This article was updated on July 27, 2018.
Over the past few decades, the office technology evolution has transformed how business is conducted. Today's process of business communication and operations would hardly be recognizable to professionals in the 1970s or 1980s.
Ripples of Progress
Fax machines were once hailed as powerful innovations for their ability to transmit documents electronically. But today they're almost extinct, as cloud technology and scanners allow the same process to be conducted digitally. In fact, as new technologies have allowed more business processes to go paperless, most paper-based technologies have lost prominence as vital business tools. Nowadays, workplaces print documents only when necessary and use digital documents as much as possible.
Thirty years ago, office workers were informed of news, policies and project updates with paper memos. Those print messages gave way to email, and today, many teams communicate via instant message, text, social media or intranets. In addition, while face-to-face meetings were once essential for collaborating in groups with colleagues or partners, videoconferencing technology makes it possible for people to work together without ever needing to travel or meet in person. Today, online tools such as Skype, WebEx and GoToMeeting facilitate web conferencing and allow people in different locations to collaborate and view the same presentation in real time.
This technological evolution has led to a number of transformative business trends. Here, we list three of the most critical.
The proliferation of technologies such as web conferencing and online process management tools have made it possible for organizations to connect teams across countries, allowing them to achieve global partnerships like never before.
As technological tools lead to a more globalized workforce, HR leaders must be prepared to develop employment policies and benefit plans that meet the needs of workers in various locations. Employees in different regions of the world have different views, expectations and priorities, but according to the ADP Research Institute® report, The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace, 79 percent of workers across the globe feel positively about technology that "will allow for deeper connections across distance/time."
Going to work no longer has to mean physically going to an office for a certain period of time. The office technology evolution has taken tools outside the office, giving professionals access to systems from their mobile devices anywhere in the world. This has led to a growing teleworking movement, in which many employers allow employees to work from home. In 2015, 37 percent of American workers telecommuted compared with just 9 percent in 1995, according to Gallup.
If your employees' jobs can be done out of office, HR managers should look for ways to accommodate teleworking. Many employees will see the ability to work remotely as a perk. It can also serve as an attractive recruiting and retention tool for top-level workers who want to be able to balance work with other demands.
Because workplace tools now give access to information from anywhere, some employers and workers expect their employees and colleagues to be available for communication at all times. For instance, 45 percent of workers feel obligated to respond to emails after hours, while 47 percent feel guilty if they don't work — either on site or from home — when sick, according to Randstad.
In addition, because "the sun never sets on a global company," someone is always awaiting a response to a call or an email, leading to overwhelmed employees — and 65 percent of global HR leaders responding to a Deloitte survey say the trend is urgent or important. The technology that has allowed people to work on the go has also played a role in raising work expectations. However, when employees are expected to be accessible 24/7, they can burn out. To prevent this, HR leaders should develop policies and limitations so employees feel like they are encouraged to unplug.
With technology evolving fast, expect more changes on the horizon. Businesses that are able to quickly adapt to new tools and technologies are likely to build a strong, flexible organization that will be prepared to meet the needs of a continually changing marketplace.