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Mastering the Art of Tech and Touch in Today’s Workplace

woman working at night in office

Technology is ubiquitous these days, and it’s fair to say that no employee is immune from its impacts—both good and bad. Technology can eliminate boring and monotonous work and boost productivity, but it also has the potential to create stress and anxiety and to impact employee well-being by making workplaces less “human.”

For employers and their HR advisors, finding the right balance between automation through technology and the human touch is a 21st-century imperative.

The Downsides of Too Much Technology Improperly Deployed

“Tech advances, particularly in AI and business automation, have significantly altered work dynamics,” said Angela Hood, founder and CEO of ThisWay Global, an HR tech startup based in Austin, Texas. Technology has “increased work intensity by enabling faster and more efficient work processes, which can sometimes lead to heightened employee expectations and workloads.

That can be positive because technology can enhance autonomy by automating routine tasks so employees can focus on more complex work that they find more fulfilling.

But, Hood added, “if not managed well, there’s a risk that employees may feel like they are being monitored too closely, which can reduce their sense of autonomy and job satisfaction.”

Too much technology being improperly managed, especially in remote and hybrid work environments, “can lead to issues like digital fatigue, blurred boundaries between work and personal life, and isolation,” she said.

All of these impacts can have an adverse effect on employee health and well-being.

Technology as a Positive Aid

Meg Madison is CHRO and senior vice president at Shure, a company that manufacturers microphones and audio electronics, based in Niles, Ill. Established in 1925, Shure has seen its share of technological advances that have impacted both its products and its employee relations.

“Technology actually has the potential to enhance and amplify the human experience in the workplace,” Madison said. “It is how organizations embrace and integrate it that determines its impact.”

She added that leveraging technology effectively can help companies create more connected and humanized work environments, enabling employees from disparate backgrounds and locations to build meaningful relationships, collaborate effortlessly and achieve their goals together.

As many companies experienced during the pandemic and continue to experience today, “technological advances in conferencing systems have helped to increase team collaboration and communication,” she said. That “ensures employees feel heard and engaged, impacting their motivation and productivity and creating real meeting equity.”

Using this technology effectively, in an employee-centric way, should alleviate workload intensity and afford employees greater control over where, when and how they get work done, Madison said.

Ultimately, when used appropriately, technology can “yield higher engagement and satisfaction, reducing turnover and flight risk,” she said.

Doing that, though, can’t be left to chance. Employers and their HR partners need to be proactive and mindful when thinking about tech’s impact on employees and how they can leverage the good while alleviating potential negative impacts.

There are other steps organizations can take to minimize the potential negative impacts of technology while reaping its rewards.

Best-Practice Recommendations

Technology creates new ways of working that need to be acknowledged and addressed in both practices and policies, Madison noted.

“Policies should be carefully considered to acknowledge employee contributions and measure results—moving away from dated business practices that celebrate facetime over tangible outcomes,” she said.

New ways of working due to the impacts of technology also require an emphasis on building community and culture with intention, Madison said, “thinking differently about how we communicate and ensuring that investing in the overall associate experience is at the top of your company’s list of strategic priorities.”

Hood also recommended ensuring that processes and policies are supportive and designed to help manage workloads and burnout. “These policies can include setting clear expectations around work hours, encouraging regular breaks and providing flexible work schedules,” she said.

In addition, Hood recommended:

  • Prioritizing employee well-being. This “can range from ergonomic workstations to mental health support and resources,” Hood said. Regular check-ins and feedback sessions can help you better understand employees’ needs and address any potential concerns they might have related to technology use.
  • Investing in education and training. Don’t overlook the need to educate employees on how to use technology effectively and responsibly. Don’t assume they already have this knowledge and skills, even if they are “digital natives.” “Training sessions on digital literacy, managing digital distractions and best practices for remote work can be beneficial,” Hood said.
  • Proactively fostering communication and collaboration. Hood recommended using technology to enhance, not replace, human interaction. “Encourage collaboration and communication through technology, and promote face-to-face interactions—virtual or physical—to maintain team camaraderie, cohesion and a sense of belonging,” she said.
  • Embracing a human-centric approach. When deploying new technologies, consider the human aspect of work. “A human-centric approach involves understanding how technology impacts employee roles, experiences and workplace culture,” Hood stressed.

Addressing the impacts of technology through employee wellness initiatives can also have a positive impact.

“Wellness programming should echo the diverse needs of a diverse employee base and meet them where they are, whether through technology investment to make the at-home work experience seamless, mental health programming, physical fitness or personal financial planning,” Madison said.

Max Wesman is founder and chief operating officer of GoodHire, a background screening firm based in San Francisco. Wesman has decades of experience in both tech and HR and said that, in his opinion, “we’ve just come to the point where we identified and diagnosed the modern challenges and feelings of alienation caused by technology and modern workplace systems, and this is the time when everyone has to play their part to make things better.”

The best way to do that, he said, “is to communicate, share feedback and make decisions with everyone’s well-being and success in mind, if such an arrangement is even possible today.”

Ongoing, two-way communication is important, Hood agreed.

Technology continues to evolve, and organizations’ strategies for managing their workforces must also evolve, Hood said.

“Regularly soliciting employee feedback on how technology impacts their work and well-being is crucial,” she said. “A balanced approach, focusing on both high-tech and high-touch, is crucial in ensuring employees remain engaged, loyal, happy and healthy in today’s modern workforce.”

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.


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