When Cisco recently commissioned an international workforce study of nearly 3000 students and young people in the early stages of their careers, it found that one in three college students and young professionals consider the Internet to be as important as air, water, food, and shelter and found that their desire to use social media, mobile devices, and the Internet more freely in the workplace is strong enough to influence their future job choice –  sometimes more than salary.

That some things are more important than money in the workplace comes as no surprise to all but a few of us, but there are two particular areas of note within the survey: the preference for remote working; and their high use of social media.

Preference for remote working

It’s dangerous to assume that all of a single generation will be the same, but we can say with some certainty that these growing trends require careful management – and that management differs from when someone is sitting in the office with you.

Developing trust, community and strong working relationships are more challenging across distance. When competing for someone’s time and attention, these become really valuable currencies for getting things done. Working in, and managing, teams in complex virtual environments requires completely different skill sets and challenges assumptions made in traditional, more hierarchical, face to face working environments.

That some see working flexibly as a right only adds to this complexity. Managing or working with someone when you don’t know where they are or when they’ll be there is harder than knowing that someone will be in an office within set hours.

Desire for Social Media

The big fear around social media for companies is that people will be distracted rather that working. The survey will offer the worriers no comfort: more than 4 in 10 (43%) students from Cisco’s total sample (with considerable regional variations) note that they are typically distracted or interrupted by some type of social media three or more times per hour while they are trying to focus on a project or homework.

Whilst some companies will try hard to ‘control’ people’s use of social media, for the ‘digital natives’ and others who have embraced social media, rules will only be something that people will spend time and energy getting around, and could become a source of resentment and disengagement.

Education is almost always preferable to legislation, and used well in the workplace social media can be a great facilitator. It can only become more so as people work increasingly remotely and/or on flexible schedules. Helping people to tame the technology is an important workplace challenge.

Roughly seven in ten young professionals indicate that they have ‘friended‘ or ‘followed’ their manager and/or co-workers in social media spaces. With the boundaries blurring between home and work, personal and professional lives, the emphasis that HR needs to place isn’t around the distraction levels (which people will need to find ways to manage if they are to remain effective and employed) but in ensuring that people are aware of how to manage the pitfalls, and how to how to maintain a work/life balance effectively.

They will also need to find ways of addressing the problems faced by those who have not had access to high levels of connectivity – the digitally disconnected. The gap is widening by the minute.

The accompanying infographic can be found on a separate  Cisco Connected World Technology Report blog post. To find out more about how to address some of the workplace issues thrown up by this report, please contact your nearest Global Integration office.

About the author:

Claire Thompson Claire has a background in PR and communications, and has worked in the UK and abroad for many years. Within Global Integration, she's the frontline for co-ordinating the blogging, social media, posting and general digital magic that team members ask for support with. It keeps her busy - she loves it! Google+ Profile: .

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