Technology now forms the bedrock of every office ecosystem. Without functioning IT, robust wi-fi and a whole host of electronic systems in place, the vast majority of workplaces would quickly grind to a halt. Our reliance on hi-tech has never been higher, yet few of us truly understand how it all works and would be helpless if it ceased to function correctly.
In recent years, office technology has often become almost alienating for those it’s meant to help. Rather than being designed with end users in mind, systems have required a technical expertise that most office workers simply don’t possess. And the typical employee doesn’t have the time, interest or patience to learn the new skills required to make the most of it. It’s unlikely, for example, many staff truly know how to use all the capabilities of the office multifunction printer that also aims to be a fax machine, photocopier, emailer and scanner.
But as Richard Glückman, CEO of Sweden-based technology solutions provider Evoko, suggests, things are beginning to change: “Over the past couple of years we’ve begun to see a more ‘empathetic’ and accessible design focus in office technology. Simple, effective functionality that is intuitive and clear to all types of user is now seen as the gold standard. This has required stripping away superfluous features which were often promoted under the guise of ‘added value’, but which actually just creating a bloated and confusing product.
“Tech solutions are becoming increasingly integrated within the fabric of today’s smart workplace. Successful vendors are creating design-led products that can sit in the middle of the modern office, rather than appearing unsightly and needing to be hidden away. Good tech today is approachable and facilitates collaboration, with employees actively wanting to use it.”
That said, it seems that many workplaces still have a long way to go if they want to keep employees happy. A recent survey by electronics firm Sharp, involving 6,000 office workers across Europe, revealed that only 17% would describe their work environment as motivating. Technology in the workplace was identified as a major issue, with just over half (51%) of respondents saying it was restrictive and limiting, driving 32% to pretend equipment was broken so they could avoid using it. Even among millennial workers – usually assumed to be more comfortable with modern tech – 45% sometimes avoided using the technology in their office because they found it too complicated.
While the larger, more progressive companies may be making major inroads into providing the most useful tech solutions, it seems that the average employee isn’t completely happy with the technology provided in the workplace. In fact, it might actually be hindering their performance.
Besides the need to improve productivity and offer staff an efficient, pleasant environment to work in, legislative changes have also had an impact on the kind of technology now seen as essential by most companies. When the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became law across all 28 EU countries in May 2018, it imposed strict new rules requiring businesses to protect the personal data and privacy of European citizens. Non-compliance costs companies dearly, with breaches resulting in fines totalling €20 million ($22.8 million) or up to 4% of their annual global revenues.
This has prompted many to take a serious look at their data protection processes and practices. “GDPR made everyone more aware of the need to have good document destruction capability,” says Mark Harper, Head of Sales for Office Technology UK & Ireland at HSM. “We saw large growth in the sale of shredders in the first eight months of 2018, with some particularly big orders from large corporations.
“The legislation means that people are increasingly aware that they can’t leave documents containing personal information lying around. Clean desk policies and a nightly lock-up of filing trays are now being implemented by organisations, with multiple shredders being distributed around the office so that staff can adopt new practices. ‘Shred it now’, ‘shred where you work’ and ‘shred little and often’ are buzzwords being hammered home to staff, to move them away from saving a pile of documents to shred at the end of the week. But they do of course need the hardware to support this.”
Many companies are also now questioning the wisdom of having sensitive documents sat in collection containers for days or weeks waiting for a shredding truck to arrive. “They offer nothing like the security of an office-based cross-cut machine,” says Harper. “And over five years, the cost of using these off-site services is about five times the cost of deploying an in-house solution.”
The scanner sub-category is another area that is seeing noticeable growth, according to Aaron Hopkinson, Product and Solutions Manager at Brother UK: “This segment continues to deliver great results, outperforming the market and growing in all areas. We’ve recently conducted a study with businesses and found that scanning has become much more established as a day-to-day activity over the past two years. Although most firms were keen to reduce paper usage as part of their sustainability efforts, going completely paperless was deemed impractical. As such, scanning now has a critical role to play in bridging the gap between paper and digital information sharing.”
The modern workforce expects flexibility. That could mean an option to work remotely from home, the ability to bring their own devices into work or simply having access to a laptop rather than a desktop in the office, so staff can easily move around and work where they please.
“One example of a piece of office technology that is taking part in this trend is the Evoko Minto conference phone,” explains Glückman. “Along with state-of-the-art noise cancellation and intelligent microphones, it’s completely wireless and connects to a smart device via Bluetooth to, in effect, turn any space into a meeting room. This type of equipment is vital these days when so many offices are set out as a variety of breakout spaces in different environments to encourage creativity at work. Employees now expect the office to work for them, and technology such as this is essential if this is going to operate successfully.”
At a time when budgets are becoming ever tighter, it’s the technologies that prove their worth on a daily basis to the people who use them that are the most successful. “The moment that anyone in the business starts to question whether a technology is necessary is when it threatens to become superfluous,” warns Glückman. “Facilities managers are growing increasingly sceptical of any product that lacks a clear focus. Office tech must offer obvious benefits or it simply won’t be adopted.”
It’s a no-brainer: if an office is technologically behind the times, staff aren’t happy and struggle to give the efficiency a business needs to thrive. Falling behind the curve with outdated software and hardware can put a company at a disadvantage. Making the right choices can save time and money, and choosing people-centric products is vital.
As Stuart Sykes, Managing Director of Sharp UK, states: “Making sure everyone feels motivated is important for creating a happy workplace, where people can achieve their best work. But technology only improves motivation if it’s helpful and easy to use, otherwise it becomes a demotivator and a cause of frustration. Look at the tools you use and the ones you need, and make the improvements necessary to ensure people enjoy coming to work.”