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For some, the ability to work any time is a boon, but for others, it may only increase stress | Photo source William Iven/Pixabay

Pros and Cons: Tech in the workplace

Computing & Tech

What are some of the best ways to use tech in the office, and how can the disadvantages be minimised?

There is no getting around technology in the workplace. For better or worse, tech is used for everything from accounting to zero-funds. But for too many people, too much of the time, the use of tech makes the workplace worse rather than better.

So, what are some of the best ways to use tech in the office, and how can the disadvantages be minimised?

Speeding up vs. going too fast

Technology can save a great deal of time in the workplace. Through faster access to information, and the use of video conferencing software or team collaboration software like Slack, tech vastly speeds up communication and information management. 

These tools can also allow more people to work remotely. This makes work accessible for more people, such as those who are not mobile or who have carer responsibilities. It also helps businesses save money by reducing the size of facilities needed. 

The downside of faster and more seamless communication is the expectation that we will always be available. Work is no longer 9-to-5, it is now 24/7. Email and conferencing apps make it possible for work to follow us everywhere. And as more people work remotely, the dividing line between work and home is also evaporating. 

For some, the ability to work any time is a boon, but for others, it may only increase stress and emphasise a “work until you drop” culture. Company policy requiring employees to turn off their devices or leave messages unanswered after a certain hour would help to mitigate this.

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Access to knowledge vs. knowing nothing

Technology has given us unprecedented access to information about almost everything. Thanks to the Internet, we can research almost any subject, contact experts, take education courses and watch how-to videos. But this technology has also created a dependence on our tech devices, tools, and processes. We no longer need to “know” anything because we can simply look it up. 

These dependencies, in turn, create a decline in human capital, where machines can do the job of people. Robots are already replacing people in many industries, including food service and cooking, manufacturing, retail and warehousing. 

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China’s Cambridge Industries Group plans to replace 90 per cent of its workforce with robots, creating energy-efficient “dark factories” where robots toil away in the darkness. Uber hopes to one day replace drivers with self-driving vehicles, and robots are being trialled for use in social care and medical diagnosis.

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As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, higher-skilled industries are not far behind. Robotic financial advisers, which use algorithms to manage portfolios, have started replacing their human counterparts. 

Even medicine is not immune. A 2017 study demonstrated that an AI system was equal to or better than radiologists at reading mammograms for high-risk cancer lesions needing surgery. And more recently, computer-controlled robots performed successful surgery on a pig. 

However, AI can also be used to empower employees rather than replace them. In the future, employees may need to move away from being skill-focused and focus on processes that cannot easily be replaced by AI, such as decision making, assessing talent, negotiation and people management. Businesses will need to adapt by focusing on hiring employees who are good at these core traits.

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Security vs. insecurity

Technology can improve workplace security. Cloud-based systems can provide back-ups, ensuring nothing gets lost, and encryption can protect financial transactions and data. 

However, the use of technology has in and of itself created the need for much of this security. After all, it’s a lot easier to hack into proprietary information if a business is connected to modern technology than it is to grab some paper documents.

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Information that is stored electronically is open to hacking. Email increases the speed of communication, but it also opens a network up to viruses, Trojan horses, and other software or hardware concerns. This means that security is not optional in the digital workplace. Companies need to invest continuously in up-to-date security measures to protect all of their, and their customers’, data. 

Freedom vs. Big Brother

Workplace technology provides us with the freedom to work anywhere and to communicate more efficiently, but it also allows employers to track employees more closely. 

According to a 2018 report, a majority of workers believe their boss is spying on their activity, using tactics such as tracking their location, monitoring time spent away from their desk and tracking their internet browsing. 

Remote workers are not safe from tracking either. Talent management company Crossover developed a productivity tool called WorkSmart that takes photos of workers through their webcam. The screenshots are combined with other data, such as app use and keystrokes, to give freelance workers a “focus score” and an “intensity score” that can be used to rate their work.

Similar tools have positive uses. They are used in the financial sector, to comply with legal requirements to track staff communications to prevent insider trading. They can also be used to prevent data leaks and human resources violations, such as inappropriate behaviour.

Overall, technology is a positive force in the workplace. After all, without it, very little work would get done today. But employees and employers both need to keep in mind that technology comes with pitfalls as well. By working together, they can work out ways to ensure that people are always kept at the heart of the workplace.