Workplace Innovations You Can Thank the Tech Industry For
The tech industry lives and dies by innovation. Its companies are constantly trying to come up with the next famous, disruptive mass-market product – which can lead to big changes in the ways employees are prodded to come up with innovative ideas.
Think Google, Apple and Facebook: All have somewhat famously made changes to the ways they do business as they search for ways to get better results out of their workers. These include all kinds of solutions, from making the workplace a more fun place to toil away in, to using new technologies to bolster productivity and efficiency.
Here are a few ideas that have trickled down from Silicon Valley and might be cropping up in an office near you.
1. Knocking Down Cubicle Walls
One of the best-known tech company trends is the idea that workers aren't productive when they're shackled to their desks. Instead, some companies encourage workers to spend less time stationary and more time interacting with coworkers. Tech lives and dies by innovative ideas, so it makes sense to see companies trying to put people together and encourage them to brainstorm in an open way. New office buildings for major tech firms like Apple and Amazon are being designed to facilitate more interaction between workers, rather than less.
The nature of the work in the tech sector is a big part of why open offices have caught on. In a project-driven workplace that's centered heavily on deadlines, it's impractical to have graphic designers sitting in a cloistered area the opposite side of the office from the coders or the IT team. Another part of this trend is the idea of making workplaces more conducive to "play," as Caroline Stokes, founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions, writes on the company's blog. Opening up workers to the idea of play lets them drop self-censorship and come up with better ideas, because they're more relaxed, she writes.
Businesses outside of the tech industry are finding that these social changes to their workplaces can be beneficial as well. Ideas like the open office layout are becoming popular again in lots of offices, especially as millennials enter the workplace, as Forbes notes.
2. Blurring the Line Between Work and Play
There are plenty of stories out there about foosball tables, free live music and beanbag chairs at Google and other big names in tech. Sometimes they’re portrayed as gimmicks, but there's more to it than simple bread and circuses.
"In today's work culture, more and more companies are creating fun spaces complete with pinball machines, ping pong tables, gaming rooms and more to help stimulate employees' imaginations," Stokes writes. Encouraging employees to play and get comfortable with each other makes out-of-the-box, outrageous thinking -- the kind that can often solve tough problems -- easier.
There's another factor that may be contributing to this trend. A lot of tech work is characterized with long hours and high stress. If an employer is asking its staff to stay in the office well past normal business hours, it follows that one has to provide some incentives to do that. Doing this is especially important in fields like tech where companies are constantly competing for the best talent.
3. 24/7 Connectivity, For Better or Worse
The smartphone revolution has vastly changed how huge numbers of Americans work, driven by the tech industry's innovations that put everything you need from your office computer in your pocket, all the time.
Tech companies are using the ease of building apps to create the software their employees need, and smartphones are now capable of a huge number of functions: One worker can use an Internet connection and a smartphone to review a proposal, while another can type up a report on the bus home, and still another can use video conferencing to stay up on a meeting. No longer do workers need to be shackled to their desks -- which vastly changes how, when and where workers can be productive.
Among tech companies, telecommuting opens up the talent pool globally. In its story, "Lessons learned from 3 companies that have long embraced remote work," Entrepreneur.com reports that remote job listings increased 23 percent in 2014 over 2013, and companies such as Intuit are able to use telecommuting as a way to find and hire talent wherever they may be. As The New York Times reports, telecommuting is a trend that's only on the rise, and today consists of much more, and is much less structured, than a home office and a dedicated phone line. Smartphones and other devices make staying connected to work easier -- often triggering debates about how employees can maintain a work-life balance and avoid burning out on their jobs. But for many companies, telecommuting is seen as a benefit that can be offered to employees, allowing them to be more flexible in dealing with their private lives, and which increases productivity among workers as well.
4. Using Big Data to Drive Better Business Decisions
By now just about everyone has heard about the concept of big data -- companies gathering information not just about, say, what you buy from them, but when you buy, how much you buy, and what else you buy. This information, called "metadata," allows skilled statistical scientists to make predictions about customers that can help shape businesses. These days just about everyone seems to be trying to use big data for something, and not always successfully.
Tech companies are finding that, as more and more life occurs online, they're inundated with huge amounts of data about their customers. Amazon uses that data to try to raise the visibility of products it thinks certain customers might be likely to want, while Google uses that data to better sell ads on content that appears on its sites and in searches. Big data has a lot of potential uses, provided a company knows how to analyze it to gain insights about what that data might mean.
5. Using Talent Management Software to Seek Out and Hire Employees
Outside of tech, big data has other big uses for companies, like finding the best applicant for a job, and even predicting when an employee might leave the company or accept a promotion. As the Wall Street Journal reports, companies like Wal-Mart are using all kinds of factors, like position, geography, tenure and performance, to try to predict when employees might be on the way out.
And The Cheat Sheet details how companies are doing the opposite as well, detailing how companies such as chequed.com are changing hiring to both help companies identify what kind of workers they want, be they aggressive sales-getters or genial customer relations material, and tuning hiring practices to identify those specific people based on big data. Companies are using all that information to connect the right people to the right job -- and avoid the expenditures of choosing the wrong folks.
The tech industry continues to drive innovation in plenty of different directions, and it means many other sectors of the economy get to benefit from its constantly changing, constantly adapting approach.
"Why Play is Vital to Workplace Innovation," Forward Human Capital Solutions, August 10, 2015, http://theforward.co/tips-for-talent/management-stategies-global-workforce/
"How the tech industry is redesigning the future workplace," BBC News, May 1, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32523448
"Open Offices Back in Vogue - Thanks to Millennials," Forbes, March 31, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2015/03/31/open-offices-back-in-vogue-thanks-to-millennials/
"Lessons learned from 3 companies that have long embraced remote work," Fortune, February 12, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/02/12/lessons-learned-from-3-companies-that-have-long-embraced-remote-work/
"It's Unclearly Defined, but Telecommuting Is Fast on the Rise," The New York Times, March 7, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/your-money/when-working-in-your-pajamas-is-more-productive.html?_r=1
<"The Algorithm That Tells the Boss Who Might Quit," The Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-algorithm-that-tells-the-boss-who-might-quit-1426287935
"How Your Boss Already Knows If You Want to Quit Your Job," The Cheat Sheet, September 11, 2015, http://www.cheatsheet.com/business/big-data-is-already-predicting-when-youll-quit-your-job.html/?a=viewall
"How Top Companies Use Big Data to Hire the Best Employees," The Cheat Sheet, April 10, 2015, http://www.cheatsheet.com/business/how-top-companies-use-big-data-to-hire-the-best-employees.html/?a=viewall