Senior ICT managers across the housing sector are looking for compelling reasons for investing in technologies that enhance collaborative working, such as unified communications. In this article, the third of five on unified communications, the focus falls on a new generation of young people who are now entering the economy.
Sometimes known as ‘Generation Y’, these are the people that the housing sector must engage with and attract as they enter the employment market as potential staff and the housing market as potential tenants. This article shows the role of technology in attracting the best talent to the sector and how it can meet the communication expectations of the new generation of tenants.
Like every other generation, Generation Y has been shaped by the events, developments and trends of its time. The rise of technology, and in particular the internet, has meant that all facets of young people’s lives, including education and learning, domestic circumstances and lifestyle have all been shaped and influenced by new communication and collaboration technologies.
The rise of instant communication technologies, such as SMS and instant messaging, voice and video applications such as Skype and YouTube, and social media such as Twitter and Facebook might explain Generation Y’s reputation for being peer-oriented and seeking instant gratification. Whether or not that is the case, it is clear that they will have high expectations of the workplace and tools they use, as well as a desire to shape their jobs to fit their lives, rather than adapt their lives to the workplace.
Considerable research has been done to understand what is important to Generation Y and for those of us involved in unified communications, the synergies are clear. While salaries are still important, more importance is often placed on other aspects of work such as flexibility, choice, collaboration, variety and the freedom to adapt and try new roles.
While these requirements are difficult to achieve within traditional working environments where tools are usually limited to email and telephony and users are physically tied to a fixed location, these are all demands that can be achieved through the use of unified communications.
Many of The Times ‘Top 100 Companies’ are using technology to enable their staff to produce the best output, while providing them with a broad range of experiences, such as involving them in social responsibility initiatives and supporting flexible working. In order to offer this degree of freedom and choice in the workspace, technology investments can be crucial to attracting talent to an organisation.
There are certain trends in the housing sector which are changing the way organisations need to work. For example, the proliferation of mergers means that housing associations are more geographically dispersed than before, while at the same time a combined focus on reducing operational costs and carbon emissions means that excessive travel for meetings is not the answer; there is consequently a need to reduce the importance of these geographical boundaries. New collaborative technologies can create virtual meeting spaces which allow users to communicate and share content within secure, web-driven meeting rooms.
This kind of working environment is not confined by time or space and can be expanded to include a wider audience. This is the kind of flexibility that is attractive to today’s would-be employees. Whether working from the office, home, a hotel or even a coffee shop, there should be ubiquitous access to business tools and information; the result should be improved creativity, productivity and staff satisfaction.
In the same way, the new generation of tenants entering the housing market will have similar expectations of the services they receive from their housing providers. Generation Y is used to and expects instant access to on-demand services via the web and other media. In this environment, where competition for housing across the UK has increased, how will any service provider offering traditional ‘9-to-5’ services survive?
Customer service technologies offer choice to the consumer, whether they want to access services on the phone, via email or SMS, or via live web chat. The rise of social media, such as Twitter, means that housing associations need to embrace this type of self-service, ‘fast food’ culture.
We are working with many housing associations to show how unified communications can enhance staff productivity and customer satisfaction; housing associations should think of their network as the platform on which they can deliver excellent services both now and in the future.
During the last ten years, young people have shaped the way consumer technology has developed, with mobile phones and SMS text messaging the preferred method of contact for millions of people, which in turn has shaped the communication demands of most businesses. At the same time, we have also been involved in the Building Schools for the Future programme, working with Lewisham and Luton councils.
As Generation Y enters the world of work, it should be recognised that their lifelong use of technology and communications will shape their expectations of working life far beyond where we are today.
Nick Boon is social housing team manager for ONI plc.