Ryan Tracy thought he’d entered the Dark Ages when he graduated college and arrived in the working world.
His employer blocked access to Facebook, Gmail and other popular Internet sites. He had no wireless access for his laptop and often ran to a nearby café on work time so he could use its Wi-Fi connection to send large files.
Sure, the barriers did what his employer intended: They stopped him and his colleagues from using work time to goof around online. But Tracy says the rules also got in the way of legitimate work he needed to do as a scientific analyst for a health-care services company.
“It was a constant battle between the people that saw technology as an advantage, and those that saw it as a hindrance,” says the 27-year-old Chicagoan, who now works for a different company.
He was sure there had to be a better way. It’s a common complaint from young people who join the workforce with the expectation that their bosses will embrace technology as much as they do.
Then some discover that sites they’re supposed to be researching for work are blocked. Or they can’t take a little down time to read a news story online or check their personal email or social networking accounts. In some cases, they end up using their own Internet-enabled smart phones to get to blocked sites, either for work or fun.
So some are wondering: Could companies take a different approach, without compromising security or workplace efficiency, that allows at least some of the online access that younger employees particularly crave?
“It’s no different than spending too much time around the water cooler or making too many personal phone calls. Do you take those away? No,” says Gary Rudman, president of GTR Consulting, a market research firm that tracks the habits of young people. “These two worlds will continue to collide until there’s a mutual understanding that performance, not Internet usage, is what really matters.”
This is, after all, a generation of young people known for what University of Toronto sociologist Barry Wellman calls “media multiplexity.” College students he has studied tell him how they sleep with their smart phones and, in some cases, consider their gadgets to be like a part of their bodies. They’re also less likely to fit the traditional 9-to-5 work mode and are willing to put in time after hours in exchange for flexibility, including online time.