Taming technology in the digital-physical blend
It’s the big question around the future of work – how to control the technology before it controls us in the digital environment
Technology has always been the primary disruptor of the workplace. Yet up to now, its impacts have been comparatively linear and predictable. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (the one occurring now) will not reflect such a straight evolutionary path. We are moving to a world in which all of the objects around us produce almost immeasurable amounts of information – an era in which technology will learn by itself.
Devices will learn as they go along and will develop their interactions with people and businesses as learned behaviour. There are a few things that are going to change, and changes that are happening now, in the realms of tech within the workplace.
Firstly, we are going to see progress in the use of wearable tech, augmented and virtual reality as a result of the device mesh. This will cause a move beyond the traditional model of people interacting with discreet desktop computers, tablets and smartphones to encompass the full range of points at which humans interact with technology.
Second, we will literally become immersed in a digital world with our experiences synchronised with no regard to the old boundaries of time and space. There will be less and less distinction between digital and physical spaces as our digital environment adapts to the physical environment in which we move around.
The change is also evident in terms of office design. The clubby, relaxed feel of co-working spaces has been evident in office design for some time now, and there is no question that this is the shape of things to come. People will always need to work at desks with chairs for certain tasks but they’ll be doing so in the context of an entirely new type of working environment.
Although co-working has its roots in the uncertainties of the recent recession and is commonly associated with start-ups, it is increasingly apparent that it is beginning to influence the way we occupy, design and manage offices more generally.
One of the major challenges that will face employers and employees alike in this new era of unfettered and distributed work is maintaining the culture of the organisation and fostering a sense of belonging. Workplace design plays a key role in this and the new era of work will see this focus on design also focus on the design of the digital environment.
Possibly one of the greatest management conundrums to come out of the past half century has been how to use technology to make people more rather than less productive, and to do so while not imposing an unacceptably high price in terms of their wellbeing.
None of the above undermines the idea that technology is a tool for productivity. However we must learn that the smartphones and computers belong to us and not the other way around.
The vector for the dysfunctional relationship we often have with technology is email. We are checking messages literally from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, often not even stopping when we go to the lavatory, eat or in our supposed leisure time. This not only has potentially serious physical and psychological consequences, it doesn’t even make us more productive.