Technologies are designed by humans. So if you think about it, every piece of workplace technology today reflects the biases of the teams that developed them, as well as the historical trajectories behind different cultures. Software, applications and hardware all exist at the union of culture and technology. Martha Bird, Business Anthropologist at ADP says, understanding the human attributes of workplace technology can enable C-level executives to design a workplace that's more inclusive and innovative. We sat down with Martha to discuss the intersection of humans and tech.
Technology Is Shaped by Human Factors
In my work at ADP's Innovation Lab, I spend a lot of time thinking about "human-machine relationships" — or how technology, people and culture intersect. Understanding that technology is shaped by human factors is key to successful, potentially disruptive innovation.
Even the code that powers software isn't just code, it's a product of organizational, national, geographical and other human factors. By thinking about the web of connections between humans and technology, organizational leadership may also be able to better understand intersections between people, technology and the global workforce.
Technology Can Have Human Bias
It's nearly impossible to unravel the web that connects technology from human cultures. Unfortunately, this means that technologies carry human biases. For instance, early mobile phone digital cameras, as well as most film photography technologies until the early 1990s, rendered better images of lighter-skinned subjects. Most quality tests were performed on lighter-skinned test subjects, an idea that SLR Lounge notes as "racial bias in photography."
Science fiction is a really useful instrument for illustrating how culture informs technology, even though science fiction is usually about imagined technology. However, even these projections reflect our conscious or unconscious ideas about gender, class, geography and ethnicity. For example, the popular, futuristic cartoon, The Jetsons, consisted of a white, middle-class family — father, mother and two children. Their robotic maid was female.
Culture, Beliefs and Values Influence Technology
Today, humans interact daily with relatively intelligent technology. Algorithms are a widely adopted business tool to categorize information based on what's calculated as something a consumer is likely to purchase, read, watch or click on. However, the idea of "worthwhile," "authoritative" or "useful" is highly-subjective and deeply cultural. The relationship between culture, beliefs and values is an important one to reflect on as we engage with technology that shapes our research, purchases and entertainment.
Tech Is Evolving Rapidly in the Workplace
Technology and humans have coexisted for thousands of years. As technologies change, human behaviors and habits change in response. When carbon copies were a state-of-the-art technology, that was how business accounting departments tracked expenses. Today, a business traveler snaps a mobile photo of their restaurant receipt, which can automatically populate an expense-tracking app.
Technologies available today are evolving rapidly — we don't have autonomous cars or robot maids, but organizations are using sophisticated tools to collaborate and create. Established workplace practices are moving at a slightly different rate of change. The result is cultural tension, or the potential for misalignment between your talent and tools.
Reflect on the Past to Understand Patterns
Workplace technologies support a flexible, global workplace without hierarchy or a centralized office location; however, most organizations aren't ready to adopt a fully-remote model of operations. While it's tempting to speculate about the future, it may be more effective for leadership to reflect on the past. Understanding patterns can help you identify how existing technologies are impacting the workplace today.
Design Thinking — What It Is and Why It's Important
In any workplace, technologies need to meet human needs in addition to organizational needs — balancing people and tech by embracing design thinking. Design thinking is a solution-driven approach to innovation, based on diverse methods of capturing many individuals' input. "Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be—and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer)," according to Creativity at Work.By stripping away unnecessary complexities, we're trying to disrupt technology in a way that can help people become more creative and strategic.
Taking Humans Into Consideration in a Technology-Driven Workplace
Leveraging HCM technologies that are sensitive to variations in people, practices and place should be a top priority for organizations. Cultural perceptions of time are just one example of these global differences. An individual in Germany may perceive timeliness and timekeeping practices quite differently than someone in Brazil. Scaling digital HCM tools to a global client base requires more of an understanding of cultural precision.The knowledge that technology is shaped by more than just lines of code should also shape how an organization considers human interactions with technology and policies. When the cultural aspects of tech are taken into account, these principles can guide human-sensitive tech selection and policy development in the workplace. It can also help executive leadership build the kinds of diverse teams and encourage design thinking with the potential for true disruption.While technology can make work easier and more efficient for people, it can also add complexity and confusion. Understanding the intersection of people, technology and work is essential to the future workplace as our systems and processes continue their rapid changes.
The knowledge that technology is shaped by more than just lines of code should also shape how an organization considers human interactions with technology and policies. When the cultural aspects of tech are taken into account, these principles can guide human-sensitive tech selection and policy development in the workplace. It can also help executive leadership build the kinds of diverse teams and encourage design thinking with the potential for true disruption.
While technology can make work easier and more efficient for people, it can also add complexity and confusion. Understanding the intersection of people, technology and work is essential to the future workplace as our systems and processes continue their rapid changes.
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