Imagine a brave new workplace that looks something like this: The manager of a large department enjoys giving her Monday morning pep talks. She considers herself the head coach of the department and wants to inspire everyone before they hit the cubicle, the phone and the computer. “Hitting our goals is like shooting low hanging fruit in a barrel,” she exhorts. There is some snickering as she continues, “We need to be singing from the same road map.” Her coaching session continues with happy applause while, unbeknownst to her, a small video camera captures the sincere but hilarious weekly sermon. Later that day, the video clip shows up on YouTube and is an immediate hit and watched by all in the organization and around the world.
Or, consider this scene: At the luncheon to celebrate all the birthdays of the month, half of the attendees are eating cake and kibitzing about hockey. The other half are not talking to anyone. They’re focused on hand-held devices, moving their thumbs like dancers. They are multi-tasking, paying some attention to the party as well as several things going on with their PDAs. At the end of the lunch they sing happy birthday, go back to their cubes and log back on.
Similar scenes are played out every day and the implications in the workplace are a bit of a new frontier for HR. In the first case, was that manager’s privacy violated? Is there a penalty for the one who took the video footage? Should the company try to find out who took the video? Should someone talk to the manager about her metaphor dyslexia? Does she know she is on YouTube, and who should tell her? Can the company ever get that tape off of YouTube? (The answer is no.) Should rules be set up about company videos? If the company is identified, what should it do?
In the case of the birthday party, how do employers engage younger workers when so much of their interest is online? Should organizations care? Should they make everyone check their phones and BlackBerries at the door, like six shooters in the Wild West? How does the employer know what they are looking at? What if it’s pornography or online gambling? What if they’re taking a video?
Like other changes in the workplace, the initial reaction will likely be to over-regulate and, over time, the changes will just seep into daily lives and everyone will learn to live and cope with this new reality. But one thing is clear — there is a new generational gap in the workplace and it’s important to understand it and see what is happening.
My mother has never owned or learned how to operate a computer, but likes to think she is up on things. She wants to someday visit Dayton, Ohio, because she believes that is where the Internet is located and she wants to see it. Dayton is, according to her, where many UFOs are also in storage so it goes to reason the Internet would be there too. I suspect that, if truth be known, many in the managerial ranks are in the same situation when it comes to understanding all the technology that is truly changing the young workforce and how they approach their careers.
I asked a few young people the following: “If you were going to lose your job and get laid off, would you care if the notification came through e-mail?” The overwhelming response was that they wouldn’t care. Many said it’s the efficient way to conduct business and they don’t need to hear it from their boss, so why make it hard on everyone? It makes sense. Who wants to get dressed up, take the train into work only to have a five-minute meeting where you hear you need to leave your access card at the security desk?
The rumour among the recent college graduate crowd was that evil HR people in major corporations as well as MBA admissions people were scouring MySpace and Friendster networks looking at candidates. The guilt and panic swelled among those who worried about the parties and exploits — and the drunken videos — they put on their pages.
But they needn’t panic. A lot of the HR world is composed of baby boomers, and the majority of them don’t know how to access MySpace and, if they did, they couldn’t find anyone other than who was posted on the home page.
There would have been much less angst in an already stressful process if the new graduates knew they were safe and the hiring world knew that most of the stuff on the social networking sites is pretty dull. Everyone should take a deep breath and learn to use all the new technologies and attitudes for the good of the organization and our lives.
Richard A. Moran is a partner at Venrock Associates in Menlo Park, Calif. and a best-selling author. His latest book is Nuts, Bolts and Jolts. For more information visit www.venrock.com.