Technology evolves at a lightening pace. What does this mean for society, our workplaces and each individual when we are online and accessible all the time? Kinnarps takes a closer look at a contemporary trend that will alter everything - and we have only seen the beginning.
It is the middle of the night and an incoming email flashes on your work mobile phone. You cannot but have a look out of curiosity to see who has sent it. Do you recognise this situation? You are most definitely not alone. According to a study by the company health insurance fund (BKK), 84 per cent of Germans stated that they can be reached outside their normal working hours. A total of 51 per cent also said they could be reached around the clock.
In a matter of a few years, developments in technology have caused fundamental changes in society. Work and leisure become one no matter where we live. Today it is for instance a given for most airline companies to provide wifi to their customers. We check in, lie back in our seats and continue reading our spreadsheets, compiling reports and paying bills using our laptops while we swish along at 30,000 feet up in the air toward our destination. Just imagine that it is only 12 years since the American president George Bush was forced to land Airforce One because on the morning of 11 September 2001 they could not communicate with the Pentagon while airborne.
This is written to put matters into perspective. The world as we know it reinvents itself in a steady flow of new innovations. Some of which are more amazing than others. Google recently launched a head-mounted computer that looks like a pair of normal glasses but which responds to voice commands. Not only can you perform practical tasks such as commanding the glasses to unlock doors or communicate with office lighting, but you can also document everyday life and share your experiences live with friends and work colleagues. What impact this will have on the meetings of the future we can hardly imagine. My eyes become your eyes and it is almost impossible to get any closer to another person. The era of wireless has arrived.
"Within five years, broadband will have expanded so much that there will be no need for laying cables in buildings anymore," says Martin Cook, Head of the Interior and Graphic Design Group at BDP, in England.
And the best part is is that this technology is available to everyone. Compare this to a few years ago when lengthy instruction manuals and complex codes were required just to write a text on the computer to how technology has now brought down the knowledge barriers in a simple and user-friendly manner. Just point and press!
"The increasing usage of wireless devices makes for an incredibly flexible workplace and how people can interact with each other. We are no longer limited in terms of location, and we can work essentially wherever we like. This is something we have to consider when we design workplaces," says Ian Weddell, Commercial Manager, Kinnarps UK.
For the individual this creates a new form of freedom, far from times and punch clocks. According to the research company YouGov, 30% of workers in Britain think that flexibility at work makes them more productive, and 43% feel that it reduces stress. But does this mean that the office as we know it is about to disappear? No not at all. However the office is being customised and updated to meet the needs of the future.
"Work is becoming more mobile, many people go to work in places other than the office, but not everyone is working from home. There will still be a need for a standard office," says Beata Osiecka, Managing Director at Kinnarps Poland.
Ultimately it is of course all about changes in technology but the human brain is still the same. We still have to meet and talk to be able to develop ideas and give a company the required creative lift. This dynamic and fixed location is entirely crucial for corporate survival. An innovative example of this is the increase in use of flexible workspaces. Stockholm has, for instance, United Spaces and Nummer 18, where companies share office space and ”overhead costs” with each other. The benefits are obvious: The office space is fully utilised while at the same time exciting encounters take place and new business contacts are made when people from diverse backgrounds and experience come together.
But the new free way of working also means that entirely different demands are placed on both employers and employees. There are numerous scientific reports today on the ”Internet addiction disorder” and ”Crackberry effect” phenomena, in other words the addictive nature of mobile phones. In Germany, many companies, including Volkswagen, have chosen to shut down their email servers outside of normal working hours. The German Labour Market Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, wants to take this one step further. Last year she called for clearer rules to prevent employees from feeling forced into answering emails when off work.
"Just as we have work protection regulations in force, for instance the wearing of helmets at workplaces or the correct way to laying cabling, there should also be psychological protection," says Ursula von der Leyen.
It is possible to an extent that this development will become self-regulating at least among the younger generation.
"Here in Norway, I can see a clear trend in that people are not actually talking on their mobiles on the underground, on buses and in public areas. This is a learning process that is going on at community level. The younger generation is better educated and is more aware of social media and how it can be used without becoming a burden on society", says Liv Tveter, Managing Director at Kinnarps Norway.
"The increasing usage of wireless devices makes for an incredibly flexible workplace and how people can interact with each other."
DID YOU KNOW THAT
• When Neil Armstrong took off for the moon in Apollo 11 in 1969 there was less computing power in the entire rocket than there is in a standard smartphone today.
• A Swedish study by Kairos Future on behalf of Manpower showed that only a quarter of participants felt that their technical needs were met in today's workplaces.
• Access to the internet is considered so important that the UN included it in their list of basic human rights in 2012.