Survey sheds light on mobile-manic young workers

  • John Cox (Network World)
  • 21 January, 2014 22:53

Workers of all ages, but especially younger ones, increasingly are at home, and now, at work with mobile computing and wireless networks. The technologies are changing expectations of when, where and how they work. Those expectations pose new challenges for companies and IT groups, according to a new study sponsored by wireless LAN vendor Aruba Networks.

Younger workers especially are those who see Wi-Fi as essential in lives both at and outside of work that are now shaped by connectivity. Among the findings of the online survey with over 5,000 respondents from the U.S. and either other countries:

  • 64% have at least three connected devices
  • 70% prefer flexible working hours to working 9 am to 5 pm
  • 45% claim they're most productive before 9 am and after 6 pm (though they apparently didn't say productive at what)
  • over 50% say they'd rather work from home or remotely than get a 10% pay hike

Aruba executives dub these mobile-manic workers "GenMobile." While they can be of any age, the younger the age bracket, the more pronounced is the embrace of and reliance on mobile technology as an essential element in life and work. Asked "how many hours in your week are spent mobile?" 12% said 21 to 28, or based on a seven day week, 3 to 4 hours daily. Another 19%, said 14 to 21 hours; and 23% said 7 to 14 hours, or 1 to 2 hours daily.

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The data was collected in November 2013 via an online survey by pollster Shape the Future. Respondents were from the U.S., U.K., France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to over 65. You can download a copy of the 12-page document online.

As with all such studies, the actual results are subject to interpretation. One question was "what smart/connected technology would you most like to see in everyday use in the next five years?" Connected cars were the top choice by the total sample: 45% chose it. But 54% of the younger GenMobile sample chose that same response. The next top selection was smart home devices and systems: 31% of the total sample, and 33% of the younger group picked that.

The rest of the selections connected glasses, clothes (which might be a marker for "wearables" in general), and shoes were selected by only 9% to 18% in both groups. The Aruba report says this result means that "employers need to pay attention to this demand for a more connected world."

But that's a very generalized reading. The same results show that, apart from continuing sales of tablets, notebooks and smartphones, the primary area of new connectivity will be the obvious one: the vehicles in which GenMobile spends so much of its time. Integrating personal devices with a car-based communications/networking infrastructure is somewhat analogous to doing the same thing with personal devices in an office's infrastructure. And that, of course, raises the question of how much "connected cars" will contribute to distracted driving.

The question of interpretation is in fact one of Aruba's main reasons for launching the study. In early fall 2013, the company was hosting a meeting of senior IT executives from Hollywood film studios. Aruba Chief Marketing Office Ben Gibson said that Aruba executives found themselves being grilled about what kinds of new behaviors, expectations, and demands Aruba was seeing from mobile users. "That was unexpected," he recalls. "We were being asked the kinds of questions usually directed toward a consumer research company."

Aruba decided to come up with some answers. In general, Gibson sees the results as revealing a kind of "mobile consumerization of IT," of how mobile products and services that are being adopted first by individual consumers are reshaping the attitude and actions of those consumers, especially with regard to work.

"These attitudes are more widespread and more common in younger workers," Gibson says. He points to the intense competition in the San Francisco Bay area to attract and keep the next generation of workers. "This is a big issue," he says. "IT can be a hero for the business in meeting these expectations of a highly mobile workforce."

Gibson says he recently visited a startup, staffed mostly by younger "GenMobiles." What he noticed was that there was not a single desktop phone visible. "It was a mashup of Google Hangouts, IM, and other services," he says. "Regardless of the mix, there will be a lot more video and audio."

One result that Aruba highlighted, not surprisingly, was the respondents' preference for Wi-Fi. The survey asked "which type of network do you prefer to use when connecting to the Internet?" Of the 4,914 responses, 57% picked Wi-Fi; 69% of the younger GenMobile group preferred that. Somewhat surprisingly, "wired connection" ranked second, picked by 19% of the total sample, and by 11% of the younger group.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.Twitter:

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