The Digital Natives are restless

binary digitsTime Inc, a division of Time Warner, recently published the results of a study titled ‘A Biometric Day in the Life’ that looks at the use of different media platforms and how this has been affected by the proliferation of digital devices. The results provide a fascinating insight into the media consumption habits of “Digital Natives” (consumers who grew up with mobile technology as part of their everyday lives) and “Digital Immigrants” (who first learned about mobile technology in their adult lives).

The headline finding is that Digital Natives are a restless group, switching between media platforms (defined as TVs, magazines, tablets, smartphones or channels within platforms) 27 times per hour, which is close to once every 2 minutes. Although the Digital Immigrants are not far behind with 17 switches per hour, almost once every 3 minutes. As a result Digital Natives have a lower emotional engagement with the content they are consuming, experiencing fewer highs and lows of emotional response. In fact they actually use media to regulate their mood and turn their attention to something new as soon as they grow tired or bored.

The study also found that 65% of Digital Natives took their devices with them as they moved around their homes whilst 41% of Digital Immigrants take their devices from room to room. In terms of communicating with others 54% of Digital Natives said that they prefer to text people rather than talking to them compared to 28% of Digital Immigrants.

One key implication of the findings is that Digital Immigrants like to see a beginning, middle and end to stories, presented in that order. Digital Natives on the other hand, whilst still needing a beginning, middle and end, will accept them in any order and from different sources.

The research provides marketers and content providers with valuable insights into the behaviour and consumption habits of both groups and clearly poses a number of challenges as to how to design and present content for, and communicate with, each group. The study also presents potential challenges and lessons for CIOs and organisations.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a growing trend and CIOs are wrestling with how to provide employee owned devices with access to the corporate network without compromising security. Locking down these devices by blocking apps such as social networking is one solution. But this will also prevent employees, an increasing proportion of whom will be Digital Natives, from accessing the platforms they use so frequently when they are away from the office. BYOD will not be an attractive option for these employees who will either choose an alternative employer or continue to opt for company provided devices alongside their own device, which could negate the benefits of BYOD.

Considering this point at the organisational level, employers may need to look at their policies covering use of social media and other content platforms during the working day. The Digital Natives are used to switching their attention on a regular basis and do so to maintain their interest levels. Allowing staff, where appropriate, to regularly switch between work and non-work content could actually improve morale and productivity. But I suspect the current culture of most organisations would struggle with this.

With an increasing number of employees being Digital Natives who like to frequently switch between platforms, channels and content, organisations will need to consider building this flexibility into roles, processes and systems. Enabling employees to frequently switch between tasks at work in the same way as they do when consuming media at home may improve their productivity.

When at home both Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants like to move between rooms with their devices. Organisations should think about this when designing office layouts and work spaces. A change of scenery can sometimes be the break a person needs to solve a problem, generate an idea or just increase energy levels. The change of scenery could even mean the employee working offsite, at home, at a nearby coffee shop or any other location where they can be productive and, ideally, connected. But again this needs a different approach to management and culture than currently exists in most organisations.

Allowing staff to use technology at work in the same way as they do at home is one of the underlying principles of the Consumerisation of IT. But to achieve this there also needs to be a shift in the culture and attitude of the organisation and its managers; a ‘Consumerisation of Culture’. At the heart of this shift will be a more flexible approach to working hours and practices, increased flexibility in the workplace and allowing employees to decide how and when to do their work. CIOs have a role to play in this change by providing systems and connectivity that will enable flexibility in a secure way but it’s up to the organisation as a whole to develop a culture that is based on trusting its employees.

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