While the office may never be completely paperless, the workplace has already gone digital. Over the last few decades many of the tree-killing practices of yesterday have given way to a bevy of electronic options.
Email has largely replaced snail-mail, but the digitization of office life extends beyond communication alone. Programs like Google Docs, Square, and Dropbox have replaced physical documentation, payment, and storage systems. Today’s workers can hold meetings over FaceTime or Skype from anywhere with a WiFi connection.
What does this mean for today’s modern worker? Greater mobility, constant contact, and less distinction between personal and professional life…for better and for worse.
One of the largest changes brought about by the digital office is not happening in the workplace, but outside it. Thanks to the new world of digital everything, work can be done outside the office more effectively than ever before. This is driving the explosive growth of the mobile workforce.
Mobile workers, those who work outside a traditional or home office on a regular basis, are quickly becoming the norm, not the exception. The number of U.S. mobile workers could reach as high as 105 million in 2020. Their “office” will be wherever work takes them, from the beach to the boardroom, so long as they have the devices, applications, and internet connections to meet their needs.
In the past “working from home” was an oxymoron. Office workers of the past couldn’t take their desks, work phone lines, calendars, reports, files, address books, and more home with them each day.
Now, however, many not only can, but do. With the rise in mobile technology, cell phones have transitioned from office distractions to powerful business tools. Many workers bring laptops and tablets to and from their offices daily. In fact, the number of workers using personal devices for office work is increasing, with 74% of organizations currently allowing or planning to allow their employees to use their own devices for work.
Now as many as 81% of companies allow workers to connect personal devices (laptops, tablets, cell-phones) to corporate WiFi. Workers are using these devices in the office, but are also fully-equipped to work from home.
Because more employees are working remotely, from home or on the road, and can remain in constant contact with the office, the lines between professional and personal life have become blurred. This has both its upside and its downside.
Checking work emails outside of business hours has been proven to raise stress levels, which can be hazardous to your health. Although working outside of traditional office hours has increased, this has led to personal activities—like exercising, socializing, and running errands—taking place more often during work hours. Keeping a healthy balance in-check is the struggle.
Work/life balance is a huge concern for young workers in particular, who have grown up in the digital, constantly-connected workplace. If you use the same cell phone, tablet, and laptop for work and personal life, you may have trouble creating a clear distinction between the two and knowing how and when to set boundaries.
We are not yet living our lives entirely in the cloud, but that future is just around the corner. Many of the processes that consumed much of our time and drained our ink cartridges have gone digital.
This digitization has allowed workers to remain effective while working from home, on the road, or even at the beach. Being in constant contact with work can have its drawbacks, though, as many who have found themselves answering work emails into the wee hours of the night, or emailing colleagues after having one too many drinks, have discovered.
Hopefully we all will become better at demarcating personal and professional life as the workplace continues to digitize. Until then, remember: turning off your cell phone won’t kill you. Seriously. It may even help your peace of mind and make you more productive.