Author: Jacob Chacko, Regional Director - Middle East, Saudi & South Africa at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company
The impact of the pandemic might have varied widely between individuals but a few certain aspects of largely been universal – lockdown, isolation, and social distancing. Such sudden and significant changes to our daily lives have led to the emergence of a particular cohort of employees, Generation Novel (Gen-N) who all share a specific set of traits as a result of these shared experiences.
Coined by digital anthropologist, Brian Solis, Gen-N describes a cross-generation subset of people who’ve come to thrive on digital-first experiences, while also placing a greater value on personalization, customization, and transparency. However, above all else, they understand, use and demand more from technology than previous cohorts – be this at home or work. Aruba’s recent report into Gen-N found that 85% of hybrid workers identify with Gen-N traits.
So, after spending years grappling with the needs of Gen X and Gen Y, employers now have a whole new generation to come to terms with in the post-pandemic world. For IT and tech teams, these new attitudes and behaviours are changing technology needs across their organizations. However, Aruba’s research found that worryingly this new generation also opens their organizations up to new risks, especially if their workplace expectations go unmet.
New needs of an emerging workforce
From the way Gen-N purchases products to how they work with colleagues, their preferences have been shaped by the pandemic. Gen-N is more comfortable with technology, using it now more than ever. With this increased use has also come increased confidence, with 75% considering themselves ‘digitally savvy’. Gen-N is also driving new demand for personalization, as they increasingly feel it is important to be able to customize their workplace tech to suit individual preferences.
Concern about mental health is another characteristic of Gen-N. Although our collective use of technology, be this at work or personally, has increased, the cohort is mindful not to let devices dominate their lives. Gen-N believes employers have a responsibility to do so too – 80% of respondents told us that they feel their employer must maintain policies that actively encourage healthy technology use. Currently, though, many hybrid workers feel their organizations are falling short. Nearly half (48%) told us that their employers’ current policies do not support good mental health.
The rise of risky behaviour
As technology leaders decide how to plan and implement their hybrid workplace, it’s critical to think through the risks this new generation will bring if its emerging expectations and behaviours continue to go unmet.
Gen-N is vocal, they know what they want. So, if they feel their needs aren’t being met, they will demand it from managers. Employers need to be proactive and encouraged to view these are important opportunities to protect both individuals and the wider organization. Consequences of not meeting these new needs include decreased productivity (35%) and workers using their devices for work-related matters (27%). Contrastingly, if provided with the right technology, Gen-N believes they would be more productive, happier at work, and have a more positive perception of their company.
What’s more, with Gen-N more tech-savvy, expectations on IT teams have never been higher – while patience has never been lower. Over three-quarters of hybrid workers say they expect tech issues to be resolved in 20 minutes or less, with a further 42% expecting this in under ten. As IT and tech teams know though, such challenges are far more time consuming than this expectation allows for.
The increased flexibility desired by Gen-N also opens businesses up to security risks based on where, when, and how employees log on to their work devices. Hybrid work has shown that it is viable to work anywhere, anytime, and almost anyplace. Worryingly still, over half admit to connecting to a non-password protected public network at least once a week, but only a third consistently think of the security risks in doing so. From this, we can see that employees engage in the same risky behaviours that IT and tech teams have been trying to mitigate for years.
Addressing the needs of Gen-N
Although there are risks presented, 61% of members of Gen-N feel more secure working in a hybrid environment than they did working solely remotely during the pandemic. Decision-makers must therefore consider these risks when building their hybrid working policy – balancing choice of technology and flexibility with security.
Business leaders must streamline their security operations with automated and Zero Trust Security models. With real-time monitoring by IT teams, the detection, prevention, isolation, and stoppage of network breaches will be vastly easier. Solutions such as automatic device categorization based on network fingerprint and dynamic segmentation will also allow for more relaxed, choice-driven policies around device usage and anywhere, anytime working.
Security also relies on visibility. Businesses must look at technologies that address fragmented network operations and simplify network management. The need for such policies is being brought on by Gen-N’s tendency to disperse across various locations such as homes, offices, cafes etc all the while using personal devices for work. By deploying unified infrastructure, one that can be centrally managed via a single point of control, businesses can have stronger supervision over their networks.
With Gen-N’s unique list of demands, attributes and behaviours, businesses must both support these workers and build an efficient workplace. It will be vital that they strike a balance between an open yet secure network to afford employees flexibility, freedom, and personalization they now seek, without compromising on security.