Design Your Work Environment to Manage Unintended Tech Consequences

Collaborative technologies enable many benefits for organizations in a time of widespread remote work, but they also come with risks of isolation, exclusion, surveillance, and self-censorship.

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Developing an Ethical Technology Mindset

The demands of a digitized workforce put transparency, ethics, and fairness at the top of executive agendas. This MIT SMR Executive Guide explores how managers and organizations can apply principles of ethical and trustworthy technology in engaging with customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

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Image courtesy of Laura Wentzel

Remote work has given many of us the opportunity to adapt to new ways of interacting with our colleagues. The ubiquity of collaborative technologies throughout the pandemic has amplified the push toward virtual work, by allowing teams to collaborate even when physical offices are closed. The market for collaborative technologies grew nearly 25% in 2020 alone, and with continued growth and demand expected, experts predict it will be a $50.7 billion industry by 2025. However, as this new gold rush for collaborative technologies increases, organizations risk developing a blind spot to the impact they have on relational dynamics between managers and employees.

In our recent research, we looked at virtual interactions among managers and employees in a Fortune 500 multinational organization. We explored how managers navigated work with employees across different locations and time zones using various collaboration platforms. Our analysis of platform activities of nearly 1,200 employees along with interviews of 64 managers turned up important insights about the transformative impact of new technology on organizational behavior.

In this article, we examine how employees and managers understand the effects of collaborative technologies on their working relationships, what nontraditional roles emerge as a result of these technologies, and the unintended consequences that result from this new way of working and how managers can mitigate them.

Understanding Technologized Relationships and Managing for Risk

We found that when managers narrowly view collaborative technologies such as Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams as mediators, they’re assuming that the technology is passive and only a medium or a tool for working with employees. Our research suggests that these technologies are not only mediating tools but active participants in the relationship in subtle ways that influence all parties. For instance, research shows that leadership in virtual teams plays out differently than in groups that meet in traditional face-to-face ways. This is because the virtual nature of the relationships draws on a different skill set. Our research further suggests that virtual work can reduce traditional hierarchical influences such as the effects of visible signifiers of rank. Simultaneously, however, virtual work potentially increases the manager-employee interpersonal distance, even though virtual meetings may occur regularly. We also saw that new, nontraditional roles emerge as a result of these technologies.

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Topics

Developing an Ethical Technology Mindset

The demands of a digitized workforce put transparency, ethics, and fairness at the top of executive agendas. This MIT SMR Executive Guide explores how managers and organizations can apply principles of ethical and trustworthy technology in engaging with customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

Brought to you by

Deloitte
More in this series

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