The Benefits & Risks of Computer Technology in the Workplace
By Bert Markgraf
Technology can decrease the amount of time it takes to complete a task and increase the accuracy of the work. At the same time, technology may lead to workers losing their jobs and an alienation of the worker from his work. While technology allows faster and more intensive communication, it also permits increased employee monitoring. The challenge for businesses is to take advantage of the benefits of technology in the workplace while avoiding negative side-effects.
Technological advances of all kinds have introduced advanced machines into the workplace and allowed companies to automate work processes. Employees can process information rapidly and distribute it widely at low cost by entering data on computer screens and transmitting it digitally to recipients. These benefits of modern technology have enabled companies to increase productivity to high levels and reduce the cost of producing many goods to levels where a wide range of consumers can afford them.
While automation and increased use of high-tech machinery increases productivity, it also empowers companies to produce goods and services with fewer workers. Employees in jobs requiring few skills tend to be the first to be phased out. When fewer people are working, the whole economy grows more slowly or even contracts. The risk is that with fewer people earning a salary, there will be less demand for the goods that companies produce.
Technology in the form of smartphones, tablets and mobile devices enables workers to carry out tasks while visiting customers or otherwise out of the office. Many businesses now let employees access company documents and information from their own mobile devices, communicate through them and use them for company work. This benefits workers who are no longer tied to a desk, and the change has increased employee satisfaction.
The risk from mobile employees working remotely from the office is a decrease in employee privacy. Many employers request employees keep their mobile devices turned on so managers can reach their employees at any time. Using their own mobile devices for work means the device is no longer completely private and companies may have policies regarding their use. Private data on the device may become accessible to the employer.
The development of social networks has had an impact on how companies market their products and services. Ideally companies form communities made up of employees, suppliers and customers around a particular brand. This interaction lets companies keep their customers informed of developments. For example, when there are problems, employees can react quickly and let their customers know what the company is doing to solve them.
The same technology that allows the formation of communities lets companies keep track of employee personal information. By storing profile data on employees and monitoring their activities, companies can gather a vast store of detailed information on each employee. While their are legal constraints on the gathering and storing of the personal information of customers, the risk is that employees have very little similar protection.
- Stanford University: Technology in the Workplace
- Stanford University: Effect of the Changing Nature of the Workplace on the Individual Worker
- Neumann University: Social Networking and Its Effects on Companies and Their Employees
- New York University: Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace - Power Through the Panopticon
Bert Markgraf is a freelance writer with a strong science and engineering background. He started writing technical papers while working as an engineer in the 1980s. More recently, after starting his own business in IT, he helped organize an online community for which he wrote and edited articles as managing editor, business and economics. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University.