Several decades ago, a workplace’s defining technologies were likely to be a typewriter or a set of manila folders hosting client files. But since the dawn of the personal computer in the late ’70s, a string of innovations have revolutionized our professional lives. From Google-like office pods to instant messaging apps, such as Kik and Yammer, here are seven innovations that have changed the face of the workplace for new generations of workers.
The personal computer
Before the advent of corporate computing in the late ’70s, office workers relied on giant mainframe computers and teams of typists to complete their tasks. But when Apple launched the Apple II in 1977 and IBM introduced its first PC just four years later, workers’ routines changed forever. Since then, personal computers – which allow employees to do everything from creating presentations to managing calendars – have seriously upped productivity while helping businesses grow. Setting the standard for innovations to come, personal computers get faster, smarter, smaller and more cost-effective every year.
Instant messaging apps
In the early ’90s, you would follow up on a networking opportunity with a phone call and submit an invoice to a supplier using your fax machine or in the post. However, in today’s offices, the rapid adoption of smartphones in the workplace has meant that instant messaging apps such as Cotap, Kik and Yammer are fast supplementing email – while allowing colleagues to communicate and exchange updates in real time.
Offices in the era of Mad Men might be impossibly elegant but there’s good reason they’re a thing of the past. In the last few years, the business world has started understanding that innovation is difficult without collaborative working, and offices designed to reflect this. Organizations are increasingly implementing collaboration pods and colorful breakout spaces that inspire teams to brainstorm and pool new ideas. This trend, which takes cues from the likes of Google and Facebook, shows no sign of slowing down.
Tablets aren’t just for online shopping or making a date with your favorite blog. These much-loved devices, prized for their high mobility and user-friendly touchscreens, are playing a growing role when it comes to processing payments, catching up on essential reading or presenting new research to prospects. Tablets have also seen employers introduce ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policies that increase flexibility and address shifts in the way employees work. A May 2013 survey by Gartner found that 38 percent of companies plan to stop providing devices to workers by 2016.
In the last few years, workplaces have gone to great lengths to tackle ergonomic issues and promote employee health. Standing desks, innovations that reduce workers’ sedentary hours while encouraging them to embrace physical activity, have gone a long way towards achieving this. But swapping your traditional workstation for a stand-up alternative won’t just give you energy and help you stay fit – a recent study by Preventing Chronic Disease journal found that standing while you work also reduces lower back in and works wonders for your mood.
Few technologies symbolize the modern workplace like the rise of the cloud. The ability to save files in a centralized repository that automatically syncs your data has seriously lowered IT costs and empowered employees to work from home. Cloud technology is also putting a growing focus on cyber awareness, as well as the measures required to protect vulnerable information from attack. Businesses are increasingly investing in the infrastructure that enables flexible working while maintaining security at all costs.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT), the network of interconnected objects that’s set to grow tenfold to 24 billion by 2019 – according to an April 2015 report in Business Insider – might seem like it belongs in science fiction but it’s also in the process of changing industries fast. From wearable sensors that gather customer data to robots that can participate in meetings, IoT can potentially reinvent the way we work.
From the reign of the personal computer to the move towards cloud computing, countless innovations have helped workplaces evolve. As technology continues to move at breakneck speed, the most exciting shifts are still to come.