The Millennial generation, comprised of students and workers between the ages of 14 and 27, is rocking the foundations of IT in the workplace – and is set to do so for years to come.

Global research recently conducted by Accenture on Millennials’ views and use of technology in 13 countries showed just how dramatically the first wave of this generation is impacting the workplace today. As a group, they see little separation between personal and work, virtual and physical, sanctioned and prohibited.

Although the survey identified national differences, the general findings deliver the following message: CIOs must realise that Millennials work and think differently. As a result, CIOs need to learn how to accommodate and learn from Millennials already in the workforce, and those who will enter in the future.

The key lessons that CIOs need to learn are:

1. Millennials expect to use the technology and devices of their choice. From mobility devices to reading devices, from the use of applications to accessing social networks, expect to be allowed to use the devices they know and prefer. They don’t want to be told what they can and cannot use.

2. They either don’t care about or won’t obey corporate IT policies. Large majorities of working Millennials in nearly every country said they either don’t read or won’t obey corporate IT policies – a scary thought to CIOs whose mission is to protect the enterprise’s digital assets by constraining what employees do inside the firewall. Having literally grown up with technology, Millennials know how and are willing to work around policies and firewalls.

3. They have an entirely different view of privacy than previous generations. Millennials are prepared to ignore boundaries, which includes sharing proprietary information with friends on the Internet and in social media sites if they believe it can help them solve problems.

4. They have little use for corporate email as a major collaboration tool. They consider email antique and archaic, favoring instead more real-time, interactive and collaborative ways of communicating. Recently the CIO of a major US bank discovered that a large portion of new employees had not initialised their enterprise email boxes. On investigation, including several one-on-one interviews, they learned that the new, Millennial employees had no intention of using corporate email, but strongly preferred text messages, social networks and blogs.

With these lessons learned comes the responsibility for CIOs to identify ways to work with this rapidly evolving phenomenon. Here are some recommendations:

1. Get Millennial employees involved at crucial points whenever key technology use and policy decisions are being made. Their input and concurrence are essential; without this they are unlikely to buy into any decisions and are less inclined to work in such an environment. Many smart, younger generational companies have already put in place communal, collaborative decision input processes.

2. Make sure technology-related policies are written in plain language and do not sound overly punitive. Instead, policies need to be sold to young (really to all) employees on a value basis, with explanations as to why the policies are important and that their help is needed. All too often corporate policies lie somewhere between incomprehensible and punishing. They are often to protect the company legally and won’t be accepted by Millennials, who will do what they want or leave the organisation.

3. View corporate technologies through a Millennial lens. When it comes to personal, often mobile, technologies that are used to acquire data about the company, do analysis, talk to each other and access the Internet, businesses all too often focus on security risks, cost concerns or violations of corporate policy. Instead, they need to figure out how to make these devices work within the organisation. Millennial employees who insist on using these technologies either won’t work there or will find ways to use their devices that could potentially imperil the IT system and its digital assets.

4. Figure out how to work with Millennials who are not hierarchical in their teaming and collaboration approach. In a world where 10-year-olds have friends from around the world, Millennials tend to see the world as flat from a collaborative perspective – as opposed to the traditional world which is often hierarchical and has well defined team, company and country boundaries. Millennials have learned how to make the team work, as opposed to making the individuals work as part of a team. This has profound implications for how work is done, particularly in IT which is one of the most team structured aspects of any business. There must be more of an open dialogue, and experimentation with team structures that are less structured and hierarchical, and combine Millennial and older generation employees. Yes, it can be challenging – like a kid with a chemistry set, it can be useful or blow up – but that’s the environment CIOs find themselves in. They need to use trial and error to get better at figuring out what kind of team structure works best. No definitive book exists yet.

5. Look closely at collaboration, much of which is technology-enabled. This is where Millennial involvement can be especially effective. Many companies are presently introducing tools to help collaboration, which may add to the technology stack, but don’t really end up enabling effective collaboration. Since the nature of collaboration due to the infusion of Millennial employees is changing, CIOs need to encourage their involvement.

As a result of their teaming ability, their innate collaborative outreach, the instinctive ways they work, their effectiveness in building networks with clients and colleagues, and how they bring to bear large communities of thought to work, Millennials can add significant value to an enterprise. That’s why it’s the CIO’s responsibility to ensure that the value this generation promises now and in the future is put to work for the entire enterprise’s benefit.

About the author

Gary Curtis is Accenture's Chief Technology Strategist and a Managing Director in Accenture's Management Consulting practice