Social media will also play a key role, especially for things like validating information sources and doing ad hoc testing of new ideas. Millennials will know how to connect with individuals and communities this way, enabling them to quickly assemble resources, crowdsource ideas and identify hard-to-find experts.

These are just a few ways that millennials will collaborate, and note how highly personalized each one is. This is probably not the norm for how collaboration typically gets done in your organization, and these approaches are probably not factored into the UC solutions you’ve been looking at. If these conditions reflect your current reality, is it any wonder why millennials may not see much utility for UC? If you don’t provide the tools they are inclined to use, it’s probably unfair to conclude they are poor team players or inept UC users.

I realize this analysis will not hold up in the mainstream, but I do believe it reflects how the workforce is evolving. If you have a lot of millennials in your midst, there may well be a disconnect between your expectations of UC and the results from your end users. In that event, you probably have a thing or two to learn from millennials about what collaboration means to them, and once you have that, you’ll probably want to have a chat with your UC vendor.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy.

Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi