Is Technology Turning the Workplace into “Big Brother”?
It’s human nature to be sceptical of change, especially when it comes to technology. Science fiction often warns us of the drawbacks of technological progress, particularly when it comes to individual privacy and autonomy. While some tales of technology-driven dystopias serve as useful cautionary tales, it’s important to remember that science fiction stories are usually not actually about the science. These stories are primarily about human beings making choices. The technology is merely a tool.
When human beings make the right choices, technology can benefit society in significant ways. Think about the progress made in modern medicine over the past century. Yes, in part, we owe these breakthroughs to technological tools and improved data. However, the credit primarily goes to the human beings who utilised these tools and data sets to aid in their decision-making processes. Technology and information don’t necessarily determine anything on their own, but they certainly help people make the right choices.
Along similar lines, in a workplace setting, data centralisation can help businesses self-reflect and grow. Data centralisation allows a company to hold up a mirror to see itself and reflect upon both successes and areas for improvement. Using technology in the workplace can help middle managers, franchise managers, and staff members better understand their business and their valuable role within it. It can improve communication and create a better outcome for everyone.
When we think about the impact of technology on the workplace, it’s common to focus on automation. But here, we want to look at the impact of information — specifically how BI (business intelligence software) threatens workplace autonomy, but also promises to improve the work environment for the better. There are legitimate concerns around the adoption of these new systems — let’s take a look at a few of those and see if we can find answers.
Won’t using BI software lead to even more top-down decision-making?
Not necessarily. Data delivers insights; people deliver outcomes. Although computers can gather information, it’s up to people to use that information to make and act upon decisions. And the value of improved data and analytics helps improve decision-making at every level, not just the top.
A centralised set of data can give more people within a company the information they need to make informed decisions. Centralised data can also facilitate increased communication and sharing between departments. Some might argue that providing everyone with more access to data can make possible a more democratised workplace.
Still not convinced? You can think of accessing centralised data similarly to visiting a public library. Perhaps a few doors are locked, or you require special permission to peek into certain archives. But for the most part, the information is on the shelf, available to whoever might need it. This transparency allows for the freedom to educate yourself and equips you with an increased ability to reach your own decisions. Specifically, BI software can illustrate particular areas for improvement and provide access to the data necessary for you to help make your team even more successful.
Could a business use their intelligence platform to crush their employees’ autonomy?
It’s possible, but not inevitable. Nor is it likely the productive choice. Remember, technology is a tool — it’s how human beings choose to use it that determines the outcome. It makes sense, then, that the human culture of a company plays the most crucial role in determining how a specific technology in the workplace will be used.
The way a company chooses to use information and business intelligence is, in fact, a choice. The data provides insights, but the humans running the company must ensure the outcomes. A healthy level of respect for employees’ work lives and a commitment to processes can ensure that the technology at hand will be used to help people, not harm them.
We should also not ignore the fact that encouraging people to make autonomous decisions about the jobs that they do every day is an important factor driving productivity and keeping employees engaged with their jobs. The most successful companies will avoid using technology to squash the autonomy of workers because it’s in everyone’s best interests.
How can a company’s culture determine how a piece of technology is used?
A company’s culture is the primary determinant of its ultimate success and its levels of employee satisfaction. Culture also determines how software or a piece of technology will be used.
As you’re probably aware, a healthy company culture incorporates characteristics such as open lines of communication, a shared vision of success, and an emphasis on collaboration, honesty and accountability. When used properly, a business intelligence platform can serve as a handy tool to support and help grow such a culture.
For instance, KPI technology can support honesty, accountability, and open communication by allowing decision-makers to set specific actions and track results. BI software allows for messages and statistics to be sent directly to the people who need them, ultimately contributing to a business’s shared vision of success. Tools that allow managers and teams to create actions, delegate tasks and set reminders can facilitate better communication and teamwork. Collaboration and communication are also supported by BI software that allows for information to be shared across different levels of management with varying permissions and degrees of access.
Simply put, information platforms cannot serve a business successfully without communication between team members. After all, everyone needs to be on the same page about the team’s goals for using the platform. People always come first. Technology can help put them there.
Okay, so an intelligence platform might not hurt me. But how can it help me?
One fantastic benefit of data is that it offers the ability to visualise the value that you, as an employee or manager, generate within the company. Being able to quantify your success and back it up with hard data can be a great way to illustrate your value to your higher-ups, as well as remind yourself of your workplace accomplishments. Instead of viewing technology as a “Big Brother” that exists to keep an eye on you, you can think of it as a tool that helps you document your contributions and those of your team.
Building camaraderie within the workplace is one of the best ways to ensure that the ‘human element’ isn’t lost, no matter how technologically advanced our society or your business may become. As previously mentioned, visualising performance can enable you to share in others’ successes and allow others to share in yours. In this way, data can actually help improve employee engagement and fulfilment.
Most people would agree that feeling recognised for a job well done makes them more likely to enjoy their work. It also makes them more enthusiastic about continuing to perform to a high standard in the future. BI and the accompanying data can support this often overlooked aspect of a company’s culture.
Create real meritocracy
Of course, BI also highlights areas for improvement, and this is what worries many people. However, the primary point of gathering information is to be able to act upon it appropriately. You already know that data helps managers and decision-makers make educated choices. But what does this mean? Let’s look at an example.
In the old, data-poor way of doing things, if a product wasn’t selling, a manager might fire the salesperson they felt was responsible, even if that person’s actions had nothing to do with the product’s lack of success. Maybe the product’s failure was due to the wrong marketing or bad timing or intense competition. With more access to better data, a manager can now pinpoint the real issue and respond more quickly and appropriately to adjust the parts that aren’t working. This creates a more effective and meritocratic workplace and decision-making process. Decisions don’t have to be made based on a ‘hunch’ or who’s the ‘bosses friend’. Decisions can be made based on a clear picture of what has actually occurred.
For franchise managers, this useful data might be made available by other franchise managers or the corporate office — another benefit of improved communication. Either way, in this new data-rich world, the salesperson keeps their job and a positive outcome is reached.
Reinforce a positive culture
Again, it’s vital to remember that BI software should be used to support a company’s culture, and this includes employee satisfaction and retention. At the end of the day, business intelligence software does not supersede human intelligence. It was not created to track or monitor anyone in an Orwellian way. Within the right company culture, BI technology is an invaluable tool that allows teams to retain talent, work together more cohesively, share information, and make informed decisions. After all, success is meaningless unless it can be celebrated by the people who earned it.