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For as long as human beings have existed, they have looked for ways to do their work better and faster. The Aztecs developed a counting table around 600 BC, and the Chinese are often given credit for creating the abacus around 200 BC. But not until the 20th century did technology advance to the point that it began to change the way people work. In the 21st century, technology affects almost every aspect of the workplace.
Business is about communication, and technology has changed the way people communicate in the workplace and with customers and vendors. Emails, text messaging, video conferencing, the Internet and collaborative software programs allow workers to share information with others no matter where they are located around the world and regardless of the time of day. This instant communication speeds up processes and improves productivity. But, according to computer science professor Eric Roberts at Stanford University, technology-facilitated communication may serve to isolate workers as it takes the place of face-to-face interactions. Coworkers do not spend as much time together, so team work and interpersonal skills may deteriorate.
Nature of Jobs
Technology has changed the workplace, the types of jobs that must be done and the skills required to do those jobs. Even in factories, workers must know how to use computers and other complicated machines used for productions. So workers need to be computer literate, flexible and able to learn new systems as technology evolves. In addition, jobs become more specialized, requiring advanced training and special certifications, which makes “moving up” in an organization more difficult because low level jobs may not provide the necessary skills development for higher level positions.
Where People Work
In many instances, technology has changed the physical location of work. Rather than commuting to an office or work site, employees may work at home. Many companies have found that telecommuting is efficient, saves money and gives employees the flexibility they need to manage work and family demands. Telecommuting has some downsides. It may make teamwork more difficult, and some workers report feeling isolated. It also blurs the line between work time and personal time, making it more difficult to "leave work" because work is also home. Telecommuting requires self discipline and self motivation to focus on the work, to avoid distractions and to be productive.
Technology improves productivity and efficiency. It may also lead to temptation. A worker with a computer and an Internet connection may be working or he may be surfing the Internet, chatting with friends via social media or watching a ballgame. Some managers rely on their employees to use good judgment with technology while other managers prefer electronic monitoring, such as Internet site use records, keyboard stroke counters and video surveillance. This type of monitoring may cause friction between managers and their employees. In addition, employees are often more knowledgeable about the technology they use to do their work than are their managers. Managers may feel a lack of control over their employee or they may see technology as an opportunity to develop their workers by giving them more autonomy to make decisions on how they will use the technology to do their work.
Diane Chinn is a freelance writer with more than 15 years experience in many areas, including business and technical communications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from California State University and a Master of Arts in human resources and industrial relations from the University of Minnesota. She is a Six Sigma Green Belt .