Technological changes in the workplace

Change and innovation are becoming a way of life for most people. Technology is part of our daily lives, changing the way we cook, communicate, use media and work. Even the language is changing; terms that until recently were not even a part of our lexicon such as fax, microwave, VCR and PC have become commonplace. New terms continue to emerge as new products are introduced or improved – always with the anticipation that there will be a newer, faster, and better innovation on the market any day. Social changes are also reflected in our vocabularies. Words like single parent family, telecommuting, house husband and domestic partner all represent changes in our society. Words are the bugles of social change. When our language changes behavior will not be far behind.

As we move more rapidly into the knowledge and service economies, changes in the arena of jobs and information technology or infotech will affect all of us. Primarily infotech is the combining of computing with telecommunications and networking. Expert systems, imaging automation, robotics, mechatronics (microprocessors implanted in devices products and systems) and sensing techniques can also be included under the infotech banner (some of these technologies are explained in more detail). These interconnected technologies will have a profound and growing impact on how we work in the future. These technologies are moving out across the country to reshape how we do our jobs from the farm to factories, offices, and hospitals. By the year 2010 infotech, along with the transition from an industrially based economy to a technologically based one will bring about many positive changes. But, although many jobs will be more challenging and rewarding some of these changes may also lead to job loss, boredom or depersonalization.

Infotech will be supported primarily by the transmission of digital signals over fiber-optic cables, supplemented by satellite and wireless technology. The impact on workers will be two fold: First workers will do more of their work through an intermediary such as an expert system or personal computer; secondly organizations will redesign jobs to take advantage of these new capabilities. To better understand these changes we will look at how some jobs will be transformed.

The scientist of 2010 will more easily work in large groups as infotech connects scientists from all over the globe. Key to it change will be teleconferencing and groupware – a software that allows people in different locations to share the same information on their computer screens. As far flung scientists are more easily able to work together and quickly disseminate new knowledge there will be less reinventing advances in knowledge are likely.

Sales people will have little use of an office at headquarters; they will work mainly from their cars and in their customers’ offices. Their cars will be equipped with digital faxes, notebook computers, portable cellular phones and perhaps even built-in video-conferencing capacity.

Doctors in 2010 will team up far more than they do today, working with teams of other physicians, nurses, technicians, and therapists. Expert systems will complement and enhance doctors’ skills filling in gaps in knowledge and skill areas and providing advice for complicated procedures. Expert systems software will also be used to diagnose many routine problems without consulting the doctor.

Factory worker’s jobs will consist mainly of guiding the work of robots and designing, monitoring and maintaining automated systems. The use of computer-aided design and computer assisted manufacturing systems (CAD/CAM) will link all parts of the factory into the production process.

We can make four projections about the world of work in the year 2010:

1. Almost no one will be exempt from the changes – by 2010 most of us will be primarily information workers.
2. Technologies will complete against each other as they develop
3. The “Big Four” information technologies – artificial intelligence, computer networks, imaging technology and massive data storage will become fundamental tools for most workers and will have evolutionary effects on occupation.
4. Whether information technologies are positive or negative for workers will depend on how the systems are set up; the implementation strategies can automate routing and dull jobs and create more challenging ones, or they can put jobs and onerously monitor employee performance. Whatever strategy is employed infotech will eliminate many jobs, create new ones, and radically change others.