It's hard to find an area of our lives the internet hasn't touched. It's a technology simultaneously so innovative and so in demand that it has transformed human civilization.
The changes in the workplace brought on by the internet will cause us to reinvent how we understand work. Yet while the internet has been commonplace in business and people's homes for at least the last 20 years, its influence often remains more with what we can do rather than what we are doing. But this is changing. A new era is on the horizon.
You may already be experiencing some of these changes, and if you're not, you probably will be soon. It's important to understand them so that you can adapt and make the most of what you can do online.
The Internet and the Workplace in 2019
Before jumping into how the workplace has changed because of the internet, let's take a look at the current state of the digital workplace:
As you can see, the internet has the power to transform the workplace and this gives executives and other business leaders plenty of reasons to adopt more digital solutions in their business. However, it's also clear that most companies are behind, meaning that many of you may have not yet fully experienced the way the internet has changed the workplace, but it's coming.
How the Internet Has Changed the Workplace
1. Think Digitally
The internet has created a whole new workplace that exists entirely in the digital realm. Thanks to the internet, it's possible to run a large-scale retail operation without having to rent out a single square foot of office or warehouse space. It's also possible to get thousands and thousands of people to flock to your website just because an Instagram celebrity posted a photo about you and told their followers to check you out. It's also possible to automate almost everything and just sit back and watch things run.
These examples show how the internet has radically changed what we actually do in the workplace.
You can work for a company that sells a product you will never see let alone use. Or, your primary responsibility could be managing email campaigns or driving social media engagement by posting content and contributing to an online discussion.
For companies, these possibilities give hope, but they also create challenges. Managers need to coordinate teams spread out across the globe, and they need to make sure employees have all the digital tools they need to effectively take advantage of all the internet has to offer and also be as productive as possible.
All of this means that success in today's workplace, whether as an employee or manager, means you need to be prepared to think digitally.
You need to have the necessary digital competence to be able to not only operate in a digital environment but also excel in it. And you need to be proactively thinking about digital solutions and how to use them to move the company forward. This approach is all but required in today's work environment, but this was not the case just 20 years ago, which shows just how much the internet has changed the workplace in such a short period of time.
One of the most obvious ways the internet has changed the workplace is that it has gotten rid of the need to even have a workplace. It's now easier than ever for employees to work from home, and this seems to be something they want. Employers are responding by making work from home arrangements easier and more available.
On the one hand, this change has made life much easier for most people. It allows you to keep doing your job without having to commute, and it makes it possible for teams to be created with members from across the world.
This is a huge advantage for companies since they no longer need to limit their search for new team members based on geography. Instead, they can cast a much wider net and recruit talent from all over the world.
This also presents an opportunity for companies to save money since they only have to worry about paying salaries that are fair for the area in which the employee lives.
In the workplace, this has brought many changes. For example, for those working in an environment where there are several people telecommuting, time zones will be an issue. To plan meetings, and to get responses to messages, you need to be aware of what time it is in the area where your colleague is working. The difference becomes even more dramatic when there are team members located in other countries.
Another thing to consider is cultural differences. When working with people from different cultures, finding ways to meld the many different perspectives, habits, and ways of doing things can be difficult.
In general, cultural diversity is not a new aspect of our workplaces. But in the past, most people rarely interacted with their international counterparts. Diversity was more a feature of the company rather than a real part of an employee's work experience. Now, thanks to the internet, teams made up of people located all around the globe are not only much easier to organize but also very common.
Managed correctly, this can provide a huge boost to a company and can make the work environment more exciting and fulfilling. Improperly managed, it can make it really difficult to get people to engage with the work they're doing and be at their productive best.
Here are some stats to help demonstrate how significant this remote work trend is:
For most of us, working full-time has nearly always meant 40 hours per week. Typically, these 40 hours are worked from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. In recent years, employers have become more and more flexible when it comes to the hours, especially in cities where traffic is bad, but normal office hours have stayed basically the same for most of the last half-century.
The internet has completely changed this. Now that people can work when and where they want, the fixed, 40-hour working week is really no longer needed. Instead, people are free to choose the hours they want to work based on what makes the most sense for them.
This has made it much easier for people to build what we now call a work-life balance. You no longer need to decide between going to see your child's play and working on your expense reports. Instead, you can go to the play and then finish and submit the reports later when you're home.
Of course, there may be times when you need to be online at a specific time for a meeting, but this is much less prohibitive than having to be in an office every day for eight hours.
Up until now, Corporate America has been somewhat slow to adopt this trend. Most companies still rely on some version of the traditional 9-5. But this is changing. There are many companies, especially newer ones, embracing this concept of flexibility with success. Expect more companies to copy this model moving forward.
Communication is what makes a company tick. A business cannot be successful if its employees don't have the means and the motivation to talk with one another and coordinate their efforts. It's also important for employees to get to know one another on a more personal basis so that they can build up a rapport that will make for a more pleasant and enjoyable work environment.
Not surprisingly, the internet has had a profound impact on how we communicate in the workplace.
First, the internet has given us more mediums of communication than we've ever had before. If you have a question for your boss or a coworker, send them an email or an instant message. Still can't reach them? Tag them on your project management program, or give them a call using VOIP (voice over internet protocol), which works like a phone but is cheaper for business' to install and use.
Beyond this, the internet has also changed how we communicate with one another. Since email and other messages can be sent and received all through the night, it has made it easier for us to be always "on." This is useful when we're needed to solve a problem, but it can be a big challenge when you're trying to create boundaries and set aside time in your schedule for activities not related to work.
One more thing to keep in mind is how the internet has reduced the amount of time we spend communicating face-to-face. Because it's so easy to just send a message on our phones, and because working online often means we're far away from our colleagues anyway, it's often harder to foster personal connections with other members of your team.
You'll never be able to completely recreate the environment of an office, but there are things you can do to help bring people closer together.
Frequent all-hands meetings are helpful, but even just setting up a dedicated channel on your communication tool (such as Slack) can be great for allowing people to loosen up and share more of themselves with their colleagues, something that can only be good for team morale and workplace culture.
However, it's true this is no replacement, and we can consider this another change in the workplace. Office parties are becoming a thing of the past, and it's less likely for coworkers to become involved in each other's personal lives. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you to decide, but it's certainly a feature of the workplace moving forward.
In addition to communication, the internet has also dramatically changed the way we collaborate while working on a project, mainly by providing us with many more tools we can use to collaborate.
One of the most widely used of these tools is Google's suite of productivity programs (Docs and Sheets, mainly). These, along with other cloud-based productivity tools, allow multiple people to all work on a document at one time, which makes it infinitely easier to work in teams on larger projects.
No more sending documents back and forth, changing the name each time to make sure the next person knows they're working on the most recent version. Instead, the document is saved as it's updated, and this is a huge time-saver.
There are also quite a few project management tools out there, such as Trello, Asana, and Teamwork, which make it remarkably simple to distribute the workload of a project, track tasks, and expenditures, and communicate with team members about the project.
All of this means we can be more productive and efficient when working on projects in teams, and we have the internet to thank for that.
In recent years, as workplaces have become more and more digital, employers have been finding remote workers to be more productive than their in-office counterparts. There are several reasons for this, but one of them is the increased sense of autonomy people get when they are working remotely.
Essentially, when people are left to work remotely, they are freed from much of the stress and pressure of an office, and because of this, they end up engaging more with their work.
No boss is hounding them, asking them every step of the way how things are going and what the plan is, and this helps things go more smoothly. Plus, when trusted to work on a project from home without the direct oversight of a boss, this demonstrates a level of trust between the employee and their employer, which typically results in a stronger connection to the work, higher productivity, and deeper cultural buy-in.
Of course, the other side of this means you need to be as disciplined as ever if you want to succeed in the digital workplace. Not being in the office relieves you of constant pressure to work, and this can cause some to procrastinate and leave too much work for the last minute.
As a result, the internet has made learning to prioritize an essential skill in today's workplace. If you can't independently manage your time and break up your work, it's going to be difficult for you to succeed. However, when you can make progress in these areas, work will likely become more interesting and engaging, which we can all agree is a good thing.
Work is not only how we earn a living, but it's also one of the ways we find meaning in life and grow as individuals. Long gone are the days of being happy with a job that gives you just good pay and benefits. Instead, our jobs must provide us with opportunities to better ourselves, so much so that a lack of professional development opportunities is one of the leading reasons why people decide to change jobs.
In general, this is nothing new. However, what is new is how we learn at work. eLearning has become a major industry, and companies that make use of it find it has a significant impact on productivity and company success. This has made it easier than ever for people to enroll in courses, either through a company or online, and help take their career to the next step.
Of course, this also means that continuing your education will be expected of you. After all, if it's so easy and there are so many ways to learn, why wouldn't you want to partake? Choosing not to could reflect poorly on your work ethic and dedication, which could make it harder to secure promotions and other accolades.
The internet has also changed the types of jobs available to us. Because it makes it easier to hire and work with people from all over the world, freelancing and independent contract work has become more and more normal.
This works out for both sides because employees aren't tied down to one company and employers don't need to assume some of the more burdensome costs associated with hiring people, such as healthcare, social security, worker's compensation, etc.
Freelancers have been around for some time, but the internet has made it much easier for people to find full-time work as a freelancer, and this is having a ripple effect in the rest of the labor market. For example, in some industries, it's becoming more and more difficult to find "full-time" work because there are so many freelancers and companies who stand to gain so much by hiring freelancers.
And we can expect freelance work to continue to impact the economy, especially since most experts predict the workforce will be at least 50 percent freelance in the coming years.
Even if you are not a freelancer, there is a good chance you will be working with one or many on the various projects you're tasked with completing. This presents a unique challenge because you will need to find a way to get these "outsiders" to blend in with your company culture. This might mean providing access to some programs and software, but you need to be careful because there might be restrictions as to what external people can see or do within the company.
Lastly, the internet has made it so that while we are at work we are also a line of defense against cybercrime.
Hacking has been a concern for many years, but it's an even bigger risk now because so much more is online. Plus, since nearly every person in a company represents a potential weak link in the company's defense, it's essential all employees know how to detect threats and what to do if and when something does happen.
All this means is that the basic level of computer knowledge required for most jobs is higher than it's ever been before. Not everyone needs to be a programmer, but you do need to have a working knowledge of the risks your company faces and some basic skills that will allow you to react if necessary. This was not a thing even just ten years ago, but the accelerated rate of change brought on by the internet has made it a requirement for nearly all jobs available today.
These nine ways the internet has changed the workplace represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way the internet has impacted how we do business. But as you can see, these changes have had a profound impact on how we do our jobs, and they remind us of how much more will be changed as the world advances even more. And as we move forward and further embrace the power of the internet, we will have to keep an eye on additional changes to the way we do things so that we can take full advantage of everything the internet has to offer.