Digital Natives: A Tech-Savvy Generation Enters the Workplace

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Marie Puybaraud
Marie Puybaraud
Dr. Marie Puybaraud is the Global Head of Research for JLL Corporate Solutions and a recognized thought leader on the Future of Work and Human Experience with a significant track record of research on Corporate Real Estate, Facilities Management and Workplace industry futures, workplace innovation, technologies, and generational issues at work.

Digital Natives are the generation born during or after the general introduction of digital technology. While individuals from elder generations recall organizing, planning and interacting with one another without mobile devices, computers or the Internet, Digital Natives have been using these technologies since their early years. They are the same, but different to previous generations.

Digital Natives have an inherent understanding of digital technologies, as they’ve been integrated into their lives since early childhood. They are part of a tech-savvy generation at the forefront of technological progress and want to be connected when they wish, from anywhere. Now graduated from secondary education, the first generation of Digital Natives is entering the working world – and transforming it at a fast pace. Is the workplace ready to embrace this change?

Johnson Controls study evaluates workplace needs of Digital Natives

In 2011, Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Innovation and the Johnson Controls Automotive Group conducted a two-phase research project to understand Digital Natives’ relationship with technologies. The study, which was conducted in Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and China, aimed to uncover the changes that need to be made to the workplace to accommodate this generation.

During the first phase of the project, qualitative interviews were conducted with Digital Natives and Digital Native experts to develop an understanding of lifestyle, values, and technology usage behavior and habits. Interviewees were screened, and frequent users of technology and opinion leaders in their peer groups were selected for the study. The second stage included a survey of 2,800 respondents to validate the findings of the in-depth interview. The results showed that Digital Natives consider their lifestyles to be similar to previous generations, but there are differences in how they interact with technology and how frequently they are logged on.

Who are the Digital Natives?

Technology has been integrated into the lives of Digital Natives since early childhood, providing them with the skills to naturally adapt to it from a young age. They have developed an innate understanding of digital and computer technologies, which have evolved into essential parts of their daily lives.

The Internet is the backbone, firmly connecting news and information, social networking, and education. Smartphones and mobile devices with Internet access support the Digital Natives’ need to always be connected with immediate access to information and social networks, anywhere at any time. This gives them instant access to both their social and professional lives, as well as the opportunity to seamlessly switch between the two.

Over the past two decades, the Internet has evolved from a source of information to a vehicle for individuals to share knowledge and experiences with peers via email, blogs, forums, or social platforms. According to the study, Digital Natives primarily use the Internet for social networking, followed by business and entertainment purposes.

The research revealed that most Digital Natives use the Internet between two and four hours per day. However, one-fourth of Digital Natives spend between four and six hours of their day online. As a result of this massive investment of time using digital media, this generation has become masters of navigating and filtering the flood of information they receive, skilled at multitasking, and must be able to access the virtual world at all times.


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Digital Natives & Technology


New ways of communicating

Before the advancement of digital technology and social networks, people typically communicated with the same few groups of peers. As connectivity continues to increase, people have become more self-reliant and resourceful while interacting with one another on a broader scale in the virtual world. For Digital Natives, the intensity and diversity of interactions with virtual like-minded people has increased considerably, as they share ideas and collaborate with peers on a global level.

This higher level of experience, knowledge and information resulting from consistent use of digital media has also impacted purchasing behaviors, as consumers become increasingly educated and empowered.

When asked to define itself, the Digital Native generation responded with, “We are Apple and we do Facebook.” To this generation, Facebook is an indispensable social  link to family, friends and groups, and Apple embodies technological progress, innovation and creativity.

How will Digital Natives change and enhance the workplace?

As Digital Natives enter the workforce, they will infuse companies with a new work culture conducive to a generation more adept at incorporating technology into their personal and professional lives than previous generations. Organizations have an opportunity to leverage this level of knowledge by encouraging Digital Natives to share it with elder coworkers. These technological skills can also be harnessed to improve workplace efficiency and significantly increase productivity.

While most Digital Natives indicated they are satisfied with their current work environments, the study revealed several areas for improvement of technology in the workplace. The survey findings uncovered the following needs:

  • Increased access to technology;
  • Cloud computing for faster, more efficient information sharing with colleagues and peers;
  • Internal knowledge management to support collaboration;
  • A more comfortable working environment, as the lines between work and private life blur; and
  • A more sustainable working environment.


Technology and collaborative spaces

One preference that Digital Natives and elder generations have in common is the need for workspaces that can support teamwork – a commonality that will help the differing age groups easily collaborate in the workplace. A separate Johnson Controls study of 1,700 respondents revealed that office workers across several generations expect to spend more time working in team environments with collaborative technologies. This shift to working in virtual teams using a range of technologies is tied to a decrease in the amount of time that office workers expect to spend at their desks, on the phone, or in traditional meeting rooms.


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Digital Natives & Work


Digital Natives: The same, but different

Although Digital Natives have many of the same needs as previous generations, they are different in how they approach daily work, communicate and integrate technology into their lives. Indeed they regard technology as an extension of their bodies or central nervous systems. If addressed correctly, this new generation can help increase productivity by helping colleagues use technology more efficiently and effectively. The technology gap between generations will lessen as elder generations learn to embrace and understand new technologies like their Digital Native peers. Digital Natives’ higher level of intuition when it comes to technology, coupled with the fact that new products are easier to use than their predecessors, means that integration with technology will be less of an issue for all generations.

Companies are challenged to create a balanced working environment that attracts Digital Natives, without excluding other generations. The key is to find the proper combination of technologies, while keeping working processes simple.


As Digital Natives enter the workplace as a technologically savvy culture, companies can consider the following tips for adapting the workplace to the needs of this new generation of workers.

  1. BYOT – Bring your own technology: Digital Natives are comfortable bringing their personal equipment to the office, such as laptops, iPads, and smartphones.
  2. Always connected: The use of light portable and mobile technologies allows for a high level of mobility and efficiency in the workplace.
  3. No loss of transition from home to work: The smooth integration of technologies while in the office, such as WiFi access, booking systems, and 3G video conferencing, will allow workers to easily transition work from the office to their homes.
  4. Consumer technologies in the office: Where possible, organizations should move away from corporate IT solutions to consumer-friendly ones to adapt to the use of employees’ personal technologies and devices in the workplace.
  5. Social networking-friendly solutions: Allow workers to build and maintain a social network while at work to share knowledge and foster communities.
  6. Collaborative solutions: Provide solutions that allow workers to collaborate with one another wherever they are, at any time.
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