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The changing role of technology in the workplace

Yesterday, at lunch, I was listening to a group of people at the next table talking about their work. This group could have worked at almost any company under the sun. They were a motley crew, dressed for a modern, casual workplace; men and women, spanning the best part of 20 years.

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Rob Hurst

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The few minutes they spent – unknowingly – fuelling this blog, mostly involved complaints about an internal system that was utterly hopeless in surfacing the content and context they needed to effectively do their jobs. A pretty standard team lunch moan I thought.

Soon after, the conversation moved to things they’d recently seen online that had made them laugh, think or feel angry. Within a few seconds, they were handing their phones to each other, sharing video snippets, images, and links from a variety of sources. The sighing and head shaking turned to laughter and grins. It started me thinking about how disconnected the reality of working in most jobs is from the reality of the tools, platforms and experiences we’re used to, in our every day lives.

I saw Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook and more flash across various screens as they were passed around the table, and it struck me how easily the content had been recalled. Each person knew where to look, and what to search for, to bring something up in a matter of seconds. This is the reality of modern day consumer experiences – apps that bring the content you desire to the screen in your hand within seconds. But, the reality of the workplace more often finds us scrabbling around on archaic, bespoke systems that hold back our creativity, speed and yes, enjoyment of work.

Of course there are hundreds of companies working to bring the world of business technology up to the same level as the apps and programs we use elsewhere. Many are doing this with the mindset of adopting a consumer technology approach (and functionality) to enterprise software, but, as the post-millennial generation marches ever closer to the workplace, there’s more to be done.

For my own part, my children may only be 2 and 3 years old (and at least a decade and a half from the world of work…), but, when it comes to technology, their expectations set a scary precedent. Just this morning I was bellowed at. “Daddy, I don’t want the adverts on this Paw Patrol. Let’s have Netflix Paw Patrol instead”. Yes, this may be an extreme, but you’ll doubtless have heard similar protests from some much older people in your lives.

So, as fun as it may be to poke fun at those finnicky millennials with their frothy coffees, their brunch, their pugs, Ubers, Deliveroos and endless plans to create the next disruptive banking start-up, you can’t deny our shared expectations of consumer experiences are sky-high.

If we don’t get what we want or expect from a company or tool in a matter of seconds, we’re tweeting about how much we hate brand X and their crappy offering; rating them one star on the App Store and demanding our 99p back with menaces. So, why, when it comes to the multi-million dollar enterprise solutions that only do half of what we need, do we accept an entirely more considered ‘grin and bear it’ mentality?

We need to challenge not only technology companies to do better, we need to hold our employers to account too. A company is only as good as its employees and its employees are only as effective as the tools at their disposal. So, let’s build a technological foundation for future success that the incoming generation can be proud (or at least tolerant) of.

It’s not only the case that we need our employers to adopt these tools and permit us to make use of them. It’s also critical that we embrace them ourselves.

Even at Omobono, where we like to think of ourselves as a forward-thinking bunch, our own fickle millennials sometimes hesitate to embrace these changes. Many-a-time I’ve sent a document to a colleague on HipChat or Slack or business-Skype, only to be asked to re-send by email. It’s amazing how frequently, having sent a cool visualisation I found online, I’m asked to re-format for a client-sharing slide deck. The reality is, that most companies recognise all of this, but still struggle to drive the change required to adopt these new tools and technologies – and the mindset to make the most of them.

I’m reminded of the great quote from Bill Gates; “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”. So in lieu of a proper ‘conclusion’, I’m simply going to ask you all to do your part in making a better workplace for not only those of us who will be trying to make sense of the next two years, but also all those coming along in the next ten…

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