The challenges posed by greater tech in the workplace
It’s easy to be wowed by new technology. Shiny new software and hardware has the power to make life quicker, easier and more fun and, in many respects, it has. But, in focussing on the next big innovations and how they could change the way we do business it’s important not to forget the possible challenges it brings.
There are practical and financial issues that businesses will be noticing as they keep up with the digital revolution. While the slick marketing messages might not tell you about this bit, businesses cannot afford to ignore these challenges and it’s only be addressing them head on that they can truly reap the rewards to be had from the digital age.
It’s all about the money
As any consumer will tell you, keeping up with the latest technology is tough. Yet, while the average person might find the £999 price tag on an iPhone X prohibitive, businesses can easily be faced with huge bills if they want to use the latest equipment. Upgrading an entire office of Macs or switching to a snazzy new piece of software that will speed up your project management, for example, takes a considerable outlay.
American Express found that the average SME spends about £1 million on their business each year. Investing in new technology accounted for almost a fifth of this budget – behind only hiring staff and paying suppliers.
The simple fact is that it takes investment to keep up with technology – let alone ‘get ahead of the game’. Given that businesses don’t have a bottomless pit to throw at trying lots of new things, this can create a headache.
The trick is in prioritising. It’s easy to be ‘sold’ some software or hardware that isn’t needed, especially if you aren’t clear about your priorities. Tech for tech’s sake is likely to be costly and inefficient. Tech that solves a problem will be money well spent.
Brother UK managing director Phil Jones told The Telegraph: “People want different things from technology. You have to start with your answer first: what is the end state that you want?
“I would recommend that all SME leaders take ample time to zoom back out of your business and think about what it is you’re going to need in three to five years.
“For some leaders, the priority might be cutting operational costs, and for others, it could be expanding sales or getting better at marketing.
“The more time that you spend trying to define your problem, the better your answer will be when it comes to selecting technology – and it may even be that technology is not even your answer.”
Avoiding expensive mistakes and concentrating a budget onto the most appropriate technology is key for any business. This starts from considering the issues or problems that a piece of technology needs to solve – and working closely with employees to ensure that investment is being made in assets that will be of real, practical use.
If the tech you need as a business is likely to cost a substantial amount of your budget, you might also have to consider the tech you don’t need.
One study found that Brits spend 37 minutes a day browsing social media when they are at work and a further 33 minutes browsing other websites. For office based workers, who spend their days in front of machines, it can be tough to know whether they’re working or slacking off.
Many businesses would be horrified at the thought of losing that amount of time to technological distractions, and cutting this would certainly help to increase productivity. But, how should they react?
While some might be tempted to monitor web use or even ban sites outright, the effectiveness of this is debatable. It’s time consuming and costly to instigate and ‘police’ a ban and it portrays a negative image of a company, especially in the eyes of candidates who might avoid companies who look too draconian in their working practices.
If workers are motivated and engaged with the work they carry out, there’s less chance that their attentions will turn to social media distractions. Hiring the right people also helps, as driven, focused employees are less likely to be prone to diverting their attention from work. It pays for companies to consider the root cause of a workforce that is easily distracted and not hide behind the convenient excuse of technology, while at the same time accepting the fact that technology does leave open the temptation to succumb to distractions.
It’s easy to focus on the technology, but it’s as important to think about the people using it. Any new innovation is only ever as good as the people using it.
So, are workers well-equipped for the workplace in the digital age? In its HR and the Digital Revolution eBook, AdviserPlus found that more than three quarters of HR professionals feel that there’s a shortage of digitally literate staff in HR. It’s undoubtedly a challenge for businesses to be able to find or train their employees so that they can get the maximum results from the technology currently available.
Sharp UK managing director Stuart Sykes stressed that this is an important message for businesses to take on board. He said: “Having cutting edge technology in the workplace is pointless if people don’t feel confident enough to use it, so it’s vital that businesses invest in training and support for their staff.”
It’d be wrong to see this as a purely generational issue too – it’s not necessarily the case that tech-savvy whizz kids are coming into offices with the right skills and that their older counterparts lag behind. One survey found that 45 per cent of 16-34 year olds admit they don’t know how to use all of the technology they are expected to deploy as part of their job compared to 27 per cent of over 55s.
AdviserPlus also stated that the skills gap isn’t just a case of considering the distance between digital fluency of employees and the tech they are expected to use. It highlighted the importance of building technology that has the user in mind and is as easy to use as platforms such as Facebook which users can pick up with little hassle. There might well be a challenge for employees to get up to speed with the technology that they are using but there’s also a challenge for those devising new technology to make it as simple as possible for all users to use it to its full potential.
For some, the challenge posed by technology is even more serious. Whether it’s factory floor workers or checkout operators, developments in technology have reduced some of the roles traditionally fulfilled by human beings.
While it’s easy to focus on the cost of employing people for a business, it’s also important to weigh up the cost of losing them. Automated procedures might well be quicker and more efficient, but losing the human touch can diminish the service offered to customers and reduce a businesses ability to think and act flexibly.
This is set to continue to be a big challenge in the future. There are wildly varying estimates of the number of jobs that are at risk of being left obsolete by technology, but it seems clear that some positions will go. Businesses face a challenge in managing this sensitively and reskilling those employees that it still wants to keep on board – as well as striking the right balance between what could be done through automation and what should be done.
None of these challenges are insurmountable and none take away from the benefits to be had from deploying new technology in a business. They are, however, key considerations that must be weighed up if businesses are to properly survive and thrive in a tech-obsessed environment.