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Every day we are using technology. From our phones to our cars to the computer I am typing this on. We are surrounded by it, and we all view it as part of nourishing and enriching our lives. The question I wish to pose however is: are we actually compatible with technology? Would more technology actually help our workplace become more productive and efficient? Or is this just a variant of throwing money at a problem?

Workplace productivity seems to have plateaued since email, standalone applications and document sharing reached saturation. A recent study conducted by Udemy has stated that the majority of U.S. employees, feel distracted by technology at work, yet with many companies, the answer to this solution is often using better productivity apps and or methods to combat this. The Independent stated that “Since 2006 the rate of growth of productivity has fallen everywhere… Everyone is doing worse than before, but we are doing worst of all”.

The boon of technology has hardly gone unnoticed and therefore we live in a much more connected world, one that is operational 24/7. This constant communication has certainly increased the demand for a “right here right now” state of mind where everything needs to be instantaneous to keep up with the competition. Lesley Giles, director at Lancaster University’s research and analysis firm, the Work Foundation, stated to ComputerWeekly that:

“We simply have to embrace the potential of digital technology, combined with the right training, culture and leadership to ensure it’s utilised to its full potential. However, employers need to be mindful about the ways in which they integrate technology into processes and the effects this has on individuals and their roles.”

This can go a long way into why there is so much scepticism about the role of AI in the workplace. People are certainly afraid that it will take over their jobs as AI is far more efficient and productive when at its full capacity. However, that possibility is still a long way off and therefore we should focus on the here and now and see technology for what it is – a tool that helps us become more efficient. These tools, whether powered by AI or not, give us the ability to complete more work in a 24 hour period than ever before. This is why the productivity slump is so baffling. The tools are available and yet year on year there seems to be a steady decline in productivity across the world.

The first potential answer to this is that we are not measuring productivity correctly. This is certainly plausible as there is no single quantitative unit to measure it. Also as Ryan Fuller of Harvard Business Review argues “we’re focusing on the wrong kind of productivity — and, in turn, the wrong kind of management. It turns out that enterprise productivity is different than just the sum of personal productivity. This difference matters. A lot.”

The second potential answer is a culture shift. With all of this technology helping us communicate in an instant and an increasingly digital economy, remote working is becoming a new and popular method of working. This form of working is effectively decentralising your workforce so that they can work when they like, where they like and how they like. This avoids the need for work premises and therefore rent, however there is doubt that this form of working provides the solution to productivity problems. Nonetheless, more and more employers are allowing remote working for their employees and, in the UK, you are legally allowed to request flexible working.

Technology has also changed how we interact in the workplace. With the invention of applications like Slack and Facebook’s Workplace, it feels nearly impossible to escape from work. Whilst these tools are fantastic for task unification and keeping in contact with your colleagues, we must ask whether they are actually helping us interact and get more done collaboratively.  

Leadership and people management specialist Karen Gately said: “I think technology is one of the biggest obstacles to building healthy relationships. People become keyboard warriors and we just sit at our desks and have arguments and try and resolve problems through technology.” This is not necessarily stating that we should abandon technology, but that it should be an extension of our face to face interactions and effectively the human touch.

This is the beginning a major revolution in the workplace. With so much technology available and its break speed of advancement, we as the human contingent must be prepared, agile and flexible enough to adapt to this new environment. To refer again to Lesley Giles: “We need to encourage collaboration, engage the workforce, finally clasp the working anywhere culture and, most of all, support internal innovation or ‘intrapreneurs’, who are brave enough to drive such change.”