An emerging breed of mobile worker

Cross-post from the May 2014 issue of Qatar Today.

Technology is changing the outlook  and expectations of many young workers, and employers need to be aware of these shifting expectations, argues Damian Radcliffe.

Research by Aruba Networks, has identified a new breed of global employee, which they’ve called #GenMobile. This group, which can often to be found – although not exclusively – in the early stages of their working career, has a strong preference not just for mobile devices, but also mobility in their working habits.

The findings of this research reinforces the conclusions found in a number of recent regional surveys by Bayt, Ooredoo and the consultancy Booz & Co, as well as global studies conducted by companies like Cisco. For companies, these repeated results highlight some of the challenges many businesses face in terms of IT security, as well as personnel attraction and retention. Given their recurrence, they are trends which few organisations can choose to ignore.

#GenMobile is super-connected

Nearly two-thirds of this group in Aruba’s study own connected mobile devices, with 9% saying they have more than seven such devices, and 39% owning more than 4%. As a result, a third of this group spends over a third of its day on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Given this proliferation it’s no wonder that many of these tech owners risk feeling bereft without their devices.

Aruba1

A 2011 study by the University of Maryland – which asked more than 1,000 students from 10 countries around the world to go media free for 24 hours – found that many participants a physiological reaction akin to the “phantom limb” syndrome experienced by some amputees during this time.

And when asked to choose between giving up coffee or their mobile, #GenMobile indicated it was 15 times more likely to give up their morning latte, whilst other surveys have consistently  found that young people are least likely to want to give up their phone and their Internet connection, when compared to other media platforms.

High tech proliferation in the Middle East

Perhaps not surprisingly, of the countries surveyed by Aruba, ownership of mobile products in generally highest in the Middle East, with MENA members of #GenMobile being amongst the most hyper-connected technology users anywhere in the world.

Ooredoo’s recent report into digital attitudes and aspirations across the region – “New Horizons”  – dug deeper into this phenomenon and found that 70% of youth in GCC own a smartphone; compared to 47% in Levant and 42% in North Africa. In Qatar this figure was slightly higher than the GCC average, with 72% of youth in Qatar using a smartphone, and 22% a tablet.

In line with this, in terms of multiple devices, 85% of UAE participants in the #GenMobile survey, claimed that they owned three or more connected devices, including a 42% ownership of tablets. Saudi Arabia, at 82%, had similar levels of mobile ownership; with 31% having a tablet device as part of their mobile mix.

24/7 connectivity is changing attitudes to the workplace

As eMarketer has noted – when compared to the average consumer – “tablet owners overindex in tech device usage.” A 2013 survey of American users found that “it’s common for tablet users to consume media across four screens in a given month.” Consequently, “given their penchant for web-enabled devices, this cohort is rarely ‘off the grid.’ “

The impact of this is that #GenMobile is increasingly able to work from anywhere. By being able to stay connected on the move, as well as at home or in the office, it is perhaps not surprising that this is an employment group who has a very different attitude towards the traditional physical workplace.

One of the first substantive hints of this could be seen in 2011, when Cisco’s “Connected World Technology Report” found that young people were already factoring in considerations such as social media freedom, device flexibility, and work mobility into their job decision process.

For a third of the people surveyed (across 14 different countries) these factors were prioritised over the size of their paycheck. And as mobile tech becomes more prevalent – both in terms of reach, proliferation of devices and costs connection – it’s no surprise that this trend is continuing.

Aruba’s 2014 study, for example, found that over half of the 5,000+ respondents surveyed worldwide indicated that they would rather have the opportunity to work from home – or remotely – two to three days a week, in lieu of receiving a 10% higher salary.

Similarly, in the Middle East, Bayt’s “Millennials in the Mena Survey” found that not only did 76% of respondents also believe that technology makes them more efficient at work, but that more people value career growth and learning opportunities in a job more than they value “attractive salaries.”

What this may mean for employers

Given the high levels of personal tech many employees now have, the impact of this on employee attitudes to their physical workspace – and the technology they want to use to do their job – would seem inevitable.

“BYOD [Bring Your Own Device] is already well established in businesses and still on the rise,” Charles McLellan, Reviews Editor at ZDNet UK, has argued, adding that the “consumerisation of IT is clearly not going away.”

In fact, the prevalence of this development is such that “enterprise IT managers cannot simply bury their heads in the sand,” McLellan says.

As Cisco found back in 2011, 81 percent of college students at that time wanted the flexibility to choose their own device for their job; either by being give a budget from an employer to buy their own device, or by using their own tech alongside company-issued devices.

Aruba’s study found that the importance employees attached to being able to access familiar – and high quality – technology at work was such that 38% of respondents stated they would rather be able to bring their own device to work than have an office with a window.

Clearly for employers there is a challenge in balancing these employee expectations with issues of security and compliance, but as Ammar Enaya, regional director at Aruba Networks Middle East & Turkey suggests, this duality has “now become a way of life for those in the modern workforce.”

Seeing how these dynamics evolve and manifest themselves in the coming years is going to be fascinating to watch.

Damian Radcliffe is writing in a personal capacity.

This article first appeared in Qatar Today.

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