Philip Sadler CBE

Futurist, Author, Speaker


The changing workplace


The nature of the workplace has been subject to profound changes over time. Two hundred years ago the most common workplace was the farm. At the beginning of the twentieth century, one person in three was a domestic servant. In the years following World War II, the typical workplace was an industrial workshop where workers were engaged in making physical products.
The first workplace I spent time in was a printing factory. Workers, known as 'compositors' (every one was male), worked on extremely noisy machines to set type in hot lead. The work was dirty, physically draining and often dangerous because of the constant exposure to lead. Other male operatives manned the presses - which were even noisier. The factory toilets were primitive and there was nowhere to eat lunch other than at one's workstation.
Three main forces have shaped the nature of the workplace over the last 50 years. These are: the shift in the economy from goods to services; the growth of female employment and developments in information technology.
Today, the typical workplace is a large room in which there are a number of desks or workstations, each of which is furnished with a PC. The workers are as likely to be female as male. Unlike the earlier manufacturing workplace you can't tell what kind of work they are doing by the machinery they are using or the materials being worked on.
Whether they are operating a call centre, trading shares or designing buildings, they are all using essentially the same technology. Their work is clean, relatively quiet and mentally rather than physically stressful.
There have been other, less obvious changes. People are more likely to be working in teams; the front line workers are in many cases more involved in decisions that affect their work; there are fewer people whose job is to supervise the work of others and there are fewer levels in the hierarchy.
What further changes can we expect over the next few decades? Developments in information technology will continue to be a major factor - perhaps the major factor - in driving change. Possibly the most significant impact of these developments is that they will make the term 'workplace' obsolete. The combination of increasingly powerful computing available at incredibly low cost, combined with broadband telecommunications facilities and mobile systems are bringing about a fresh transformation not only of the nature of work, but also of the locations in which it is carried out.

All Comments on this post :

And if this means that a significantly larger proprtion of people will work from home why do we need the high speed two rail project? - Geoff smith (20/07/2010)