Culture is defined as the “behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” If a group of people believes that older people should always be respected, it will become a part of their culture, for instance.
By this definition, work culture can be summed up under the following broad headings:
- Communication. A vital part of any business, communication is usually more informal at creative agencies than at other companies. Traditional businesses, such as banks, mostly rely on formal language for internal and external communication. Along with the manner of communication, the channel plays a role, too. For instance, in some organizations, it might be considered rude to send a work text on a social messaging tool, like WhatsApp.
- Hierarchy. Hierarchy is the structure and number of ranks between an employee and the person with the highest level of authority. Often, startups don’t have a defined workplace hierarchy; an intern can easily reach out to the founder or co-founder of the company.
- Dress code and work ethics. The tech industry, in general, is considered to be casual in terms of dress code and ethics. Google is well-known for its informal workspaces. However, that may not be the case with every tech company. Again, traditional businesses, such as the banking industry, are in stark contrast — it might be inconvenient for banks to have a work culture where employees can report at any time, or work from home on some days of the week.
Now that you have a better understanding of the broad factors that define the culture of a workplace, let’s dive in and see the impact that technology can have on these factors. The recent proliferation of smartphones has had a direct impact – both positive and negative – on how employees in an organization communicate internally and externally.
Technology And Communication
Working millennials under the age of 25 send about 110 texts every day on average, according to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center. That amounts to about 3,200 messages every month for the average millennial. Assuming that a millennial spends eight to nine hours at work, it is safe to say that a young worker between the ages of 18 and 24 receives about 30 messages while at work every day.
The ping of a new notification on your smartphone can distract you from the task at hand, which can lead to errors. This can impact the work culture in a couple of ways. First, as millennials become the majority of a company’s employees, managers might be forced to set rules for texting at work to improve employee efficiency. If they are not careful, though, the workplace can quickly become stifling, which can hamper the employee experience.
Second, the proliferation of smartphones also means that employees can use collaborative apps, such as Trello and Evernote, for working on a project with team members. This can bring down hierarchical barriers since the CEO of a company might choose to participate in an Evernote conversation and give direct feedback to a junior associate.
Technology And Work Ethics
Easy availability of a reliable internet connection anytime, anywhere means that workers are just a text or an email away. Again, there are two sides to this impact on how we work. On one hand, technology allows for more flexible work hours. In fact, the number of remote workers in the U.S. is on the rise. Young workers are demanding that traditional workdays be replaced with a more flexible approach. If telecommuting continues to rise, it is likely that it will help bridge the gender gap at work. In fact, if companies manage to get comfortable with virtual teams spread across continents, it can make workplaces a lot more culturally diverse. Workplaces of the future can be global melting pots, which will directly impact the work culture of an organization.
On the other hand, technology proliferates “always-on” work ethics. A 2014 Deloitte survey pointed out the trend of overwhelmed employees in organizations, which is a direct result of the always-connected lifestyle and information overload. It is important for companies to promote a healthy work-life balance for a better employee experience, which can directly impact attrition rates.
Technology And Performance Management
The annual appraisal system is fast on the decline. A lot of enterprises, including Adobe and IBM, are moving toward a more informal appraisal system, which is a direct result of technology in the workplace. Companies such as Adobe use an agile method for performance appraisals, which relies on centralized employee information and collaborative tools that make performance tracking easy for supervisors and managers. The agile method involves giving ongoing feedback to employees, instead of waiting a year for performance reviews. The informal appraisal system is directly linked to gamification at work, which is, again, a cultural shift from a traditional workplace setting. Gamification in the workplace functions on the idea that employees feel more engaged if they feel rewarded and recognized for their efforts – emotions strongly associated with games. On the downside, though, if organizations are not careful about how gamification is used at work, it can feel like coercion instead of fun. When the fun goes out of the game, employees’ performance can be hampered.
At the end of the day, technology is just a tool, and like all other tools, it can have positive or negative effects on the work culture. It is important, however, that organizations have a clear roadmap for navigating current and emerging technology in the workplace, especially as millennials, who have grown up with technology, start to become the majority. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in promoting the right use of technology at work. Habits that encourage collaboration and efficiency should be promoted, such as increased use of project management apps instead of relying on legacy platforms.