Technology in the workplace – a force for good or bad?

Reports | Technology

The workplace is going through one if its most disruptive periods of change in history, with the evolution of technology being the main driving force of its transformation. But, has tech changed the workplace for the better? Do we now have an over-reliance on it? BLM looks into the true impact of technology on our working lives.

Communications, data, office design, HR and the workplace have been impacted by technology, and business owners looking to scale-up are always trying to find new ways to integrate tech into their business to improve the way their staff work and increase productivity.

The real impact of technology

But is this always the case and does adding in layers of tech always benefit a scaling business?

Christopher Allen, Founder and Managing Director of MONTROC Consulting Ltd, comments: “Technology in the workplace has made them more agile; laptops and mobile phones are the basic tools for agile working. However, it has also made them more connected; the workforce can reach more people, more easily, more often than ever before.”

Regarding agile or remote working, Susie Al-Qassab, Employment Partner at Hodge Jones Allen echoes Allen’s comments: “A key improvement of technology, is to enable remote working of employees, through the aid of laptops, mobiles, teleconferencing, and co-working spaces. While cloud technology and IM systems have allowed workplaces to become interconnected; workers can work from anywhere. This is particularly helpful for employees with young families, as it enables more flexibility in the working day than was previously achievable.”

A study from Powwownow in 2018 found almost three quarters of the UK workforce appreciate being offered flexible working, and many would now prefer this option to a pay rise.

With technological developments such as video conferencing, online project management platforms, and enhanced communications tools, remote workforces are now a real possibility for many businesses. Dispersed workforce technologies enable businesses to widen their recruitment pools and target the best possible talent.

Rob Orr, Executive Director at Virgin Media Business comments: “Over the past few decades alone, technology has transformed offices from rigid, hierarchical, paper-based environments into collaborative, intelligence-driven and productive environments.

“It’s brought a wealth of opportunities for employees – the ability to work remotely; access and use data to improve performance and accelerate project delivery; and created countless ways to communicate with colleagues. It’s allowed businesses to manage their resources in a much more nimble and secure way, bringing the death of filing cabinets, ending reliance on network centres and enabling businesses to take advantage of cloud services as well as encrypted and scalable networks.”

Is there an over-reliance on tech nowadays?

It appears that technology has had a very positive impact on the workplace. Companies of all sizes and sectors now benefit from increased productivity and a more streamlined process. However, it is not all positive – just picture the modern office when internet goes down, for example.

When the internet is working – emails are the primary source of communication for the majority of businesses. But, how has that impacted employees? Are there better alternatives on the market?

Allen comments: “We have an over-reliance on email! Most of the tech tools we have access to are excellent but people often don’t know how to use them, mostly through a lack of training, are restricted from using them, or companies do not seek to analyse whether the tools they are using are still fit for purpose. Use of email should have reduced massively in favour of tools such as Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Microsoft Teams, Yammer and others.”

The average person in the UK checks their phone every 12 minutes. It is not just social media that is at our fingertips as work emails and office-based tools are just a click away. In the quest to create a relaxed office environment, it can sometimes be hard to keep any work boundaries at all.

Out of office worries can make the prospect of checking emails too tempting to resist. However, ‘checking in’ can have a detrimental impact on mental health, personal relationships and levels of productivity.

Orr said: “Technology is vital to today’s workplace but amid all the conversations around digital transformation, and the wide array of solutions available, businesses can sometimes forget about the human side of running an organisation – looking after employees and customers.

“Whenever a business leader invests in technology, they should challenge themselves. How will this impact customers? How will this make employees’ lives easier? The best examples of transformation combine an innovative spirit with an empathetic approach to people management and customer service.”

It is this symbiotic relationship that is the key to both utilise the tech tools available, but also not become purely dependant on them. When modern technology first made strides into the workplace, many thought it would make working lives better. However, it could be argued that it has just shifted the issues of traditional working conditions to new challenges.

Stephanie Kelly, chief people officer at IRIS Software Group comments: “At one time, it was predicted that our working week would become shorter, but instead, technology has created an ‘always on duty’ mentality. Having 24/7 access to work on your phone can be a double-edged sword, and technology should not be about squeezing more work out of employees.”

Impact on productivity

It is this combination of tech and human interaction that is at the heart of any successful innovation that is brought into a business. No matter what tech is introduced, it will undoubtedly impact on productivity and output.

Allen comments: “We thought computers and the internet were going to free us all to have more leisure time didn’t we! Ironically we thought it was the desk phone that pins us to our office desks and yet we see presenteeism and a culture of mistrust creating just the same bind. Tech has the ability to make us more productive if we buy the kit that works for us, train staff how to use it, then drive and model the change in behaviours required to embed it and make it grow.”

It is where this human understanding is key to introducing the right tech to improve productivity.

He continues: “There are thousands of tech solutions out there, hardware and software, so understanding the flow from your business mission and values and into how your culture works is key to adapting to new technology. Employees can be swamped by an ever-increasing list of tools so keep it simple, run pilots, and start early!”

But overall, the introduction of new technologies has increased productivity in the workplace claims Orr.

He comments: “From retail to restaurants, architecture to the arts, technology underpins how we work today and provides an enormous boost to productivity. “Technology has moved us away from ploughs and paper records, to self-driving combine harvesters and SQL databases, putting an almost unlimited amount of information and power at our fingertips. Technology allows us to connect with customers and colleagues in real time – supporting better and faster decision making – and helps boost productivity. It’s now virtually impossible for a business to have a meaningful impact without access to fast networks, mobile connectivity and the ability to complete tasks on the move.”

Impact on HR

The traditional scope of human resources – covering areas such as learning and professional development, performance management, and recruitment – is fertile ground for technological innovation too.

Management teams now have access to a plethora of tech offerings, which shake-up tools like performance management models and training resources, or focus on specific areas for improvement like bias reduction in the recruitment process.

Regarding the modern recruitment process, tech also plays a huge role. Whether it is to do with the tools any prospective employee will use, to how they apply for the role – there are many different factors to consider.

Orr said: “Talented workers want to join businesses that invest in effective technology. Talented people increasingly expect to work in a collaborative, flexible and effective way. They need to be able to share files seamlessly with colleagues, work from the comfort of their own home and make use of emerging technologies to improve the quality of their work. Unless a business focuses on its technology, it simply won’t be able to deliver all this and will inevitably miss out on attracting skilled employees.”

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