by Gary L. Hall
How AV technology can help organizations deal with workforce transition.
The success of modern organizations depends on recruiting, retaining, and leveraging the best talent available. Federal agencies need to determine if they are ready to immigrate to the digital world of knowledge work, or if they will remain rooted in obsolete systems and outdated assumptions. Understanding generational diversity is a critical success factor for organizations that seek to modernize. Federal AV technology managers can provide powerful tools and services to help their agencies take advantage of diversity opportunities and mitigate challenges.
There are currently three major generational groups - Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Each of these groups is defined by their shared values and their approaches to technology. While there are considerable variances within generational groups, researchers have found some basic common characteristics that help frame their perspectives on work, life, loyalty, and other workplace issues.
Boomers were born in the 1940s and 1950s. They prefer face-to-face communications with command and control management. Boomers think of technology as one of the many things that help them get the job done. Generation Xers were born in the 1960s and 1970s. They prefer collaboration and depend on technology, but remain skeptical of it. Millennials were born in the 1980s and 1990s. They are the first generation of digital natives to enter the workforce. Being a digital native means they have always been immersed in digital technology and have relied on it as an integral part of their lives. All previous generations are digital immigrants. Millennials' lives are entirely dependent on technology and they are perpetually connected. They prefer social networking and group decision making.
The overarching values and characteristics of each generation have been shaped by their collective experiences and world events. They each require different management approaches and technologies. A simple illustration of attitude differences about technology is how they would react if the network went down while at work. Boomers would likely find something else to do while Gen Xers would complain, and Millennials would ask to go home. Another way to assess technology attitudes is by their preferences. Boomers still like paper while Gen Xers rely on email and are interested in new collaboration tools. For Millennials, technology is part of being human. They rely on social networking and mobile devices that keep them perpetually connected. They also strongly prefer multimedia and gaming technologies to traditional alternatives.
AS TECHNOLOGY AND BEHAVIOR BLURS THE LINE BETWEEN WORK AND LIFE, POLICY MAKERS MUST BE EDUCATED ON HOW TECHNOLOGIES WORK AND HOW RISK CAN BE MITIGATED WHILE STILL ENCOURAGING PRODUCTIVE NEW BEHAVIOR.
AV technology managers have the ability to help their organizations take advantage of the opportunities that generational diversity creates. They can integrate unified communications systems that seamlessly connect voice, video, and data elements of their agencies' networks. These systems enable social networking and mobility technologies that are essential for Millennial workers to be effective and satisfied. In the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense, these technologies will facilitate the paradigm shift from "need to know" information management to a responsibility to share perspective. The responsibility to share allows agencies to work together to link elements of intelligence from different sources to better reflect the overall situation. This is directly in line with the digital social order that Millennials are developing by using technology to share, create, and validate information.
AV technology can also help mitigate challenges that are created as the workforce evolves. As Boomers retire in large numbers over the next decade, they create a significant risk to organizations that rely on them for institutional knowledge. Their mass retirement has the potential to decimate the leadership and knowledge base of many federal entities. The impact of this potential problem can be greatly reduced or eliminated by taking proactive steps to retain and transfer knowledge. AV technology can capture video records of critical business processes and corporate information that can be archived and viewed on-demand by new workers. Telepresence can facilitate long distance mentoring programs that develop future leaders through interaction with current leaders nearing retirement. Distance learning and mentoring programs that use AV technology are much more likely to attract and retain tech savvy Millennials. They may also help to extend the tenure of other workers by helping them learn how to use new technologies.
Millennials have a lot to offer through their combination of technology skills and peer collaboration, but they also create potential risks for the government. Their insistence on collaboration and mobility creates new challenges that must be addressed by AV managers. Millennial workers use AV tools and applications much more frequently than other workers. The majority of Millennials expect to be able to use corporate social networking portals, streaming media, and instant messaging to perform their jobs. They also feel entitled to use employer supplied applications, devices, and technologies for personal tasks. They also use personal devices to improve work productivity. Agencies that seek to ban these behaviors will risk alienating the best available new workers.
As technology and behavior blurs the line between work and life, policy makers must be educated on how technologies work and how risk can be mitigated while still encouraging productive new behavior. AV technology managers are uniquely qualified to act as advisors and problem solvers in these areas. Our knowledge of the fundamentals of AV allows us to find new ways to use technologies while safeguarding against risks. We can work with manufacturers and security departments to develop devices that use appropriate encryption to allow mobile videoconferencing and streaming. We can work with suppliers and other agencies to ensure systems interoperability. We can also lend our knowledge to legal, security, and CIO departments to ensure that policy decisions are based on an accurate understanding of AV technologies and not just assumptions and fear. We can work with IT departments to properly plan and evolve network resources for sustainable AV data use.
The bottom line is that Millennials assume technology and they are rewriting the rules. They demand that their employers create environments where they can share ideas and work in groups. They also demand that employers enable and encourage multitasking, flexibility, and mobility. AV technology managers can assist with these efforts by finding solutions that empower mobile workers and give them options for connecting with each other and creating and accessing information.
Agencies must develop strategies for recruiting and retaining staff to fill the knowledge, experience, and leadership gaps that are created as Boomers retire. They will also need to find ways to transfer knowledge to new workers, and they need to start now. Training and mentoring methods must be refined to take advantage of AV resources. Recruiting departments will need the help of AV managers to develop corporate web portals that include audio and video podcasting, streaming media, video chat, and other AV content designed to attract Millennial workers.
Agencies that learn how to properly apply AV technologies in their enterprises will have a strong advantage in attracting, retaining, and leveraging the best employees as we adapt to the changing needs of our workforce.
Gary L. Hall, CTS-D, CTS-I, is a program management execution officer at the National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Bethesda, MD. He is also an adjunct instructor at the InfoComm Academy and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are in no way officially endorsed by NGA, and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States.