One could argue that technology has done more to harm humans than to help them. Interactions that were once between people have been redirected toward screens—just think of office exchanges, self-checkouts and online purchases.
The allure of technology has led to distracted driving, which puts masses of road users at risk, and its potential misuse has caused many to fear for personal and national security. There is even speculation that artificial intelligence (AI) may ultimately destroy the world.
Despite its apparent drawbacks, technology has also opened a world of possibilities that few could have imagined. People can travel and interact with the world virtually, without ever leaving their living room or office. Nearly every piece of knowledge accumulated since the beginning of time is a voice command away. Technology has even put the possibility of living on another planet within reach. The opportunities that await are mind-boggling.
If leveraged correctly, technology has the ability to positively influence and support our humanity rather than push it away. It can help engage, recognize and protect those we care about and the people who work in organizations.
Bad First Impressions
When it comes to supporting people, technology’s entry into the workplace was not viewed in a positive light by most employees. Workforce management technology first appeared in the late 1800s in the form of time clocks. This innovation helped companies pay employees correctly for the hours they worked, but mainly it served as a tool to discipline workers for cheating on work hours, showing up late, taking long or undocumented breaks or leaving early.
The move from mechanically punched time cards to computerized time clock software reduced payroll processing costs and improved efficiency, and it helped control “buddy punching” (employees clocking in for other coworkers), a widespread problem for employers. Such software also enabled real-time monitoring of employees—among the first signs of an unseen “Big Brother” entering the professional workplace.
Time tracking and payroll system technology added to the dehumanization of the workplace because it relied on employee numbers as its main file locators. People now needed to remember and use their employee number instead of their name to navigate the workday.
Feeling the need for more control and oversight, organizations mounted surveillance cameras in offices and at manufacturing and distribution sites. This was followed by the installation of technology that monitored e-mail and computer use. While these systems may have been installed with good intentions for improving safety or for compliance reasons, they have been used primarily to spy on, discipline and terminate employees who step out of line.
While some of these early workplace technologies may have improved productivity, efficiency and business results, as well as decreased improper behavior, they have been driven mainly by the need to address negative elements in the workplace. This evolution has led employees to mistrust and fear much workplace technology.
What Workplace Technology Should Do For People
From time clocks to self-service human-resources platforms that allow people to manage their payroll and benefits directly, technology in the workplace is being adapted to benefit the human experience. However, these positive developments have only scratched the surface of what is truly possible.
Technology in an organization today must enable people to be more productive, efficient and innovative; stay connected internally and externally; and feel safe and cared for. It should facilitate the comfortable and expeditious flow of people, ideas and emotions.
In the world we now live in, poor or outdated technology limits human experience in significant ways and exposes people and organizations to cybercrime.
Creating An Alignment Between People And Technology
Considering the vast number of available ways to communicate today, mirroring a person’s tech use outside the organization with internal systems is more productive for everyone. This approach doesn’t require people to learn new systems or waste the organization’s time or money in training. Also, the bring your own device (BOYD) to work movement is allowing work and life to blend in a way that is nearly seamless. This speeds new hire onboarding and gives recent recruits one less thing to worry about.
Though many corporations resist allowing people to toggle between work and personal social platforms, this type of cerebral shift can relieve workday stress, create a deeper connection to the work environment and even improve business results. A study by Pew Research Center reported that 78% of people use personal social media for work-related activities such as solving problems or fostering relationships with coworkers. Another 34% use social media to take a mental break from work. Assuming people are delivering on their job expectations, banning or limiting the use of personal social media at work takes away from the humanity and reality of the world we live in and represents a losing battle. Pew’s study reported that 77% of people are using personal social media at work regardless of their company’s policy. In this case, it is better to leverage the appeal of social media than to fight it.
Social technology platforms like Yammer or Jive are helping people in organizations stay as connected to colleagues as they do to friends and family in their personal lives and lets them innovate at record speeds while improving workplace satisfaction, retention and recognition.
Transforming Workplace Humanity Through Technology
Rusty and Sam Sailors, CEO and president, respectively, of San Diego–based Secure Smart Office have built a company around leveraging technology to bring greater humanity to the workplace. They are looking at ways to bring people closer together and make them feel more cared for, increasing engagement, productivity and innovation. Their goal is to “improve 1/3 of your day”—this is the company’s motto and the proportion represents the time the average person spends at work.
The Sailors’ views reflect a transformational focus on humanity over employment; they see a distinct competitive advantage in making it pleasurable to work for an organization. Their company focuses on everything from automatically controlling the air quality of an office environment, which improves concentration and energy levels, to fully automated and secure office suites. With AI products that assist in coordinating calendars, meetings and projects and that model routine behavior to detect possible cybercrimes against the people who work for you—very much like the models credit card companies use to protect card holders from fraud by flagging irregular use—Secure Smart Office is changing the way humans interact with their work environment.
In an AI-enhanced work space such as an office or conference room, the environment will adapt to your needs and preferences, automatically adjusting the lighting, window tint, seat and desk height and temperature in anticipation of your arrival and the time of day. Using information such as a scheduled meeting in your calendar, the sound of your voice, a gesture or detection of an implanted RIF chip, the entire room automatically changes to suit your personal likes and will learn when new adjustments are needed. Your family pictures appear on desktop screens, a computer is ready for your use with no additional sign-in and your scheduled WebEx or virtual holographic meeting will start without prompting and seamlessly follows you to other locations or switches from a wall screen to handheld or treadmill screens as you navigate your day. In group settings, the office environment is automatically calibrated to increase comfort, productivity and room efficiency. Even elevators can access your calendar and take you to the floor you need without you pressing any buttons. The possibilities for making life easier and more enjoyable through technology are endless.
When technology supports people in a smart way, humans can move comfortably through their days, be more productive and innovative and spend more time with family and friends. High-tech, green, living office spaces like The Edge in Amsterdam are not only highly engaging, smart and enjoyable workplaces, they reduce the building’s electric expenses through lighting efficiencies by 80%—electricity represents, on average, 40% of the cost of powering a building—and they garner even more savings by powering nearly everything else from computers to coffee makers through an exterior made of solar panels.
People of the future may even be able to be warned by an AI monitor when they are spending too much time at work on personal social media or other non-work-related tasks, heading off intervention by their boss. Such an application would increase trust of technology because the program is looking out for people rather than playing Big Brother. Such systems can lower employee turnover, which represents a large organizational expense, and decrease management’s need to monitor employees while increasing engagement and productivity and leading people to feeling cared for and valued.
Leveraging advanced technology to support humanity in the workplace is a transformational concept. Organizations that get it right will attract, engage and retain the very best of the human race.
By Louis Efron
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