March 17, 2016

Taking it back to ’91 – How the workplace has changed

Janice Marshall

Technology has obviously had a huge impact on the way we work now, compared to how we worked 25 years ago. We have a very heavy reliance on technology now, which is great in many ways, but has its drawbacks too.

When I was a trainer 25 years ago, computers were in their early days in the workplace and were only slightly more advanced than word processors. There was no Internet or networking. Everything was done on paper, we used OHP slides and OHP projectors and we relied heavily on admin support staff. Everything was done by phone or post or was physically taken to a place. And everything had to be very well planned, well ahead of time and with a lot of preparation.

Support staff have been reduced as technology has got more advanced and one of the big changes I have noticed is how much managers have to do for themselves now. Back then, managers had people to do everything in terms of producing materials, writing letters, organising, etc. Now managers that are paid a lot of money spend a lot of time doing very mundane, routine activities, sitting in front of their computers. This has had a knock on effect on what they are doing overall, what they should be doing and time management has become a big problem. Managers say they don’t have the time to sit down with people, communicate with them and solve problems.

However, technology has also made things easier. Not that long ago, if I was going to a meeting somewhere, I would have to prepare for the journey, such as getting someone to send me directions to where I was going. Now we have the Internet, I can use that. I can Google where I’m going, find out about the company I’m visiting, find out about people before I meet them and so on. And if a meeting has to be cancelled at short notice, people can let you know – rather than driving for two hours for a meeting that you didn’t know had been cancelled because people couldn’t let you know. This means there is less time wasted.

In terms of time, the business lunch culture has gone. People don’t have expensive lunches or go to the golf course in work time the way they used to. People don’t stay in 4 star hotels on business trips either, but go to Premier Inns. In fact, people don’t spend nearly as much time or money travelling. I used to be away four/five times a week when I first started in training but I’m not now.

Email culture is another big change and by this I mean the culture of sending emails any time of day or night and expecting other people to respond. The implication is that people don’t really have any free time, not in this 24×7 world. Also, it is too easy to send emails to each other – people who sit literally two feet from each other send emails.

I think the workplace has become less top down, especially with the younger people coming into the workforce demanding a more egalitarian environment. The workplace used to be a lot more formal and a lot more hierarchical, in many ways. People often still called their managers by their surnames, not their first names. Work clothes have become a lot less formal.

Now, managers sit alongside their employees in their office. In fact, if you walk into an unknown office, you don’t always know who the manager is as they don’t have their own office or a ‘manager’ label on their desk. It’s all open place offices these days, so the environment has changed completely. This is all a very positive change in terms of environments.

Where people actually work has changed has changed too of course. There is a lot more home working and remote working, although I think businesses could still be a lot more flexible and adaptable on this front. Flexible working is good for people, although it’s also quite isolating.

When I think back to my first working room, I had a room that was full of files, papers etc. Physically, you had to have so much stuff and keep so much stuff back then. Now it’s all kept in your computer and I have one box of stuff in the boot of my car and really, I only need a couple of folders. That’s a major change.