Is Gen Y Causing Us to Rethink Communications at Work?

Last Friday, I laid out some ground rules that covering blogging about work.  Now it’s time to see if I can write within those rules.

On Tuesday this week, I met with one of our summer interns at her request, answering questions about our company, my past career path, and her future career path.  Having just graduated from a local university, she was likely born in 1988 or 1989.  (Our HR department will be happy to know that I didn’t ask her to clarify.)

She and her peers, born late in Generation Y, bring a very different way of communicating to the workplace, one that I believe has the potential to conflict with work rhythms and schedules and traditions.  I am intrigued by the possibility that a shift in communication from telephone to social networking sites and text messaging can significantly impact the workplace.  And I think we could be headed for some challenges.

In 1988, when I came into the workplace (just as our intern was born), communication was via the telephone.  I had a telephone in my apartment.  As long as I was in my apartment, people could find me.  I did not have an email address in 1988.  When I wanted to make plans with friends I called them, left a voice mail, called them again, etc.

Now, 21-year-olds communicate with their mobile devices.  From those mobile devices they can text, tweet, update their status on Facebook, get email and, very rarely, talk live to someone.  When they want to get together with their friends, they post something on Facebook or start a chain of text messages.

In 1988, when I started at work, I got a desk, and I got a phone with my very own phone number.  I also got a laptop (an old Mac DuoDock), but no email yet and Internet access wasn’t even an option.  As long as I was at work, my girlfriend, family and friends could reach me in the office, although they had to remember a new number.

Now, when 2010 grads start work, new grads also get a desk and they get a phone with their very own phone number.  They get a computer with Internet access and their very own company email address.  They can use Facebook and email at their desks and Facebook and texting on their personal mobile devices to connect with friends.  Their friends don’t have to learn a new number.

But is it all this simple?

At many companies, Facebook, My Space and other social networking sites are blocked.  They are viewed as distractions, as are games and streaming video sites like You Tube.

At many companies, texting in meetings or texting constantly viewed as inappropriate and leaving one’s desk constantly to use your mobile device is also frowned upon at not professional.

My concern is that we are cutting of communications channels for this generation when we block these sites and frown on using mobile devices at work.  My concern is that cutting off Facebook and texting is similar to blocking all personal calls in and out of our phone lines, which would never be done.

Rather than view Facebook and other sites as a distraction, why not view them as a communication channel?  Why not measure work produced first and then allow communication with friends if the work is done on time and of high quality?  Playing Farmville is wrong, but communicating with friends about tonight’s plans?  Not so sure that is bad.

Will blocking Facebook limit your ability to hire Gen Y’s and the current generation?  Or, will allowing access to social network sites make your company more attractive.

These questions have no answers yet.  But if texting and social networking have replaced the phone and email as the primary methods of communication, perhaps it’s time that was recognized in the workplace.

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