Information technology is a double-edged sword offering a mixed bag. There are pros and cons.
|"Current generations coming into the workforce are much more concerned about work-life balance and flexibility. How will technology address these concerns?" asked Jill Tietjen, P.E., moderator of the panel discussion on Powering Up the New Economy through Technology and Inclusivity at the recent conference of the International Women's Forum of Colorado.|
I was honored to speak on the panel along with Dr. Janet Kavandi, astronaut and SVP at Sierra Nevada Corporation. Note that I love to speak. I'd be pleased to speak at your next meeting on this or other topics.
THE PROS — Some Ways Technology Encourages Work-Life Balance
SAVES TIME. The use of technology can save time, so you can spend it how you like. I recall how my grandmother washed clothes over 50 years ago. It took most of a day using a ringer washer first and then hanging the clothes on a line to dry. Now with modern washing machines and dryers, clean clothes are achieved in a fraction of the time. Think of how the pandemic changed grocery shopping for many of us. Rather than driving to / from the store, spending time walking the aisles, and then checking out, online shopping reduces the process to a few clicks on a computer or smartphone followed by delivery or pickup.
ENABLES REMOTE WORK. Thanks to computers, Internet access, and collaboration software, many people can work from home or in remote locations. This can save commute time and expense, reduce pollution, improve productivity, and increase flexibility. Of course, employers need to agree. I remember running our company Radish Systems virtually. This allowed us to hire the best people from around the country who would not have otherwise relocated. I was the State of Colorado Chief Information Officer when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and my Information Technology team quickly — in a matter of a few weeks — enabled 80% of the 30,000 state employees to work remotely. We found employees were less stressed and more productive, while working longer hours and staying healthier.
REDUCES MUNDANE WORK THROUGH INCREASED AUTOMATION. With artificial intelligence (AI), more and more mundane and repetitive work is being automated. Especially when there's a workforce shortage, automation allows workers to focus on the most challenging problems. Amazon, for example, has stated a goal for their warehouses to eventually run completely with robots. The future of much work is white collar, and people need the proper training to have the digital skills to succeed. Of course, rather than work-life balance, we must realize that increased automation may take the "spirit" out of work and leave a jobless underclass.
THE CONS — Some Ways Technology Discourages Work-Life Balance
INCREASES STRESS. Many people are always plugged in. They are therefore always on call. Since employers know this, they may put 24/7 demands with unrealistic response times on their staff. Rather than turn off and relax, people 'waste' time by surfing the internet, playing games, or mindlessly scanning social media.
HURTS SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AND CAN BE MANIPULATIVE. Watch the movie The Social Dilemma and learn from the tech experts in Silicon Valley on the dangerous impact of social networking, which technology firms use in an attempt to manipulate and influence. The Social Dilemma points out that many social networks exploit human weakness by designing with something called "positive intermittent reinforcement" in mind. This has been linked, especially in youth, to increased mental health challenges. Many of these tech gurus do not let their children use social media.
IMPACTS BRAIN FUNCTION. Research has shown that frequent digital technology use has a significant impact — both negative and positive — on brain function and behavior. Potential harmful effects include heightened attention-deficit symptoms, impaired emotional and social intelligence, technology addiction, social isolation, impaired brain development, and disrupted sleep. This is especially impactful for the young. That's why we chose to have our daughter participate in a Waldorf-influenced elementary school. Waldorf Schools are very careful in structuring the environment for children so that wonder and imagination thrive. They suggest limiting media exposure for children, especially before 4th grade.
INCREASES CYBERCRIME RISK. As discussed in my May 2021 Szczurek Success Strategies newsletter, cybercrime is a big and growing risk. To protect yourself and your business, consider people, processes, and technology, and take action. Otherwise you may lose your identity or lose precious data and have your business shut down. A cybercrime attack can take enormous time to recover from, create stress, and cause financial harm — the opposite of work-life balance.
Technology can both encourage and discourage work-life balance. Be aware. Know how important it is to take action. Set the intention to be on top of it. Encourage children, at the proper age, to pursue STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) careers so they can be part of the solution.
copyright @2021 Theresa M. Szczurek. All rights reserved.