How do new technologies influence the way we work?

It has become a cliché: the progress of technology, which follows an exponential curve, is revolutionising today’s world as well as our mores. These new technologies immerse us in a faster, more informed, more connected world. Obviously, our way of working is affected and it has become almost impossible to do without it. Without realising it, our way of working has been particularly upset over the past twenty years.

Technology has revolutionised our businesses.

Technology, like the industrial revolution, reshaped the economy, society and the environment in the 19th century; it has transformed the appearance of workspaces, our tools, and the internal functioning of companies. Concretely, this translates into the fact that we simply see fewer and fewer binders, paper clips, and faxes. We could draw a typical portrait of the workspace of our time: a medium-sized open-space, made up of “shared offices”, themselves occupied by a myriad of computers (which tend more and more to become portable) and telephones; all connected to a centralised printer and… a coffee machine. 

For the latter, this does not change. This composition, which seems logical, familiar and long-lasting, is nevertheless recent: 20 years ago, the offices were quite different; they will be too in 20 years. And one wonders what technologies will influence the way we work…

Amplified internal communication

The advent of the Internet has already transformed the way we. Since all the teams in the same group are not centralised, videoconferences are flourishing. They save time and money if done well. More locally, the technology follows what open-space had already brought in the 80s: ever faster communication. In addition, of course, to speech, companies often equip themselves with an instant messaging tool (even intranets) linking computers, and lightening mailboxes. The employee no longer wastes time travelling: he sends documents and transfers important emails via his mailbox; It exchanges the simplest information via instant messaging. Finally, with the democratisation of the “Cloud”, employees can have access to the same visual from their workstation, and interact in real time on it. The saving of time is no longer to be demonstrated.

Breakdown of private life / “pro” life

All these new tools (Cloud, Skype, E-mail, Instant Messaging, etc.), or ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) are no longer exclusive to the professional world, and are found -with the computer- at the employee’s home. This can lead both the employee and the manager to work anywhere and anytime, especially since the health crisis. This accessibility would logically tend to blur the boundary between the worker’s professional life and private life. A study by the CEE (Employment Studies Centre) nevertheless qualifies this anticipation: “Most of the ICT equipment of employers and employees does not reinforce nomadism, on the contrary they tend to fix the employee in a single place. These technologies mainly tend to connect workstations or individuals located at a distance from each other ”.

The end of the “office”?

On the other hand, the TIC allowing a relative collective work – even if the collaborators are at a distance – can abolish the unity of place, and the centralization of the work. The dematerialization of information and documents makes it possible to “work lightly” and to share data more simply. Thus, there is not much to keep the employee in the “office”, and teleworking has a number of practical advantages: saving time (more transport); money (plus the cost of transport, nor the cost of renting offices); and efficiency (less stress, more comfortable workplace). Studies announce that teleworking is still risky, as equipment and technological solutions are not yet up to standard. But what will it be in 20 years?

More stress and pressure

The performance of these new tools, which offer faster and more accessible information and its sharing, may have limits. Still, according to the CEE study, “as interactive communication tools, ICTs are often associated with the immediacy of the responses that must be provided in real time”. The cult of immediacy brought about by the Internet leads Internet users – and therefore customers – to become more impatient. These new vectors, and the new management methods that result from them, can create stress and pressure for employees, who find themselves in an environment of “rush work”.. Traceability/activity control tools, and above all the race for Google referencing reinforce these consequences; in addition to the risk of losing the quality of the content in favour of the quantitative and the instantaneous. Conversely for the CEE, “non-users [of ICTs], fewer and fewer, face the digital divide: they have less intense but impoverished, isolated and unsatisfactory work ”.

What won’t change

With information , it is difficult to imagine virtual business meetings even if today some meetings take place only in videoconferences. The tradition of human contact – from brunch in a low-end brasserie to a show at the Moulin Rouge – remains anchored in the culture of work. A scene where two executives having a business lunch on Skype is not yet believable and will struggle to replace that with real human contact despite technological advances. 

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