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The Connected Workplace: How Did We Get Here?

These days it’s hard to remember a time when phones couldn’t tell you which direction to go, messages couldn’t be received immediately, and “the cloud” was just something in the sky.

Over time, digital technologies have shaped new behaviors and elevated our basic human need for connection to a level that demands constant fulfillment. For the workplace in particular, this trickle-down effect has not been a simple shift. As the popular platforms, trends and devices of the consumer world have flooded into corporate spaces, businesses have struggled to successfully adopt and integrate them into existing structures and processes– not to mention manage the added security and cost implications.

You can check out an infographic designed to illustrate the evolution of workplace technology here, but I want to delve a bit deeper into three major areas of disruption:

Instant Communications

If we go back to the early days of the Internet, it was very much about instant communication – emails and messaging tools (such as MSN or AOL). For the consumer it suddenly meant having immediate and (relatively) inexpensive communication with anyone, avoiding costly phone calls or the lengthy letter writing process. It was no longer about one-to-one conversations, you could email as many people as you wanted or start five, ten or more conversations via IM. Businesses could see the clear benefits of both – letters are slow and faxes are limited. For the first time email provided a platform for group collaboration and IM was ideal for instant responses to quick questions or comments. It didn’t create a truly connected workplace though. While we might get a few personal emails a day, in the workplace it’s become a mainstay of communication and we’re all familiar with ‘email overload’. The sheer volume makes it difficult to track and store documents whilst actions and information are all too easily lost. Back to IM, it’s perfect for personal conversations but in business it can be relied on too heavily as a communications tool, it might distract and conversations and decisions are rarely recorded.

Smart Devices

Another struggle for the business world has been smart devices. Apple revolutionised the way we use our phones making it easy to access the Internet, maps, emails and a whole host of other applications anywhere at any time. Consumers wanted that flexibility and convenience at work and thus the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BOYD) trend was born. Walk into any office and virtually everyone has a smartphone and so far the iPad is owning the tablet market. For businesses this has meant better productivity and reduced costs but at the same time created the headache of making a corresponding shift in technology infrastructure so individuals can securely access the information they need.

Social Media

Finally, social media has been a force to be reckoned with. Facebook immediately springs to mind and with 955 million monthly active users it has successfully connected people across the world. Then you have Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, Tumblr– the list goes on. In addition to internally connecting teams of people, businesses have been quick to realise these tools also provide a direct route to the consumer, making them hugely powerful if used well. But on the other hand, they also cause what we often refer to as information overload. Our own research has shown that office workers feel they’re bombarded with so much information that they struggle to digest it and two thirds feel they can’t cope at all.

Despite these struggles, the desire for connection and communication in our professional lives has ultimately prevailed. Today’s challenge is getting all of these technologies to work together in order to reach a truly collaborative and connected workplace. What is going to achieve this? You’ll have to wait for our next blog post…

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