Smoke & Mirrors

In 2015, the UK hit a record number of new tech start-ups, but it’s important to remember that not every business is a Google. Whilst technology is advancing on a daily basis, most businesses still function in a 20th century world.

This begs the question: how do you marry technological advances with Stone Age human physiology?

Google’s office environment clearly works for them, but not everyone is a Google, and businesses need to realise this. Although having bean bags and chill-out pods at work might seem like a ‘cool’ idea, they can be inappropriate for the majority of people and tasks that need an ergonomic solution.

Whilst technology is integral to how business performs, we need to remain sceptical of it. Why? Many tasks performed in a business simply don’t require advanced technology to get the job done. Take your average accounts or HR department: whilst both departments are integral to the running of many businesses, their needs are simple – an ergonomic chair, a desk and a computer.

When we talk about agile working environments and collaborative spaces, it may not apply to a significant percentage of the workforce. That’s not to say these options should not be explored and, where appropriate, implemented; in fact, we recommend many of them for the majority of our clients. It’s just that you have to be mindful that in one organisation there will be a multitude of different needs and a multitude of potential solutions.

The desire for a ‘cool’ and ‘funky’ office space frequently comes from the perceived need to attract and please Millennials, and despite this fact many tasks remain the same. Non-Millennial, if you like. There is growing pressure on businesses to attract the best talent to stay ahead of competitors but these efforts can be superficial.

As workstations decrease in size, our office footprint is reducing and personal space is being infringed upon. Employers need to give something back to their workforce and the use of technology may help them do this – but the question is, how?

Often resistant to moving around, employees need to be encouraged to do so. One simple way to do this is to restrict printer locations; an unexpected by-product is its impact on conversations and communication, not to mention an easy way to burn off that custard cream. How long do we think it will be before more progressive employers start to use wearable technology to monitor their staff’s movement and therefore wellbeing, or do we think that’s a step too far?

But, before the big changes are considered, businesses should first look at the fundamental challenges they face.

Technology is all well and good but human nature still has to be contended with – and all it takes is for one person not to adopt your changes for the whole system to come crashing down.

It’s important to remember that work is an activity not a place. Some jobs may be able to be completed in a coffee shop or, indeed, on a bean bag, but the reality is that it’s not for everyone and it’s not for every task.

Clients often come to us with what they think are creative ideas for no other reason than they think the final result will look ‘cool’. We strip this down and go right back to basics, looking at what employees need and want in order to complete their job.

I’m not against technology, of course, I just believe that it is a tool, nothing more. It is the people within the business who deliver the results and if we don’t look after them, businesses will fail.

Alison Monteith is the Managing Director at Monteith Scott