IT at Work

The Human Side of Workplace IT

May 23, 2016

Every day, individuals across the globe head to the office, sit down at their desks, and start clicking away on a computer. Thanks to the digital revolution, many of the duties we perform have been made easier and more efficient. But despite the reliability, speed, and user-friendliness of computer and Internet platforms, there is another side. These devices require tremendous human input and engagement, and the human mind can be shaped and impacted by the technology we use.

Deciphering the Human Factor
Technological advancement and increased productivity can go hand-in-hand. However, not all of the impacts of technology in the workplace are constructive. According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, it may be taking a toll on the workforce.

Based on research spanning seven years, 3,100 employees, and 28 organizations in the United States, the journal uncovered rather startling findings regarding human interactions with IT. Stress-induced health problems due to multitasking and technology addiction and abuse are just some of the findings from researchers. Becoming overly reliant on technology can severely undermine the goals and mission of a company.

The Leader's Imperative
As a business leader, it’s easy to focus only on the bottom line without recognizing the human element of business operations. Technology in its various forms, including the Internet of Things, represents an extremely valuable set of tools intended to help humans work better and faster.

Yet if these tools compromise the mental or physical well-being of employees, the benefits for the business may be lost entirely. The challenge to effectively utilizing technology lies in viewing these platforms as tools, not indispensable crutches. When employees become too reliant on technology or too inundated with the number of devices and interfaces, the likelihood of misuse and stress increases. It’s important to pay attention to how (and how much) it’s being used —to make sure it continues to help productivity rather than hinder it.

Rethinking the Workplace
While there is no set formula for the appropriate amount of technology a business should employ, there are steps leaders can take to mitigate potential negative side effects. When considering new tech, executives should be prepared to allocate the necessary resources to teaching employees how to use it appropriately. Just as importantly, leaders must foster environments in which employees are encouraged to reflect on their individual relationships with tech, so they know where to set limitations.

Looking again to the MIT study, researchers found that employees who truly understand the functions of the technology they use at work were less likely to suffer from high stress, especially compared to employees who used platforms that provided more functionality than necessary. Additionally, employees who were given the freedom to experience or explore programs and devices became more fluent and skilled users compared to employees who underwent more formal training endeavors. These findings show that employees who are comfortable and confident using workplace tech do so more effectively and efficiently.

The modern workplace is driven by information technology. It touches everything we do, across nearly all business sectors, from real estate and manufacturing to education and healthcare. But beyond the Internet of Things, how do we make sure our relationship with technology is a positive one? Education should extend beyond training, though. Employees need to learn how to make conscious technology choices. It’s easy to let technology take the place of verbal communication with colleagues, for example, which can diminish teamwork and increase misunderstanding.

Knowing when to pick up the phone or speak face-to-face instead of sending an email can build camaraderie and enhance productivity. It’s also important to know when to disconnect entirely. Thanks to remote connectivity and mobile devices, the definition of the workplace has expanded immensely. Employees are now capable of working from anywhere and may often feel pressure to do so. For this reason, leaders should help employees understand what is expected of them, and also help them maintain a balance so they don’t get overwhelmed or burned out.

Technology and the workplace have become inseparable, and the wave of applications and programs designed to speed up work and increase profitably shows no signs of subsiding. The human element of the workplace, however, is still its most important one. To be more effective, leaders must spend more time ensuring that whatever technology they choose to implement supplements employees’ knowledge and innovative spirits instead of replacing it.

Three Rules of Work

Out of clutter find simplicity,
From discord find harmony,
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
–Albert  Einstein