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Technology in the Workplace – Past, Present, and Future

At the beginning of his February 2013 TED Talk, Sugata Mitra referred to the British Empire, which had to try to “run the entire planet without computers, without telephones, with data handwritten on pieces of paper, and traveling by ships.”

It seems impossible from today’s perspective. So how did they do it? “They created a global computer made up of people,” said Mitra. Schools trained children to become identical parts of this machine by learning to write neatly, read, and do basic math in their head. This anecdote made me think about how, just as Mitra argues traditional education is outdated, so is the traditional work setting.

Forgive this oversimplification, but the concept of work has obviously evolved since Victorian times with the invention of computers and telecommunications. People have also developed their once-identical knowledge and skills into specialties, which requires collaboration to achieve an end goal.

Today’s teams often work together despite being unable to meet in person. Beyond computers, phones, and videoconferencing, other technologies allow people to collaborate and create an efficient workflow. I’ve had the opportunity to experience some of these tools in recent employment, and some of these may be used well into my career. However, I know I must be open learning other tools, as the options will keep growing.

While taking the Hootsuite Platform Training this semester, I learned how Hootsuite simplifies social media management through its Organizations and Teams functions. Among other team-oriented features, social media posts and messages can be assigned to specific members within a team, so the right person is responding to each unique inquiry under the brand’s social media handles.

I have already experienced the usefulness of Google apps, such as Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, and Sheets, in workplace and student collaboration. With Google’s ubiquity, I don’t expect these tools to go away soon, and I hope my familiarity with them will serve me well in my future workplace.

However, there are other tools that may prove more useful for project management, like Basecamp and Podio. I am currently getting acquainted with Basecamp and see the value in having all of a team’s projects, tasks, to-do lists, calendars, and more in one location.

The user interface of Podio actually looks similar to that of Facebook, which coincidentally has also launched its own tool for the workplace, aptly called Workplace. Though this tool is still new, I am interested in learning how businesses use it to increase productivity and collaboration among their employees.

While the above tools seem fairly straightforward in their usefulness for the workplace, I was surprised that Ragan suggested Snapchat as a tool for project management – “to share status updates and progress reports quickly and efficiently, for example. The creative, urgent, flash-in-the-pan nature of the app makes it remarkably suited to a fast-paced work environment,” writes Jody Ordioni. Though I have yet to become comfortable with Snapchat, and the “urgent, flash-in-the-pan nature” of it stresses me out more than it delights me, I can see how it could be useful for collaborators who were all on board with the idea.

Though technology can be helpful in connecting people who are geographically distant, it can also prevent or remove some of the face-to-face interactions that contribute to a spirit of collaboration. Skype and other videoconferencing tools can help bridge the distance. As our class learned during our recent field trip to Externa CGI, someday virtual reality will allow people to see each other as if they are in the same room, although they won’t actually physically be in the same room! Until virtual reality becomes a reality for the average business, there is one tool that can help foster face-to-face interactions beyond a static TV or computer screen: a robot.

As shared on Digiday, Red Interactive Agency has introduced Double, a robot that “is basically an iPad on a Segway, and combines the fun of a remote-controlled game with the functionality of videoconferencing.” Double allows remote employees to visit a company’s office by logging in and controlling the robot’s movement from room to room, coworker to coworker, an experience that is as close to being there as possible. Though I chuckled at Double’s lanky appearance compared to the people around it, I’m sure it won’t take long for this technology to be developed to a point of having a more humanistic – and thus more eerie – presence.

I can only imagine how many technological advancements will be made by the time I am settled into my career. The thought of using Snapchat or virtual reality in my everyday workflow and teamwork seems so out there to me, but it may be quite normal very soon. No matter what tools I’ll be using, I am grateful the technology exists to help teams do their best work.

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