Innovation gets easier for businesses

WiFi has become the most important technology for today's workforce

A survey of business leaders in the South East has found that almost two-thirds believe that it has become easier for companies to innovate in the past 20 years. A similar proportion (60 per cent) agreed that it is easier to access appropriate business support in 2016 than it was in 1996.

The research was carried by out  Sussex Innovation Centre to find out what developments have had the biggest impact on business and the workplace over the past 20 years.

Participants who were part of the workforce in 1996 were asked to list the five most essential pieces of technology in their office 20 years ago. The most common answers were the desktop computer and landline phone.

By 2016, both the smartphone and laptop had overtaken desktop computers, demonstrating the rise in popularity of mobile working. With the ubiquity of smartphones, the landline is slowly disappearing from today’s offices, with 13 per cent seeing such a device as essential today.

Now, the most essential technology of all is WiFi, with broadband not far behind. Altogether, 96 per cent of people mentioned some form of internet connection as one of their five most essential technologies. By comparison, 29 per cent remembered using dial-up internet as part of their day-to-day work 20 years ago.

Unsurprisingly, new developments in technology, and the internet in particular, were widely agreed to have had the biggest influence on the way we work since 1996 with 85 per cent of all respondents described the internet as having had the greatest impact overall, with 8 per cent citing the rise of remote working, the next most popular option.

Respondents to the survey were also asked to predict which new trends would result in the biggest changes to the workplace over the next 20 years. Nearly two in five (39 per cent) suggested that forms of artificial intelligence and automation will be ever-present in the offices of 2036, while 31 per cent described new hardware such as 3D printers, robotics and virtual reality systems.

Perhaps influenced by proximity to the EU referendum, one quarter (25 per cent) of participants expected social, demographic or political shifts to have had the biggest impact. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 (20 per cent) expected remote and flexible working to continue playing a bigger part in our lives.

Dr Petros Chamakiotis is a lecturer in information systems at the University of Sussex, who researches the impact of technology on how we interact with each other, in particular in modern, technology-mediated environments. He takes a particular interest in the development of virtual teams - an increasingly common way of working in global organisations.

“It is not an easy job to work collaboratively together with ‘online strangers’ whom you may never meet face-to-face, and yet be expected to be productive and creative.

“Especially in industries in which creativity and innovation matter, it is important that leaders and managers have the necessary skills to unleash their virtual teams’ creativity, whilst mitigating the negative effects of virtuality.”

Dr Chamakiotis’ research also looks at the wider impact of these technologies outside organisations. He added: “The connectivity afforded by smartphones and mobile technology enables people to work from anywhere, anytime. As a result, rather than separating ‘work’ from ‘life’, people tend to draw new boundaries between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ or between their private and public lives online.”