September 12, 2019
How Technology at Work Changes the Way We Interact
Our world is becoming increasingly more advanced. Few of us could imagine doing our jobs without the Internet, email, Office 365, Google Docs or the latest software. And, business owners would certainly struggle to pay employees, manage projects and track expenses without technology.
However, as technology becomes a more integral part of our workplace, it’s important to think about how these changes impact our ways of working and relationships with coworkers.
Welcome to the Digital Revolution
Long gone are the days of workplaces without Internet or email. Now, workplaces are looking at adopting more innovative technology like AI and machine learning.
International Federation of Robotics report estimates that there’s currently a global average of 74 robot units per 10,000 employees in manufacturing industries. And, at the same time, Guardian news article paints a doomsday picture where almost 46,000 customer support jobs are expected to disappear by 2021 due to automation.
We may soon be working with, or replaced entirely by robotics. Before that happens, let’s look at how digital technology impacts our relationships with human coworkers and how we operate at work.
Digital or Face to Face Communication: What Do You Prefer?
Emails are undoubtedly a workplace staple with Radicati estimating that 124.5 billion business emails were sent last year alone.
But, workplaces need to maintain a ‘human factor’. PWC report on Tech at Work shows that employees still value human connections and view them as an important part of a ‘happy’ workplace. Without human relationships and face-to-face interactions, it’s easy for employees to lack a sense of belonging or proper support.
For example, PWC’s report showed that 40-45% of employees wanted face-to-face interactions for tasks like performance reviews, navigating tricky situations and HR support.
However, on the other hand, 25-30% of employees prefer some level of digital assistance for aspects of these same tasks.
So, while our workplaces are becoming more digital, it’s important to remember that technology should not completely replace face-to-face interactions or the ‘human touch’.
Positive Effects of Technology in the Workplace
‘I Want it Now’: Quick, Instant Communication
Digital communication apps like Slack or Collude alongside the prevalence of smartphones and social networking sites, mean we can communicate with our coworkers with the touch of a button. We carry our coworkers in our pockets and can reach out the second a thought occurs to us.
And, most of us expect a reply almost instantly.
Facebook Messenger gives companies 1 hour and 15 minutes to reply to a customer enquiry to maintain their positive customer service ranking.
With similar expectations in the workplace, employees often rely on email or instant messaging as their main form of communication. And, successful relationships can be built entirely online.
The Rise of Remote Working
Currently, 79% of knowledge workers work remotely full-time and more and more employees are requesting this right.
Remote working without technology simply wouldn’t be possible. With the right tools, we can attend meetings, collaborate with coworkers and fully participate in a workplace without leaving the comfort of our living rooms.
Some workplaces even operate entirely remote offices with employees scattered across the globe, working in locations and at hours that suit them.
Several studies point to the benefits of remote working, including increased employee satisfaction, a better work-life balance and even increased levels of productivity. Often painted as a win-win for employees and employers, remote working is quickly on the rise, creating both opportunities as well as disadvantages.
Another clear benefit of digital workplaces is improved collaboration. Apps like Trello and Asana make it easier to collaborate with team members across different locations, track projects and make sure everyone is on the same page.
The benefits are so apparent that some studies claim 80% of businesses use social collaboration tools to improve business processes and overall efficiency.
Improved collaboration is one of the main drivers to encourage people to adopt technology, according to PWC’s report Tech in the Workplace. This report claims 34% of employees turn to new software or devices as a way to promote efficiency and teamwork.
This same demographic view technology as a solution to workplace problems and more efficient ways of working and collaborating.
Negative Effects of Technology in the Workplace
Like most things in life, technology in the workplace can create problems like isolation, burnout and decreased productivity.
‘Always On’ Culture
Technology makes it easier for us to stay connected with our coworkers and clients, but sometimes this can cross the line. Texts from management in the evenings or coworkers on the weekends, emails from clients after you’ve left the office and notification alerts on project management systems can negatively impact our mental health.
Studies show that British employees work an average of 10 extra hours every week, equivalent to working 6.5 days, amounting to 469 hours of overtime a year. Additional hours, often due to the ‘always on’ culture, take time away from families, stops us from recharging and quickly leads to burnout.
Are All Meetings Important?
Virtual meetings are fantastic for remote employees and increased collaboration, but they can negatively impact our work lives.
Since it’s so easy to invite people to meetings, hosts often err on the side of caution and send everyone a meeting request. After all, they don’t want anyone to feel left out. Likewise, most employees accept meeting invites to avoid missing out on important information.
As a result, employees’ days are taken up entirely with irrelevant meetings — leaving them little time for other routine tasks.
Instant Alerts = Increased Distraction
Having your coworker and emails in your pocket may be a good thing when you have an urgent situation. But, instant alerts and the buzz of our phone can actually be distracting.
A study in the Harvard Business Review claims that even hearing our phones buzz can hurt our productivity and take our attention away from the task at hand. Suggesting that we may not be as good at multitasking as we think.
How Modern Workplaces Can Achieve the Perfect Balance
Capturing the benefits of a digital workplace without negative side-effects means that employers need to carefully consider their digital strategy. The right tools can improve workplace interactions and relationships, but these tools need to be seamlessly integrated and unobtrusive.
Finding the balance means asking some important questions to determine if the technology will actually improve the workplace like:
- Will it improve collaboration or does it risk isolating employees?
- Will it take time away from creative problem solving or collaboration?
- Will it increase productivity or distract?
- And, most importantly, will employees continue to have face-to-face interactions so they can feel welcomed and happy at work?