Drowning in a Sea of Technology
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Drowning in a Sea of Technology

November 1, 2013

Source: CHEIF LEARNING OFFICER

I’ve discussed my dependence on technology before. But lately, I have a love-hate relationship with it.

I have a lot of devices, and I know how to use them all, but I struggle when choosing what’s enhancing my life vs. what’s muddling it. For weekend getaways, do I need my iPad? It’ll help me navigate the road and find good restaurants in the area, but will I waste time on it, ultimately not enjoying my trip to its fullest potential? At work, when should I use video, podcasts, slideshows or photos to tell my story? We have the tools to create them all, but what’s best, and how do I sift through the hundreds of sources available on the topics I’m covering? In our personal and professional lives, we’re drowning with information and technology choices, and it’s taking a toll on productivity and happiness.

I interviewed Jason Corsello, vice president of corporate strategy and marketing for Cornerstone OnDemand, a cloud-based talent management software services firm, on the subject because it appears his research indicates other Gen Y’s feel the same. According to Cornerstone’s recent survey, millennials are feeling the most overwhelmed from being “always on” versus their older colleagues. Information overload was cited by 41 percent of millennials, versus just 31 percent among older generations, while technology overload was cited by 38 percent of them compared to 20 percent of older workers. Below is my interview with Corsello, detailing why this is the case, how BYOD fits into it and what it means for workplace learning and development.

Yes, there’s a lot of technology out there. But I think many assume Gen Y would be accustomed to that. Were you surprised by your findings?

Corsello: This was, indeed, one of the most surprising findings from our survey on workplace productivity and technology. I think that most people have come to the conclusion that the digitally native millennial generation can handle technology — that they even love it and can’t live without it.

Our survey results pushed back on this categorization. The survey indicates that it is the tech-savvy millennials who are feeling the most overwhelmed from being always on versus their older colleagues. Information overload was cited by 41 percent of millennials, versus just 31 percent among older generations, while technology overload was cited by 38 percent of them compared to 20 percent of older workers.

Along a similar line of thinking, we found that most of us still prefer to collaborate in person versus online — 72 percent of respondents. It seems that good old-fashioned face time is still the preferred way to get work done, even in our increasingly hyper-connected world. And this finding held for Gen Y as well – 60 percent of which responded with a preference for in-person collaboration. Goes to show that millennials do not always want to hide behind their devices.

Overall, the survey cast light on an interesting dichotomy that we see emerging in our new world of work, which is swiftly changing how we communicate, collaborate and just get stuff done. On the one hand, despite the fact that employees are awash in technology, they are demanding more and better devices and applications to do their jobs. On the other hand, Gen Y workers, whom we have largely pigeonholed as having an insatiable appetite for technology, are expressing both a desire for more human, face-to-face interaction and frustration with information and technology overload.

We hear so often that employees want BYOD, so is that not the case?

Corsello: Employees do want BYOD, but at the end of the day I think it is less about the device and more about the right apps to help them get their work done.

While we see a lot of hype around BYOD and growth in use of smartphones and tablets, the reality is that people use a blend of devices for work. The desktop is still king for 76 percent of workers who use a device to get their jobs done. Forty-three percent use a laptop, with smartphone use coming in at 36 percent and tablet use at 15 percent. Not surprisingly, more than half of Gen Y employees use smartphones for work, versus 23 percent of older generations. We also confirmed that instances of BYOD were higher among knowledge workers in fields such as business, finance and technology versus workers in other industries, such as retail or health care.

So if it’s not entirely about the device, then what is the question? I think it’s more about the apps that employees are choosing to use. Our survey found that 37 percent of employees who currently use apps for work would be likely to spend their own money on work-related apps in the next 12 months if they felt the app would help them with their job. Even among employees who do not currently use apps for work, 20 percent expected to spend their own money for apps to increase their productivity. Who spends their own hard-earned money on workplace productivity tools? Or even Post-It notes for that matter?

While employers wrestle with their BYOD policies, they might also want to consider their policies around the use of apps by individual employees. Generally the advice is to make this policy one of openness to employee devices and apps. But the Cornerstone OnDemand study shows that many companies are slow to address this issue. When asked if their employers had policies on using applications for work purposes that are not provided by the employer, 43 percent said no and 21 percent said they did not know. When asked about company policies regarding the use of personal devices — smartphones, tablets and the like — for work purposes, 45 percent said their companies had no policies and 15 percent said they did not know whether any policies were in place.

It’s the Wild West out there — employees are increasingly using their smartphones and other personal devices for work, employers are considering policies around device and app use, and all the while, thousands of apps are available and new ones appearing each day.

What’s the implication of all of this for employers?

Corsello: While the world of work has always been evolving, there’s no question in my mind that the changes that the workplace is seeing in 2013 are more intense than ever before. Globalization, generational shifts, new attitudes toward work and the consumerization of the enterprise are factors driving business leaders to reconsider the best ways to recruit, train and manage their talent.

A big part of this shift is that our employees increasingly expect to be able to work any time, any place and on any device. But businesses have been slow to change the policies and infrastructure that governed and guided work from a previous era.

Our survey indicates that organizations may be failing to provide their people with the right tools and resources for helping employees to perform at their very best. And while some people are taking matters into their own hands by using their own devices or applications for work, this approach does not always help the situation.

Knowing all of this, does it change anything in corporate learning?

Corsello: Employee appetite for continuous training and development is a theme we’ve been noticing in recent years — especially among the millennial generation. This goes hand in hand with Gen Y’s much-ballyhooed expectation for constant performance feedback and recognition.

To my mind, employers have been a little slow to provide their people with the right resources for learning and performing in the new world of work. But this shortcoming should most certainly be seen as an opportunity: employees are hungry for context-sensitive training that is available when they need it to be most productive in their jobs. In many cases, they may not necessarily define the type of informal, just-in-time, just-enough learning opportunities they crave as training or development, yet this is the new age of blended learning.

The boom of information, technology and devices presents a handful of challenges, to be sure. But it also means that increasingly employees of every generation can be armed with the know-how to perform at their peak, thanks to mobile, social and just-in-time learning.

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