In today’s business world, technology plays a central role in how work gets done. I am not talking about how products get made or shipped, but more in the way human beings go about doing their job. Now, in some ways, this has always happened. Be it pen and paper, the telephone or the computer, technology of the day has always impacted how work gets done. So, a change in the nature of work by itself is not new. What is new is the pace of change and the underlying acceleration in that pace.
Some key areas of where technology is making an impact on the nature of work include:
What is work? Not too long ago, this question would elicit a very clear response: The time one spends at the place of their employment and the activities performed there. Not anymore. Today, employees are engaged with work whenever and wherever it is needed. I am not implying we are working 24 hours a day; but I am suggesting that we could and there is an expectation that if needed, we would be willing to work at odd hours from odd locations. Employees have generally responded to this favorably and are in general more flexible in their approach to work. That said, they have also asked the employers to show flexibility in return. For example, employers not only accommodate the desire to work remotely, in some cases, they offer it as a perk. The work space itself is going through some transformation of its own. A leisure/ laboratory/ library setup is gaining traction to enable relaxation/ collaboration/ thinking at the same work place. Technology has given employers the ability to do this by providing the tools necessary to manage by the all-important results instead of managing by hours or tasks. As a result, employers are typically able to ask for result oriented thinking as opposed to a task oriented thinking.
I think this change is still underway and I do not think we have achieved the proper work-life balance. Too much is left for the employee to achieve this balance. I think there is scope for more active participation by employers to get to a desirable level.
The way we communicate today, especially across long distances, is very different from 10 years ago. Thanks to the advent of technology, we are now using web meetings and video conferences more and more. One could argue that we have become more efficient at our communications. The tools that we now use to communicate our ideas can include videos and graphics which has hopefully made us into better communicators.
I feel that overall this change has made people into better communicators, if only slightly, both on the speaking and the listening end of the spectrum. And on the flip side, I feel that the technology has in some way helped decrease the human contact, thereby diminishing the very important need for relationships at work.
Today’s technology allows us to collaborate very effectively with various stakeholders. It is becoming increasingly common for teams to collaborate across geographies, time zones and culture. Teams are often starting the day with a communication with an overseas team to take over the work for the day. During the day, the team makes progress on the work. At the end of the day, the same team might do a call with the remote team to handover the work back to them. And so the cycle can continue. Technology enables this collaboration. Even accounting for some loss of efficiencies, this has resulted in a major uptick in work output in a shorter period of time for a lot of companies.
An interesting side effect of this has been the realization that good ideas can come from anywhere. A neat trick, a different and more effective way of doing something can now crossover distance and time boundaries very quickly. This in turn encourages people to contribute to the best of their abilities and makes them more productive. And in our very unique way, we can all be little geniuses in our small area.
I read somewhere recently that 70% of US businesses get some work done overseas (with China being the most well-known example). And I am aware of companies from China looking to do manufacturing in India. Technology enables this globalization, which in turn creates the demand for more technology that supports global business practices, creating a virtuous cycle. It is fair to say that we are way more global than ever before. And I do not mean globalization in a mere outsourcing sense, although a lot of that does happen. I mean it in a very collaborative, business partnership sense.
I feel that this globalization is a great cure for frog-in-the-well mentality. In some way, it makes people grow by making them aware of the differences in opinions and styles of working from around the world. And businesses benefit by the increase output. It also helps people understand, however imperceptibly, that we are in this together.
Those are some of my observations on technology’s impact on the nature of work. What are your thoughts on this subject? I am eager to hear them.