Finding the right balance between technology and people when pursuing digital transformation


When we talk about the workplace of the future, we tend to focus on the impact of technology — because technology is a massive driver of change. Technology not only impacts how we do our jobs, it can impact where we do our work (think mobile devices and wireless networks).

Technology even plays a role in whether we can keep our jobs, which is why enterprise employees are frequently advised on how they can stay relevant in a workplace where automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning increasingly are replacing human workers.

What’s not discussed as commonly, however, is the psychological impact of technology in the workplace (above and beyond potential loss of jobs). Over at Forbes, contributor Barbara Van Pay makes the argument that “excessive use of technology is draining corporations of happiness.”

“It is of no surprise that in corporations across the world, people have begun to isolate themselves from having excessive human interaction in the workplace, and would rather communicate via email or SMS,” Van Pay writes. “This atmosphere, while possibly increasing productivity, only disconnects us from one another. Once that disconnect is fully realized, people either lose interest in their jobs or become personally dissatisfied with their work, leading to a lack of productivity and most essentially, positivity.”

There’s no doubt that a dispirited employee is more likely to under-perform. And while Van Pay hardly suggests we purge the workplace of technology, she does propose that employees make an effort to “disconnect” regularly.

“Rather than emailing a colleague, drop by their cubicle, have a chat, and say what you would’ve said in the email as it very well could make someone’s day that much better,” she says. “If it’s necessary to have it in writing, send the email afterward, but having that small conversation can make a big impact on the daily perception of an offices environment.”

Such efforts to increase human interaction might seem like small steps, but they would have a cumulative effect that, as Van Pay says, would help create “an environment where people know that they are valued or heard.”

HubSpot’s chief people officer, Katie Burke, echoed similar sentiments in an interview with Jenny Darmody at Silicon Republic.

“I think we’ll see AI and machine learning automate and inform far more of our daily tasks than we can even wrap our collective heads around,” Burke says. However, she adds, “in talking about the future of work, people tend to talk about technology and automation in isolation. What I don’t think will change about work is that people want a sense of purpose in what they do.”

And a big part of cultivating that sense of purpose is connecting with other people. The challenge for enterprises in pursuit of “digital transformation” is to ensure their employees retain a sense of purpose and value to the organization. Automation and AI can’t really help with that. It’s up to enterprise leaders to foster a workplace environment in which employees feel their work means something and that they are valued as human beings, and not merely as assets or resources.

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