Evolution of Technology in Workplace
Michael McGuire, training and workforce development manager was also interviewed for this research paper, and further elaborated on how technology has impacted learning and teaching in the corporate environment. He explained how a lot of learning in today’s businesses is happening through microlearning, largely due to the evolution of technology. Microlearning, as Michael went on to explain, is short bursts of learning content with concise content that is easy for the reader to comprehend and digest. Companies are using various forms of technology to incorporate microlearning into their organization – a brief article on industry trends, a short video on what to do for a fire drill, or one part to a series of email training on regulatory compliance. According to Michael, these micro-learning sessions can be more effective than traditional classroom settings because you have the learner’s undivided attention, even if only for a short amount of time. Through its evolution, technology is shaping our workplace, from employers to employees and even prospective job candidates. Technology has transformed how we communicate, manage, and present material in the workplace. The impacts of ever-changing technology, both positive and negative, have been realized worldwide.
For students who will soon be entering the workforce, competency with various technologies is a must for many industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of the jobs in today’s workplace require some amount of technological skills (Macaulay, 2014). What this implies is that students need to be proficient in a wide range of technologies to be more marketable to potential employers. Microsoft Office applications are some of the most widely used technologies in American businesses today, used for all types of information, including data collection, word processing, and presentation of material. Microsoft PowerPoint, for example, has been installed on over 1 Billion computers and the ability to generate a presentation in PowerPoint “has become an indispensable corporate survival skill” (Dubrin, 2016). Research projects, team assignments, and group presentations assigned in school all help to build those skills for students.
However, just having technological competence doesn’t automatically guarantee an individual a job in a competitive marketplace. Being able to utilize those skills to effectively interpret, analyze, and communicate the outputs of those technologies is equally as important (McMahon, 2013). By strictly focusing on the technology itself, we have the potential to overlook what the technology should enable us to do – convey our information more effectively. Even with the best technology, businesses still need the “human touch”, meaning employees who can translate what the technology is telling us into terms that the average employee can understand. Furthermore, the outputs of those technologies are rendered useless if businesses can’t properly analyze that information and share the results.
The evolution in technology has not only made an impact on those looking to enter the workforce but also on those who are currently employed. In the United States, technology has transformed the type of work that employees are doing, the methods through which they perform their work, and the amount of work. Companies and managers need to be cognizant of the digital evolution in the workplace and realize the impact that it has on their employees. This topic is important because nearly all companies are impacted by technology in some way, shape, or form, and understanding the benefits of technology in the workplace can help businesses achieve better results.
“The work of the mind is changing as rapidly as the work of hands. Artificial intelligence has the capacity to replace human intellect in almost every routine task” (Wright, 2018). Robotics is being used now more than ever, thus requiring more of the workforce to be skilled in managing computerized systems and also to troubleshoot issues with these systems. Occupations in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields had a 10.5 percent growth rate in the United States between 2009 and 2015, compared to the 5.2 percent growth rate of non-STEM occupations, and are expected to grow even faster in the coming years (Fayer, Lacey, & Watson, 2017). This illustrates the importance of technology in the current and prospective workforce. Businesses need to be mindful of the technological skills required for an agile and competitive workplace.
Technology is not only changing the nature of the work we do, but also how we do our work: face-to-face conversations being replaced with instant messaging, phone calls being replaced with e-mail, and manual calculations replaced with formulas in a spreadsheet. Video and web conferencing are becoming more popular than ever by allowing for live audio and visual feeds to be communicated through a web-based meeting setting (McIntosh, Davis, & Luecke, 2008). This next step in virtual meeting technology has its advantages over just telephone conferencing, including providing visuals to support the topic of discussion and facilitating real-time changes to the presentation content. Many companies are also now utilizing collaboration software for team-based virtual project work, which helps to provide a similar feel of all team members working in the same location. Some features of collaboration software include a virtual whiteboard for brainstorming and thought generation, chatrooms for team discussions, and checklists for daily or weekly team deliverables (McIntosh et al., 2008).
Michael McGuire discussed some thoughts as to how technology has changed the company culture is some businesses. Michael explained that some corporate cultures have become less interactive with the evolution of technology, for example, people sending emails to each other from within earshot. He went on to talk about how email has been used in some companies as means of digital traceability – by sending an email to a colleague rather than talking face-to-face, there is proof that the message or request was sent. This form of communication has taken precedent in some cases because there is a digital record trail and proof of delivery if ever a dispute would arise.
Workplace technology also makes us more digitally connected than ever outside of the office due to the fact that “computer networks allow employees to work from the office, their home, or anywhere” (Cascio & Montealegre, 2016). This interconnectedness has some potential ramifications for employees, however, if not kept in balance. In some instances, having the ability to complete work remotely has created an “always-on work environment”, where employees are expected to be always accessible outside of normal working hours (Day, Scott, & Kelloway, 2010). This expectation may be set by the employer or just perceived by the employee, due to the individual’s commitment to organizational citizenship behavior or the norms established by their colleagues (Dubrin, 2016).
So what does the evolution in technology mean for managers? Well, as the old adage states: leadership is something that never goes out of style. Humans still have a competitive advantage over machines in dealing with ambiguity, creating vision or purpose, and motivating employees. Inspiring employees and providing direction requires leaders to use intuition and emotional intelligence in ways machines can’t compute. Technology needs to be a supplement to, not a replacement of, the leadership process (Cascio et al., 2016). Using virtual teams as an example, technology facilitates the interaction of a virtual team whose members aren’t physically in the same location, but the expectations of the leader are the same regardless of if the team is meeting face-to-face or virtually. In order to be successful, the team leader must still foster a collaborative environment, set expectations and milestones for the team, and find creative ways to establish trust between the team members (Wallace, 2004).
Leaders can use technology to their advantage because it has made widespread communication much faster and easier. Leveraging this information, leaders can show recognition to all levels of the organization with the touch of a button. With digital communication streams becoming more prevalent in the workplace, leaders can now recognize their employees through various avenues like mass e-mail, company newsletters, message boards, and blogs. These forms of recognition, like all other uses of technology, should supplement face-to-face interaction rather than replace it. Many companies now utilize digital appreciation tools to send gratitude and monetary incentives for those who go above and beyond what is expected. One company that specializes in workplace appreciation is O.C. Tanner; by providing online recognition tools to businesses and allowing for personalized messages from the sender, employees can directly give recognition within minutes to any level in the organization (Sine, 2017).
The process of communicating (recognition or any other message) has stayed the same even with the evolution of technology, but the means through which we communicate has changed. Communication, whether it be face-to-face or electronically, involves the source sending a message through some channel (or medium) to a receiver, factoring in the environment and noise within the communication stream, and receiving feedback from the receiver (Dubrin, 2016). Technology has primarily altered the channel through which we communicate. When sending an e-mail, for example, the channel is electronically delivering the message in written form rather than having the sender communicate the message verbally. While this is a faster method to communicate something, it also has the potential to make the message more ambiguous, due to the lack of nonverbal cues. An electronically written message does not indicate the sender’s expression, voice tone, or body language to the receiver. Michael McGuire discussed during the interview that some people will try to “read intent” into an email message – because email lacks the nonverbal cues of traditional communication, sometimes the receiver will interpret the message on how they perceive the message should be read. These perceptions aren’t always accurate, however, and because of it, digital forms of communication that lack nonverbal cues are sometimes misinterpreted or misunderstood. Because of this, leaders and managers must be direct with their electronic communications and ensure to clearly state their message, as to not have their message misinterpreted by their audience.
Proper utilization of electronic communication streams can improve a leader’s to effectively communicate a message. Realizing that people have different learning styles, leaders can use technology to transmit their message in ways so that the entire audience receives and understands it. Learning styles are divided into basically three different approaches – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, and utilizing all three methods when delivering a message increases the likelihood of reception from the audience (Dubrin, 2016). This holds true with almost any message, regardless of complexity or circumstance. For example, if a leader is introducing a new product line to his or her team, they could show a video or use applicable technology to show how the product is used to appeal to the visual learners, describe its purpose and functionality for the auditory learners, and bring in a prototype for the kinesthetic learners to test out. Leaders need to understand that people respond differently to technology, and should evaluate the appropriate usage of technology based on the audience.