How has workplace technology evolved over time?

evolution of IT in the workplace

Over the past 100 years or so, workplace technology has been continuously evolving to enhance business operations. As a result, experts have realised the potential of minor tools and transformed them into hugely interconnected infrastructure.

But it has only been within a much shorter timeframe that we’ve experienced such major leaps in IT innovation. Since the 1980s, new technologies have brought significant changes to how we conduct work, not simply easing our production.

And now, it is a fact that office workers have become almost entirely dependent on business IT to operate. With a range of devices, servers, wireless technology and more, the way in which employees undertake normal tasks has been completely reshaped to the digital. Not to mention some fear AI, automation and machine learning are overinfluencing employee workloads and the customer experience.

However, although it can seem dystopian, workplace technology has allowed us to stay connected in times of global disconnect and in-person separation. Immediately, the Covid-19 pandemic comes to mind, as this directly challenged the capabilities of remote business IT.

Through this article we aim to provide some perspective on the evolution of IT in the workplace. Here we span the beginning of workplace technology to now, sharing some thoughts on how this has affected the business landscape today.

Early examples of workplace technology in the UK

We can trace the first examples of workplace technology as far back as the late 19th century, with the international rollout of the typewriter. Before this, all communication was handwritten or copied via printing press, making this a technological marvel. Undoubtedly, this invention transformed business communication, enabling more efficient and legible mass production of documents.

As an essential tool for clerical work, by the 1920s typewriters were present in almost every UK office. At the same time, telephones and adding machines were widely distributed in offices, the latter assisting finance firms. These workplace technologies paved the way for modern business communication, helping to reduce error and expand client relations.

1980s – Introduction of PCs and business software

The 1980s brought about the introduction of IBM and Apple Macintosh personal computers (PCs), changing the standard of office working. These bulky grey computers signify the start of business computing, allowing employees to use basic functions. These operating systems were capable of analysing, storing and managing large quantities of data, which was never previously possible.

Additionally, with Microsoft Word (1983), spreadsheet software, and desktop publishing capabilities, common tasks became more efficient. Businesses could rapidly devise a range of professional documents, collate and analyse data, and manage expenses digitally. And with each software developed, new versions soon surfaced, offering new and improved features from its competitors.

1990s – Workplace technology goes mainstream

Email emerged as a fundamental aspect of business IT communication, accelerating the pace of work. Communication in this form was more instantaneous, resolving the delay from letters and translating its professional written tone to the digital. In 1997, Microsoft Outlook was introduced, further fusing email with contacts and calendars. This provided businesses with a centralised task and event management platform for better organisation.

The 1990s also marked the transition to internet connectivity with the invention of the World Wide Web. As such, websites slowly become the forefront of business marketing and customer engagement. Alongside these huge innovations come user-friendly browser interfaces and therefore greater accessibility as these capabilities integrated into UK businesses. Local Area Networks (LANs) and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) also became the norm. These key workplace technologies enabled multiple office tasks such as office printing and increased security for telecommuters.

Portable mobile phones, although still bulky, helped employees (primarily sales executives) stay connected while on the move. Work then globalised, allowing businesses on opposite sides of the world to connect and collaborate. Pagers remained a popular workplace technology, particularly for professionals on-call and in times of emergency contact.

2000s – Technological growth is explosive

The Nokia 5110 was introduced in 2003 and stands as the best-selling device with over 250 million sold globally. Its affordability and flexibility allowed for adoption in most businesses, delivering highly interconnected, mobile-centric business communication.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) introduces the first cloud services, opening the doors for large computing storage solutions. Businesses then reduced the amount of physical IT infrastructure needed to run their workplace technology and saved on costs.

As business IT accumulates, so does the need for security to protect data and other assets. Installing anti-virus software and implementing firewalls was more commonplace as security compliance increased simultaneously.

Thanks to e-commerce, companies that were using the internet to advertise their businesses now start trading online. Social media later allows customers to make decisions based on reputation, not just on price. An overwork culture emerges, especially in big cities like London.

2010s – Technology integrates into our personal lives

The way we use technology in our personal lives changes completely with smartphones. Apple explodes, becoming the biggest distributor of mobile products and selling 340,000 iPhones a day in 2012. According to Apple sources, iPhone users unlock their phones an average of 80 times a day.

The growth of smart devices influences everyday work too, with businesses announcing ‘bring your own device’ policies. This creates greater opportunity for flexible and remote work, but overt time raises security concerns.

Cloud technology only continues evolving, enabling access to email, internet, work-related data and numerous apps. Software-as-service (SaaS) becomes increasingly popular, with platforms like Slack facilitating collaborative and remote work. This allows many businesses to expand their talent pools and go global with projects.

2020s – Redefining business with workplace technology

Artificial intelligence and automation are now hugely integrated into all kinds of businesses. Voice recognition software such as Amazon’s Alexa are casually used to assist with day-to-day office tasks. Chatbots become the replacement customer service line for queries and disputes.

These advancements in workplace technology also affect traditional roles. Analytics is now powered by AI tools; this improves predictive capabilities and accuracy, ultimately helping to minimise risk. Routine tasks such as data entry are undertaken by machines to reduce error. Other areas incorporating advanced AI tools include credit risk management, diagnostics, fraud prevention, and personalised marketing. These changes force employees to adapt their roles to newly automated processes.

Additionally, Internet of Things (IoT) makes businesses adapt to devices, promising convenience, connectivity and increased productivity. Offices have security cameras as standard, and ‘smart’ automated lights are installed to be more energy efficient.

Overall, innovations in workplace technology have exceeded our expectations of operational efficiency, allowing the most flexibility and collaboration ever experienced in business. Workflows are streamlined by automating logical repetitive tasks, and risk from investments can be reduced by the remarkable foresight of AI solutions. Previous roles will never be the same, but the ability to scale your business’ workplace technology is unprecedented.

Speak to an expert about your workplace technology

As leading experts in the London IT support sector, we believe it is crucial for growing businesses to harness the tech innovations around them. So, if you would like to learn more about how to upgrade your workplace tech, please don’t hesitate to contact the totality services team.

Reach out to one of our specialists for your free, no obligation consultation today!