Sweat pants, bare feet and a big fat slice of cake. Is this what you imagine for your team when they make their appeal to work from home? I know when I work from home I am guilty of dressing in sweats and then throwing on a scarf to camouflage it just before joining in a video meeting.

And now the experts have found that even if all those things are happening, it doesn’t negatively impact productivity. Researchers at Penn State who analyzed dozens of telecommuting studies have found “telecommuting actually boosts productivity, performance, job satisfaction and overall life satisfaction.” And there’s more: “it positively affect relationships with supervisors and reduces turnover, stress and work-family conflict – because people feel increased control over their work.”

The Digital Natives Have Arrived

Having this confirmed with research is a huge relief for me because, even as a manager, I like working from home sometimes. And my experience has been my team members do well if they have that option too. This is especially true for the Digital Natives who are now entering the workforce.  These new workers are used to doing nearly everything with just a simple Internet connection. They grew up with the technology being part of their lives from the get-go and are device agnostic – they are happy as long as they can connect.

A Johnson Controls study uncovered how Digital Natives want to function in the workplace. While the majority of Digital Natives are satisfied, there are several areas in need of improvement in the workplace, specifically in terms of technology. They want:

  • Greater access to technology in the workplace
  • Cloud computing for easier updating and distribution of information
  • Internal knowledge management to support collaboration
  • A more comfortable working environment, as the lines between work and private life blur

Embracing a Mobile Workforce Means More than a Telecommuting Policy

In a Citrix study, 93% of businesses report they will have implemented workshifting (aka telecommuting) policies by the end of this year. But the smartest companies are moving past policy to practicality and focusing on how the work is done. They are embracing this mobile workforce by focusing on the “how” not just the “where”. This is absolutely in line with the kind of work environment Digital Natives are seeking.

The Johnson Controls study referenced above also 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.”

This means is as a manager, I have to do more than just give my team permission to work differently; I know I must provide the tools and technology that facilitate bringing out the best of my “mobile workforce.” I do that using social business collaboration tools.

Social Business Collaboration Provides Tools to Structure Mobile Work

Collaboration is the key – the best results come from bringing everyone to the table. I rely on technology that supports my virtual team members as they work together at the same time or asynchronously to get the job done (here’s a blog about the joys of asynchronous communication from a Digital Native).

Teams need to communicate about the work.  They can do it socially with a newsfeed of transactions, notifications, comments and likes and they can do it privately one on one or in small groups via instant message or video chats. Meetings don’t go away but they are different. We bring everyone together with video conferencing and screen sharing. Collaboration requires teams have a full range of choices in how they communicate.

I recommend choosing a social business collaboration tool that lets each team define their workspace, select the members and even lets them choose the business applications they want to use. The team determines how to best work together.  For some, custom business apps that work like a database or spreadsheet, keep everything on track.  For others, the newsfeed provides a way to get feedback, manage versions and keep the entire team on the same page.

Finally, it has to be secure. All our work is “in the cloud” which means we can all access it whenever we want, but that doesn’t mean we want to put our business at risk.

As the Digital Natives join the workforce and push everyone to work differently, I’m feeling excited. The lines between my personal and professional life were already blurry – having the tools and technology that allow me to watch my son’s school play without missing out on what’s happening at work – that’s more than okay with me!