Top Workplace Trends for 2013

Frank Kenna III

By, Frank Kenna III on Monday February 04, 2013

Article originally published in the New Haven Register.

Connection to each other. Over the past year, the proliferation of personal “smart” devices, such as iPads and smartphones, has reached more than half of the U.S. population, according to the Nielsen Co. and tech website CNET says that two thirds will have them by 2015. Being this connected can be helpful, say for emergency alerts, and not so helpful, in the case of rumors and false information. Learning to manage this is a task to be added to all managers’ to-do lists this year.

Technology-savvy differences between generations. The employees who have these always-on devices — I’ll call them the “Connecteds” — are getting their information in smaller bites and much faster than their not savvy counterparts, who tend to be the older generations. This speed and saturation of information absorption will start to further separate these generations, causing rifts and management challenges.

Battle for privacy vs. benefits of transparency. The Connecteds are much more comfortable sharing their personal information, witness the Facebook explosion where a billion users post hundreds of millions of information bits daily. In contrast, the older generations tend to guard their privacy. As employers have more access to Facebook-like tools for the workplace, the opportunities of harnessing employee information will clash with the privacy concerns of the baby boomers.

The economy and budget. Our federal government’s budget policies can’t continue on their current path. Trillion-dollar deficits are simply not sustainable. The debt will have to be repaid someday, and in the shorter term, maybe this year, interest rates will start to increase. Just the interest on our debt will explode. The Federal Reserve will then be out of ammunition for the next recession. 2013 is the year to make progress at fixing this. If not, Connecticut companies and their employees will pay a big price.

Educated workers. My company produces software to make other companies’ internal communications easier. We therefore need talented developers with advanced degrees, but they are very difficult to find. As more companies depend on technology, this shortage will become acute. The long-term solution is better math and science education, and the short-term one is worker visas.

The H-1B visa program is capped by federal government quotas to protect U.S. jobs, but not a week goes by that I don’t hear about tech worker shortages from fellow Connecticut business managers. With New York and New Jersey to our south and Boston to the north, many qualified applicants are drawn away from Connecticut. I think enough pressure is building to cause our state and federal governments to finally act to expand the quotas in 2013.

The speed of change. Technology is changing so fast that many people, particularly our older workers, simply can’t keep up. Five years ago the smartphone was just 6 months old.  Today over 1 billion people have one. Product updates are increasing in frequency with new phone models and tablets being introduced at least yearly.

Both Google and Apple say they have about 700,000 apps in their online stores, and that over 25 billion copies have been downloaded from each. Whew!

This unprecedented availability of new tech widgets is pulling at employees’ time and attention in and out of the workplace.  Managers wanting to reach these Connecteds will have to use the same technologies and move just as fast. That’s a tall order given that many of those managers are older and not nearly as proficient. This will start to cause some alienation and force managers to adopt the changes more quickly.

Five out of six trends have to do with technology and the changes it’s causing. However, the fifth trend could be the deal breaker or accelerator, depending on how our government fixes the budget problems.

Government can help our business climate by balancing the federal budget, or getting close, and expanding H-1B visa quotas; and, then leave the rest up to us Connecticut businesses. We have the skills, ideas and know-how to make 2013 a very successful year.

Frank Kenna III is president of The Marlin Co., The Workplace Communication Experts, 10 Research Parkway, Wallingford 06492-1957. Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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