A decade of disruption: how technology transformed the workplace

For many decades nothing much really changed in the office. We had our typewriters, telephones, maybe a fax machine if we were really advanced. Then, suddenly, everything exploded at a rapid pace.

The 1990s can be called the catalyst of office digitisation. It used to take an entire room to house a single computer – then, the microprocessor took everything to entirely new level.

Phones used to be the size of a small house brick – now, they are smart and functional. Despite its slow ‘whining’ start, can we now imagine life without the ‘World Wide Web’?

Suddenly, in the space of a decade, the world of work turned on its head. That change has only accelerated as the years roll by. There are now hundreds of smartphones, tablets, laptops, wearables, apps and gizmos that ‘help’ people do their jobs better.

However, no amount of ‘smart’ gadgets will enable people to truly work smarter. They still need good old-fashioned collaboration in order to foster a team spirit that enables companies to gain an edge in the competitive world. But marrying the competing expectations of Millennials, Baby Boomers and Generation Y’ers can be a challenge in itself – people working in the same office have very different approaches to how they work and collaborate.

>See also: Technology and the workplace of the future

A report from the Office of Communications (OfCom) in the UK in August this year showed that mobile phones had overtaken laptops as the primary way of accessing information online. It is confirmation, if any be needed, that we are now a ‘smartphone society’. Its annual Communications Market Report monitors the UK’s habits and shows that adults spend an average of two hours a day accessing the internet on the phones.

Tellingly, young people are ten times as likely as older people to say their mobile phone is the device they would miss the most. It stands to reason that they bring these habits to the way they conduct work too.

To initiate or force a step change in the way employees come together, business leaders need to implement systems that support the use of these new innovations to foster a more collaborative workforce.

The first content management systems also appeared in the late 1990s, followed by the growing popularity of cloud computing in the 2000s. This helped reshape the use of IT services between staff and opened up computing resources to serve multiple users even across international borders. Enabling staff to get the resources they needed, no matter where they ware, boosted collaboration and helped businesses run more efficiently.

Today, these tools have evolved to support organisations even more. Employees are able to spend less time doing administrative, repetitive, time-consuming tasks and can dedicate more time on more productive outputs. Documents can now be automatically processed, filed and stored where they should be and with easy access to the right people, either inside or outside of the business.

By putting the right processes in place, businesses can support workplace collaboration. If the structure is right, the adoption of new gadgets and applications becomes much more feasible. The adoption of ‘disruptive’ technologies in businesses, such as BYOD, becomes a competitive advantage rather than a hindrance.

This will cater for organisations now and in the future, developing as they grow and allowing for individualised working practises. It also substantially helps in the battle to improve productivity – automating many of the manual tasks that are arduous and repetitive. This also has the added benefit of creating a happier and more fulfilled workforce, which again feeds into higher productivity gains.


Sourced from John Newton, founder and CTO, Alfresco

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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