Don't be fooled by Gen Z's need to be connected to the internet - these digital natives will remake the workforce

Photo: iStock.

No matter where you look across the Australian or global economies, technology and the changes it has wrought on business models, consumer behaviour, preferences, and brand interaction is writ large.

It’s also clear that disruption to the established order cuts across generations to something much broader. But so too are the differences in each generations’ approach to technology, information flow, and thus business models and interactions with customers.

That’s the key takeaway from a recent survey of more than 1000 Australians between 14 and 59 conducted by the Centre for Generational Kinetics (CGK) on behalf of WP Engine. The survey found the digital natives of Gen Z (those born between 1996 and 2010) are far more connected to their devices and online lives than older generations like baby boomers and generation X.

The survey revealed 55% of of Gen Z “can’t go more than five hours without internet access before becoming uncomfortable”, while 22% can’t go more than an hour – sounds like my place.

Boomers on the other hand aren’t as fazed about being away from their devices, with 16% saying they could go without the internet for more than a week.

Naturally there are some long term risks that flow from this connectedness which society and these young Australians will need to deal with in the future. Indeed, what’s interesting about the survey is that while Jason Dorsey, President of the CGK, said of the results showed, “Gen Z is empowered, connected, practical, empathetic self-starters who want to stand out and make a difference in the world,” the survey showed “66% of Gen Z would rather have unlimited access to the internet than a university degree.”

A new layer on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs it seems.

And CGK says one of the key takeaways is that as Gen Z moves through the education system this preference means that Universities may need to change their business models and how they interact with students.

That’s something Georgia Tech has recognised with the recent renovation of its library moving 95% of its physical books to an off campus location. Catherine Murray-Rust, Georgia Tech’s dean of libraries, told Business Insider this change recognises “the world of scholarship is digital. It is not analogue…And that to be part of a scholarly community for a few years, or for the rest of your life – this is where the world is going, and you need to be a part of it.”

It’s easy to think the desire for internet connection and the inability to go hours without connection would be an issue for Gen Z and their employers. But in 2015 Social researcher Mark McCrindle said he believed this is a generation of highly educated, technologically savvy, innovative thinkers.

That’s something Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays in Australia and New Zealand, seemed to agree with in 2017 telling Business Insider that, “they are realistic, goal-oriented innovators who are constantly connected and ambitious.”

CGK says their survey bears this out.

Indeed they believe Gen Z’s very different approach (from other generations) and connection to the internet could “trigger runaway creative growth, a digital Cambrian explosion, that builds the future of our digital and physical worlds.”

From a business perspective what stands out from the survey’s results is that how Gen Z interacts online has implications for companies and their brands. For example, the survey reveals that when asked what they associate the internet with Baby Boomers say email (94%) and search/informational tools (86%). But, Gen Z associates the internet with social media (89%) and entertainment or content websites (77%).”

That’s important because having had access to the tools of the internet for free since young childhood and in being comfortable with it this in turn shapes the way these younger Australians are comfortable interacting with companies and offerings on the web. The survey reveals “members of Gen Z (45%) are more likely than members of any other generation to provide their personal data if it means they’ll receive a more personalised digital experience over an anonymous one.”

And that in turn is shaping their expectations about exactly what that experience should be.

The Survey showed “36% [of Gen Z] expect the Internet to predict what they need and alert them before they need it within the next five years. That’s compared to 27% of Millennials, 30% of Gen X, and 23% of Baby Boomers. Additionally, 44% of Gen Z would actively stop visiting a website if it didn’t anticipate what they needed, liked, or wanted”.

A tailored offering – the ‘Amazonisation’ of commerce across the broad spectrum of industries Gen Z does and will continue to, interact with. No doubt that is partly why AI is triggering a new arms race for business revenue growth.

And there is a pointer about how to attract Gen Z to your site and keep them there till they are ready to purchase. Use this tailorisation ability to become and remain relevant to your Gen Z customer.

The survey showed “Gen Z is the most likely generation (83%) to purchase from a company that provides consistent, relevant content.”

But remember Gen Z knows their, and your companies, actions – online and elsewhere – will effect things like job offerings and dating options, while online activity tells as much about a person as their credit score. So it’s worth noting “63% of Gen Z are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes, while 27% have stopped buying from a company that contributes to a social cause they disagree with.”

CGK and WP Engine summarise the survey saying, “from being online to buying or building online, Gen Z has seized the digital future and begun to blend it into the reality we all experience, regardless of generational ID. While everyone from Baby Boomers to Millennials has interacted with the Internet in a bimodal fashion, Gen Z is the first generation to intrinsically combine the digital and the physical worlds, and they’re bringing the rest of us along for the ride. From now on, the digital experience will be synonymous with our human experience.”

This is a generation that will remake the way business interacts with customers in a fundamental sense. This survey helps light the path.

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