How has technology changed our workplaces?

As we went from producing what we need to survive, to being part of industrial assembly lines, to highly tech-based service jobs in a lot of developed economies, workplaces have had to change to keep up. Although industrial production lines still exist, we also now live in a world where just pulling out a smartphone or laptop can turn anywhere into a workplace.

In a lot of places round the world, industrial factories employ thousands of people. Although some praise the rise of industry as an opportunity for people in urban areas, others question the conditions that these workplaces put on their workers, especially around issues of health and safety. Human rights activists often call into question whether we as consumers should be buying goods that are produced in places where workers’ rights are abused, because in a way, buying those goods is supporting the idea that these workplaces are acceptable to us in today’s economy.

But in economies where technology has developed to the point where machines that can do these repetitive tasks faster than humans can, workplaces have had to change to be able to keep people in work and build on their strengths. Some are slowly turning towards becoming spaces that motivate human creativity and collaboration - 'hot-desking' or jumping from workplace to workplace, open-plan offices, chalkboards on walls, and employee-days-out are all part of a shift towards making a workplace that taps into people’s creative and social skills.

Other workplaces are taking advantage of the fast-paced changes in communication technology over the past century to create tens of thousands of jobs in call centres, administrative departments, customer service centres, and other similar workplaces. These workplaces employ huge amounts of staff on low income and often in short shifts, creating a service economy we’ve never seen before. These workplaces are cheap to run, flexible, require little training or expanding beyond the initial investment of setting it up, and create a space for the people in the economy who would previously have taken manufacturing jobs.