Traditional Workplace Vs Modern Workplace: Is One Better Than the Other?

What does the Modern Workplace look like to business owners and employees today? For many of us, it can seem an elusive question with many differing opinions and answers.

When you consider the term “modern” in terms of a modern city, you might imagine glossy architecture, innovative city planning and forward-thinking businesses. If you think of a modern car, you might imagine a futuristic design with flashy automated functions like seat-heating and self-parking functionalities.

But are these images portraying something that is inherently “better” than their traditional counterparts? Are they not, in essence, delivering the same function they always did? Is a Modern Workplace “better” than a Traditional Workplace – and what are the key differences?

Modern isn’t necessarily “better”

We recently caught up with Richard Charnock, Business Development Manager at Insync, to ask him the very same questions – and his verdict on the subject was interesting.

“A lot of people think the term ‘modern’ automatically offers something better than what was in place before, but in fact does modern not just mean the present and what is happening right now? – and that’s where the Traditional Workplace Vs Modern Workplace argument comes in, with technology at the heart of discussions” Richard told us.

“I’m originally from West Riding of Yorkshire, where towns were often built halfway up a hill. Because it rained so much, the water would flow halfway down the hill and then form a spring, which could then be harnessed by woollen mills to produce textiles. In essence, the traditional Woollen Industry was set up in a variety of small towns halfway up hills. The cloths were then transported to Halifax and put on barges to Liverpool for sale. You could consider this a great example of a very traditional workplace: it worked well, with plenty of jobs and opportunities for the communities where Woollen Mills were set up all around England.

But then, as machinery and technology evolved so too did the woollen industry – big mills started to open up in Bradford and Leeds, birthing a horrible and grimy industrial revolution that replaced the once quiet way of living in the North and its craft-based jobs. Gradually people started to see this “modern way” as a bad thing – unless, of course, you were a mill owner. So, I guess my point is, there is nothing inherently good about the word modern. Every stage of modernisation has meant that humans have stopped having a place, they became part of the machine, and machines became more intelligent, humans were replaced. Machines were just cogs we had not yet figured out how to make out of metal as yet and there are elements of this in some of the monolithic business applications that rode in on the wave of Y2K. On the other hand, many of the more innovative applications of the Modern Workplace look way more like the original communities of craftsmen – networks of highly-skilled individuals benefiting from collaborating with each other.”

Has that much changed?

In the modern-day version, many businesses turn to AI and tech for answers. But the important question is: is this new approach helping the workplace? Floppy disks have now become digital software, and manual data entry can now be replaced by automation. But this technology hasn’t changed the end-goal. Collaboration and communication are still at the very heart of business – technology just allows us to do it differently. It’s just a new way of delivering on the same objectives!

Richard agrees – adding another example. “In the 80s, I worked for IBM and we introduced a mainframe-based (of course!) office system. Although we could send emails faster and receive responses back faster, the software would only really improve by 5 degrees or so – a marginal improvement,” says Richard.

“What really made us a great team was real communication and cohesive problem-solving. We were working together to achieve a solution that wasn’t just solved by fancy technology at the time.”

The Modern Workplace isn’t about fancy offices…

If you asked any organisation outside of the tech industry what a Modern Workplace was, they may answer with; Bean bag chairs, stand-up desks, space-age pods and so on… but do they really create more engaged employees and happier customers? Take these all away, and do they become empty gimmicks with no real value to the business?

Richard argues that if you don’t have an accurate understanding of business needs or poor communication between teams and leaders, it won’t be solved by these types of “modern” attitudes to work.

It’s about communication and collaboration.

At the Modern Workplace Alliance, we think creating innovative workplaces is far more than just about throwing new tech into an organisation and expecting it to solve old problems. It’s first about collaboration, then finding the best way to harness the right technology, suited for your unique business needs to solve problems.

“Your business needs are unlikely to be the same as the insurance firm next door or the government institution on the other side of town, so why should they use the exact same technology – or in the same manner?” says Richard.

“You will have completely different end-users, job roles and functions – so adapting technology is really a case-by-case basis.  That’s where MWA comes in – using 5 expert companies in 1 alliance working together for the customer. Our own network of highly-skilled craftsmen.”

Comms play a huge part!

Collaboration and comms are the strongholds in both the traditional workplace and the modern workplace, and should always serve as the foundation of any great business over complex tech.

“There’ll always be something new, or something better, but there’s no need to stop the machine whilst you’re trying to improve it,” says Richard. “Instead, we suggest using an advisory service who can understand your needs – which are unique from business to business – and implement more meaningful, human solutions to generate positive change.”

Tech companies have had to evolve too

Tech companies have evolved too. It is no longer about building bespoke applications and implementing them into workplaces. Instead, there are plenty of existing applications under the Microsoft umbrella with the ability to be customised to an organisation and their individual users’ specifics needs. What this means is instead of a tech engineering company we are now a “how-to” company, advising organisations on how they need to use existing technologies to drive their business forward. We also play a greater role in the adoption of new technology with training and adoption planning involved in every project.

Building a successful modern workplace must come from an understanding of leadership and a desire to create a collaborative and flexible culture. Digital technology is part of that of course, but only where it enables genuine productivity and efficiency.

Customer snapshot

Recently, for a local council customer, MWA created a chatbot to answer simple questions for residents, such as when the next rubbish collection takes place. This ended up becoming so successful, that other councils wanted it too.

This was a case of a simple solution being implemented based on careful analysis of needs – without implementing heavy-handed technology that people couldn’t understand.

Delivering growth through strategic change management

MWA’s combined expertise across technology, process and change management guides business owners along the right path, so that meaningful, purpose-driven change happens as a result. There’s no question that the success of both Traditional Workplace Vs Modern Workplace comes down to people – those who understand their end-user and what’s required. Once this is understood, change management can be implemented using the tech suited for a specific business’ needs. MWA is helping implement this through our four transformation areas, helping people to work together more productively by collaborating with a client on which solutions are right for them.

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