Being naturally inclined to analyze culture in all its forms, I have noticed some very interesting trends in 21st century work culture, especially in regards to the complete polar difference in the employee culture of the generation that came before me and the generation that I am a part of. I am very good friends with members of both cultures in the employment space, and those friendships extend from executive management to everyone else. Throughout these relationships and my time in the working world, I have noticed a very interesting and very rapid cultural shift that has changed the entire way we, as workers in the 21st century, should be viewing the employees coming through our door, and how we let them communicate outside of our office walls.
As many of my regular readers are aware, my employment situation is a chaotic one at best. I have multiple jobs at any given time being a consultant and a full time employee for a waste company in North Carolina. As the Marketing Manager at my company, I have a bit more freedom than most when it comes to my access to the internet, and it is this freedom by comparison to my peers in this office, and the freedoms that are possessed by very close friends in various companies all over the world, that I began to really notice that technology has completely changed the way 21st century employees are getting their jobs done.
To explain what I mean with the best possible accuracy, I will, as always, start by using myself as an example, and I’ll ignore my other jobs and only focus on my role at Waste Industries to prove my point. Granted, my normal day-to-day is usually quite a bit more chaotic than this, but focus is key here, so I’ll simplify a working-day in the life of James for the sake of argument. To people in my generation, this is all going to make sense, but for those that came before me, this may be a bit of a difference. And the reason is that my generation was the very first generation to fully embrace a world that is driven by digital communication. And no, I’m not talking about email, though that’s a part of it. I’m talking about a complete social network of individuals, all with different skill sets, all with different abilities, and all within the click of a button away. But before I get into the details, here’s a quick overview of a random day in my life:
I come to work and power up my system. I open chrome first, hangouts second, and email third. Before I even check my email, I send out my standard 6 “good morning” (good morrow if it’s going to my friend Bryan) to my 6 key conversation points that I will be talking to all day. Then, I check my email. I respond to emails while jumping back to hangouts, catching up on people’s evenings and days so far with brief, 10-15 word responses max sent at usually 3-15 minute intervals. It’s a chat, but it’s a slow one. Then, I start designing a project. As I’m designing, I realize that I’m having an issue with my computer processing a certain command. Instead of reaching for the phone or putting in an IT support ticket, I throw open the hangouts window and begin a conversation with my IT department friend that works Air Liquide in Houston, a good 1000 miles away from me and an hour behind me in time:
Me: Bryan, my computer is being a jerk. It won’t let me control 5 to turn these paths into guides.
Bryan: Well you tell that computer if it doesn’t stop being a jerk, you’ll take away its power button as punishment.
Me: I tried that, it just shocked me as a response. It doesn’t appear to like being threatened.
Bryan: Ah yes, it’s probably the leprechauns in there. Ok, go to Start –> run –> enter (Bryan says some IT stuff and I just do it) and tell me what the second line there says.
Me: It says (random stuff IT people get).
Bryan: Ok, just go ahead and close that and open your control panel, go to keyboard, and change your setting from A to B.
Me: Awesome, thanks mate!
I go on with my business, continuing my design. I get a phone call a few minutes later that is a request for me to produce 30 shirts with a design for a charity event we are participating in. I begin work on the design, but as I do, I pull up my Hangouts window and send a message to Shelton, my long-time friend and partner in crime on many other projects:
Me: Hey, I need 30 white T-shirts, don’t care about quality, that will host this logo [link attached]. Thoughts? Die sub or screen?
Shelton: Screen. Definitely. What’s it for?
Me: An outdoor heart walk event. They’ll be wearing them while they walk around in the sun.
Shelton: Poly blend, if you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks. But I can probably find them on discount somewhere. Hold on.
[break while I finalize design]
Shelton: Ok, how does 16.50 a shirt sound, three color screen front and two color screen back?
Me: Did you get competing quotes?
Shelton: Yea. [link attached].
Me: Looks good, get them ordered.
And done again.
At some point in the day, as I’m working through a design, a message comes in my way from Kitney (no that’s not her real name… well yea it is, to us), who works for a company on the first floor of my building:
Kitney: How much would it cost me to put together a press release?
Me: Depends? Attaching picture or just the release? And are you writing it or having me do it?
Kitney: I’ll write it if you’ll edit it. Yea he wants a picture.
Me: That works. And it’ll cost you about 1200 to do it yourself, but you can piggie back on my account for 900 if you’re doing a picture.
Kitney: Ok, thanks!
I finish my designs for the day and begin gathering information on what has happened in the world of internet marketing while I was designing to make sure I’m still on top of my game, and as I do that, my final hangout comes in from Chelsea asking me about sales buttons on the website she manages.
Chelsea: I need a way to make these sections look more balanced. Any ideas?
Me: I’d put a direct link button that says “Get your copy of this book today!” at the bottom to cause a line break and give you a direct conversion point from your homepage.
Chelsea: How big?
Me: Here, I’ll design it and send it over– [link attached]
And there we go, done again.
It’s this exact form of communication that makes 21st century employees so interesting to me from a cultural perspective. I mean sure, people had the ability to do this in the past with phones and then in recent years with emails, but there’s something about the social networking age that has opened up our generation to a cultural acceptance of sharing everything about our lives, including our talents.
It used to be that when a company hired one employee, they had to find the employee with the best skills for one particular job. Now, however, you can hire an employee with the skill set of one particular job and you’ll get the skill-sets of multiple other jobs in a shared networking experience that blows any previous hiring potential out of the water. You literally pay one employee and get the knowledge of their entire network, all because this culture learned to thrive on the sharing of information.
Obviously, I love culture. I’m a Third Culture Kid, and I can’t help myself, and with this cultural element I feel as though I’m watching something completely new, an entirely new office culture that the world has never seen and that many are not prepared for. So many people who have this networked potential are completely locked down, incapable of getting on hangouts or Facebook chat or the likes without getting in trouble. But that’s the remnant of a dying generation of leaders, and with every passing day this new, completely connected culture moves closer and closer to running the organizations that are not even remotely prepared to handle them.
And honestly, as a man obsessed with culture, especially new ones like this, I couldn’t be more excited to see how this all unfolds. So, readers, here’s my question to you: What does your knowledge network look like?
Post by: James R. Mitchener