What employees really need at work

August 27, 2012: 7:17 AM ET

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced "the hierarchy of needs," showing how people are motivated to fulfill certain basic desires. The very same could be done in the office.

By Padmasree Warrior, contributor

Padmasree_WarriorFORTUNE -- In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced the concept now known as "The Hierarchy of Needs" in which he outlined how people are motivated to fulfill certain basic needs (food, water, safety) before moving on to other, more advanced needs, such as creativity and self-actualization.

If we use that lens to look at our businesses, what are the needs of the modern employee? While companies are expected to fulfill employees basic "needs" to do their job -- competitive pay, a functional workspace -- modern organizations understand they need to do more to foster creativity, drive innovation and improve productivity.

In many cases, topping the list is enabling choice and freedom especially as it pertains to mobility. Increasingly, people want to choose when, where and how they work -- and they also want the freedom to use their own devices.

This trend is referred to as "Bring Your Own Device," or BYOD, in work environments. That means not only having access to email on their personal devices, but conferencing, video and other applications that help them be more productive. It's critical that savvy business leaders at companies large and small evaluate new and different ways to let employees "work their way" without compromising security or intellectual property.

Technology has fundamentally changed today's society and organizations must adapt. Consider this:

· According to the recent Cisco (CSCO) study, which surveyed 600 U.S. IT leaders, 40% of the respondents cited "device choice" as employees' top BYOD priority, with the second being the ability to do work during personal time, and vice versa.

· According to a different Cisco report, more than half of 2800 college students and young employees surveyed in 14 countries say they cannot live without the Internet and cite it as an "integral part of their lives." In fact, if forced to make a choice between access to the Internet or a car, the majority of college students globally would choose an Internet connection.

· The volume of worldwide mobile data traffic on mobile networks will soon eclipse the volume of data traffic on fixed networks. My company forecasts that data over mobile networks will increase 18-fold by 2016, eclipsing the volume of data on fixed networks. Driving this growth? A big jump in the number of mobile 'Net-connected devices running on broadband networks being deployed worldwide.

People want to work their way and are trying desperately to do so. They're even willing to end-run their corporate IT departments to use the devices and services that please them. Consider this:

· More than two of five college students and young employees we talked to said they would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice, social media access, and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility.

· Cisco's survey of corporate IT leaders noted that the top two perceived benefits of BYOD are improved employee productivity (more opportunities to collaborate) and greater job satisfaction.

Going forward, workers will expect to connect, share and work collaboratively from home, a café, an airport, at a client's location and even on a commuter train. Improved, robust, optimized networks elevate Internet connectivity into that "Hierarchy of Needs" Abraham Maslow identified nearly 70 years ago.

Simply put, enabling "work your way" is essential policy for a business to maintain a competitive edge. Yes, data and intellectual property must be protected and that's another reason the intelligent network is a critical component. That said, there's no one-size-fits-all for corporate technology, and companies that take a hard-line risk losing the hearts and, crucially, the minds of their employees.

Enabling the connected workforce to be more productive, creative and collaborative, even when separated by miles, if not time zones is the way of the future. Letting people work their way also gives companies a competitive edge in recruiting talent as the economy becomes increasingly global.

Padmasree Warrior is Chief Technology and Strategy Officer at Cisco.

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