Technology has made us more productive and cost-efficient, but has this come at the cost of physical connections? We pine for the ability to work from home, to have tools that would make our job easier and have our own private space to focus, but has the quest for these personal desires made us isolated workers?
There is absolutely no doubt about it. Our workplace has been transformed by technologies - tools that we can use to manage our office, manage our actual work tasks and ultimately manage our relationships with our colleagues. Tools such as Slack have meant we can now communicate with co-workers in our office without leaving our desk or using our voices. Indeed online communicators such as Slack and HipChat have even replaced email with a simple and immediate interface for sending quick chat messages, documents and screenshots. Why talk to anyone when you can have your query answered instantly online?
Further tools such as Satago have meant we no longer need to call up customers to chase them for payment, Xero has automated the process of billing clients and Twilio has meant SMS and phone calls can now be automated too. Even simple technologies such as FarmDrop has meant we no longer need to pop to the Sainsbury’s across the road to buy fruit supplies for the office; it it simply dropped onto our desks to silently consume.
While this has helped increase the speed in which tasks can be completed and keeps workflows moving, agencies such as OroDesign lament the use of online communications: "The use of online communication tools including email was poisonous to the design industry. It meant that work became more isolating; all the fun had gone." said Debi, founder of OroDesign. She moved her agency into the buzzing Ironmonger Row, where they could share creative studio facilities with the complementary SherryDesign. "We are social animals by nature; trying to isolate personal connections is like a death sentence in this industry".
At Hubble, we have resolved that technology could equally be an enabler rather than just an inhibitor to physical connection. The development team who traditionally need the most isolation built their own internal tool called Tomatogether - a tool for intense working periods followed by interval breaks. Crucially, the app allows you to see when your team are working on their tasks and taking breaks. The idea of 'breaking out' from work has further been emphasised with the rise of coworking spaces that build in dedicated breakout areas. The idea is that on the office floor workers will submerge themselves into the tasks at hand, but be able to emerge from that environment and reconnect in structured intervals.
Equally, we have found the idea of sharing space has enabled physical connections to foster in ways that did not even exist before and encourage serendipitous collaborations. Therefore, while technology could be seen as pulling people apart, it has just meant that the physical dimensions in which we operate has to just be realigned accordingly. MakeItBloom, a digital marketing agency moved into the swanky coworking space WeWork on the Southbank: "Being around super engaged solopreneurs who are pushing from the ground up, forces you to want to work the same." said Fabrice, founder of MakeItBloom. "The best story we have is when we randomly bumped into Davis Tea when they were relaxing in the breakout space. They told us about what marketing issues they were having and we ended up winning our first client (all in our coffee break!)." Indeed it was the personal touch which won over these customers, and not the reliance on some technology communication.
While technology has meant we do not have the same physical connections as before, it does not mean they have necessarily disappeared but rather they manifest themselves in other ways. With the right tools and the right environmental setup, physical connections can continue to develop and flourish - with of course all the same technological efficiencies and savings too.