The Hidden Menace of ‘Generation Gmail’

Back in July last year, an analyst report was published that suggested that the use of webmail – or ‘personal’ – email accounts inside businesses presented a potentially huge risk to corporate intellectual property (IP). While CIOs and their IT teams focus their attention on what goes on within the firewall, their Information Workers are using their gmail/Windows Live/Yahoo accounts to send important files.  Just how much important data is stored on public servers?  How out of control is the situation in reality?  Do CIOs have any idea of the scale of the risk?  Why do Information Workers do this?  Surely they know it is bad practice?

So we decided to do our own study to see what we could find out, and the first results of ‘Generation Gmail’ are announced today.

It’s not surprising that our study revealed a direct correlation between age and a propensity to use personal email in a corporate context.  In fact, 85% of Information Workers under the age 25 admitting they sent work-related emails or documents to or from personal email accounts.  The million dollar question, of course, is ‘why?’.

There’s no question that ‘Generation Gmail’ enters the workplace with a different perspective on technology and its role in work and life in general.  It’s an ‘always-connected’ world, where smart-phones, social media platforms, email, IM and SMS enable a constant flow of communication, both personal and professional.  And this ‘work/life blend’ makes it difficult – perhaps impossible – to quarantine personal communications habits from the behaviours expected of employees when they cross the corporate threshold.

If this was all about age, and culture, forty-somethings like me could just shrug, as I do when my nephew suggests I listen to Dubstep on his iPod.  But it isn’t.  Of the under 25s surveyed, more than half said that if they were not subjected to mailbox limitations by their IT departments, they would be less likely to send work emails from their personal accounts.

So the subtext here, which we will explore further in part 2 next week, is that the risk to corporate data that Generation Gmail is creating is largely down to frustrations with the tools available to them in the workplace, and the feeling that IT policies more or less force them to find other ways of getting their jobs done.  We’ve called them ‘Work-around workers’.

I can’t stop my nephew listening to Dubstep.  And IT departments can’t stop young workers from using social media, or personal email.  In fact, ‘banning’ people from using tools is tantamount to a failure.  But they do need to look at the policies they are imposing, and possibly the tools they are or aren’t deploying to enable larger mailboxes, or larger file sizes ... so as to reduce the perceived NEED to send documents outside the firewall.  Watch this space ...