Technology has been an unmistakable boon for industries and economies for the last few decades, and we're seeing it up close in the largest company offices around the world. 

The rise of the Internet and interconnectivity allows us to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world with ease and speed no one could have predicted even thirty years ago. Business moves faster, and it's technology that allows people to keep up, to always be in-the-know, and ready to tackle any challenge.

But what price are we paying for this remarkable progress?

The Price for Employers

Of course, there's the monetary aspect of keeping up with technology. Businesses have spent trillions of dollars to expand their infrastructure, hire knowledgeable people to maintain networks and troubleshoot problems, and outfit employees with the tech they need to complete their jobs. But it's more than that.

Technological continuity. Maintaining technological continuity can sometimes be difficult. Every piece of equipment companies use to stay technologically advanced relies on one thing: power. Without electricity--due to weaknesses in the power grid, natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, or mechanical failure within the building--all business stops. When a computer or device fails to receive the power it needs to run, people can't work. They can't communicate with customers, colleagues, or access their systems to keep going. Battery backups only go so far, and without connectivity, work grinds to a halt.

DDoS attacks. There's also the risk of distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks from cybercriminals, hacktivists, and even nation states. No longer the purview of bored teenagers, DDoS attacks are becoming big business, to disrupt competitors, engage in corporate espionage, or even interfere with governments of foreign nations. The frequency of these attacks are increasing, and so are the size of the breaches. With more employees connected via multiple devices, points of entry are growing. The greater the number of employees, the greater the risk, because companies cannot monitor every single employee's activity on their devices. Employers may have more control over company-issued equipment, and stricter policies mitigate some of the conduct in using those devices, but that doesn't apply as well when companies expect employees to use personal devices for work-related connectivity. There's only so much watching companies can do before crossing the line into privacy overreach.

Balance between security and workability. Greater security also means stricter protocols aren't as easy for employees to comply with. If a company's system requires long-string passwords changed every 30 days and include a multitude of special characters, they're difficult for employees to remember. So employees choose phrases that mean something to them, and simply change a character or two with each new iteration, making them more vulnerable to hacking because the passwords don't fundamentally change. If employees stick to the rules, there's an increase in time wasted when their access is restricted due to failed login attempts, and they have to chase down IT help to get back in.

The Price for Employees

Perhaps the greater price, however, is paid by employees. As technology grows and changes, employees are expected to keep up, often having to learn new software or navigate new devices on their own time. If an employee doesn't take to the new products, or find themselves more confused by them than helped, productivity diminishes as they struggle, and that can impact job satisfaction.

More technology means a greater push to get more accomplished, which can contribute to feelings of overwhelm. Employers who get carried away with expectations because of tech often don't consider when tech fails, either, so unless the protocols employees use work flawlessly all the time--and they won't--those expectations become a burden and can lead to burn out over time.

More technology also contributes to unease about job security. If machines can do it better, faster, and more accurately, human workers can be left feeling like they have no place, and their contributions aren't as vital as that of a machine.

The loss of physical cues. If most of an employee's communication is electronic--email, phone, and messaging systems--they lose a very important tool at their disposal: body language interpretation. Communication can break down if the wording of an email is read incorrectly, and by not being able to "read the room" when everyone in the room are represented by pixels, a vital element of understanding is lost. While the ability to connect has increased, the trust in those connections is more suspect without access to visual cues that show us the people with whom we communicate are getting what we're saying. Nuances are lost to the ether. The communications we do have are becoming shallower.

Isolation. Hand-in-hand with the potential breakdown of understanding through electronic communication is the loss of social completeness. The more time spent in front of a screen, less time is devoted to real, sustainable connection with the people we interact with on a daily basis. Studies are showing a greater feeling of isolation despite the connectivity possibilities at our fingertips.

On-call mentality. Despite the lack of in depth connections more employees are reporting lately, they're feeling more tied than ever to the electronic ball-and-chain of their devices. Workers report feeling pressured to check their emails last thing at night and first thing in the morning than ever before, and forget leaving the office at the office when their day is concluded. Much of this increased on-call 24/7 aspect of modern working life also comes without increased pay, and can lead to resentment on the part of employees who feel they give and give to get very little in return.

The risk to privacy. Along with security concerns on the part of employers, employees can feel their privacy is at risk. How far are they expected to allow companies to monitor their device usage, especially if their device is personal and only connected to work for a few apps and processes? The more companies justify their omnipresent watchfulness over employees through policies and procedures, the more employees feel distrusted, and the more they distrust their employers. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, where both parties feel they're getting shortchanged. Employers can't totally monitor all the activity on devices connected to their network, raising security concerns. Employees are intruded upon on their personal devices, and perhaps feel compelled to censor themselves even on equipment they own when it comes to politics, social interactions, and their hobbies and interests. Where does it stop? There's even a company giving their employees microchips. It's designed to ease the way for workers to swipe their hand over security entrance points into the building, or pay for items in the cafeteria, and the program is entirely voluntary. But how can they be sure the collected data doesn't include more invasive information?

Lack of movement, and inability to shut off. Finally, workers report an increased lack of movement thanks to being tied to their computers, or not being required to get up to speak with a colleague. There's also, during their off time, an inability to wind down. We're always subconsciously attuned to incoming alerts, messages, and notifications, and that can be hard to shut off during family time and at night for sleep.

There is no doubt our lives would be very different without the use of technology. We have more information at our fingertips than ever before, and most of us would call that a great benefit. How many times have we asked ourselves, "What did we do before the internet?" However, for all the things tech allows us to accomplish, there's definitely a balance to be struck in the world of people and machines. With all the pixels we work with every day, we must not forget about the needs of the people behind the machines. After all, those people are forever going to be our biggest asset.

Published on: Oct 11, 2018