The future of work: Is technology an enabler or an isolator?
By Sarah Jane Thoms
W hen flexible working first became more common, it was met with a round of applause. Who wouldn’t be excited at the thought of not having to go into the office every single day?
But that initial excitement has started to wear off as new issues have popped up as a result. Technology may have enabled many to work remotely, but it has also opened up a new set of problems.
As home working has allowed us to binge on Spotify playlists whenever we like, we’ve decided to take a musical approach to this.
A little too ironic, and yeah, I really do think
OK so Alanis may have been confused by the definition of irony, but we think it really is ironic that we have developed technology to solve some of our problems but have instead created new ones. Video calling platforms such as Skype and Zoom have made it easy to take part in meetings and planning sessions despite not being able to be present in the room. Although this is convenient, it can also take away an element of creativity and debate.
There’s nothing quite like sitting around a table with your team and discussing a project. The products of face-to-face conversations can’t quite be replicated by a video call. Yes, we can use Slack to ask our colleague a question, but it isn’t the same as being able to spin round in your office chair and instigate a discussion.
Remote working can be counterproductive as the lack of human interaction it involves can induce loneliness and become detrimental to an employee’s mental well-being. It can also encourage individuals to rely on their technological devices as their closest thing to human interaction.
Should have left my phone at home because this is a disaster
Because of how well connected we are now, it’s extremely hard to switch off. You can be lying poolside on a sun lounger and still have that voice in the back of your head, wondering if your client has given feedback on that proposal you sent over. And what do we do to make that voice go away? Check our emails. It’s never been easier to be kept in the loop, no matter where you are in the world. At times, this accessibility can be a life-saver, but it can also be harmful.
The easy access to our online accounts and work platforms can make it extremely tricky to decompartmentalise our lives. A worrying number of people have their work accounts logged into their personal mobile phone and think nothing of catching up on a few emails whilst having a lie in on a Sunday morning. Not only does this blur the boundaries between your personal and work life, but it also merges your home and the office, two environments that should always be kept separate.
When working from home, you might find yourself still sat on your sofa, with your laptop, at 8pm because the boundaries between your work and home life have become blurred. There’s nothing productive about trying to write up a quarterly report whilst watching Coronation Street and attempting to eat some spaghetti bolognaise, so don’t kid yourself.
We’re going through… changes
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to remote working. After all, it was introduced for a reason – as a solution to our working problems. Remote working enables many wonderful things; from being able to manage your family responsibilities to making sure you can also prioritise elements of your personal life.
For remote working to be a success, all team members must be able to communicate with one another, access the work they need to and utilise all necessary programmes and platforms. Remote working wouldn’t be possible without technology – it’s the glue that sticks it all together and makes flexible working a viable option.
And if adopted correctly, remote working can help improve worker well-being. Those who usually spend a significant part of their day commuting to and from work can benefit from choosing to work remotely every now and then. Londoners spend an average of 84 minutes a day commuting to and from work – that’s almost a whopping 1.5 hours. It’s in these circumstances remote working can offer a solution to a common problem.
Long commutes leave many workers tired and unable to include their social life in their list of priorities. By working from home, employees can use the time they would usually spend commuting to go to the gym, catch-up on sleep or complete some day-to-day life admin. If someone in this position chooses to work from home even just once a week, it can have a significantly positive effect.
Tech is here to stay, so we need to think carefully about how we adopt it and the outcomes of such decisions. It’s crucial employers strike a balance between flexibility and protecting the well-being of their employees.
Whilst it’s important to utilise and appreciate the positives of flexible working, we must ensure it doesn’t create more issues than it’s solving. We need to set boundaries… and stick to them.
We’d love to hear your opinions on this topic. We’ll be discussing it in more detail at our Honest Talks ‘Future of Work’ event on September 12th in Manchester. You can book tickets via this link.
P.s. If you were wondering, the lyrics mentioned were from Ironic by Alanis Morissette, Telephone by Lady Gaga ft. Beyoncé, and Changes by Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne (or Black Sabbath, depending on your musical preference).