Technology at Work: Purposeful Change

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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“Don’t forget that online documentation meeting is at 7:45 a. m. tomorrow,” my co-worker texted me. I tried not to roll my eyes.

The hospital where I work has been transitioning from paper records to online documentation for several months now, and the amount of time and work involved has made it difficult to complete my clinical tasks. I miss the simplicity of good old pen and paper, the finality of signing a progress note with a flourish. I doubt the promise that “all this will save us time in the long run.”

I’ve never been an early adopter, nor am I a Luddite. I enjoy a good gadget as much as the next person. But sometimes I catch myself in that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Change for the sake of change can seem wasteful and risky.

Besides, at the rate new technology is introduced, who could ever keep up? Is there a reason I should try? What’s a Christian to do with all these innovative tools and strategies that seem to permeate our work environments these days? I grumble these questions to myself as I create standardized documents to fold into our online template.

It’s Complicated

According to Ron Ashkenas, contributor to Forbes magazine, I am not alone in feeling conflicted about the use of technology in the workplace. Ashkenas has made a career of helping organizations simplify their structures. He notes that managers frequently blame technology for their complexity but at the same time admit its many benefits.

Ashkenas believes this polar view of technology is related to two main issues: “[T]he accelerating rate of technological change and the often-unrealistic expectations that technology creates.”

With new ideas and capabilities introduced almost daily, most organizations cannot absorb this constant onslaught of new technology. Dealing with continuous change is stressful for any organization that relies on human resources.

Also, Ashkenas says, our highly efficient technology has created a false sense of immediacy.

[W]e have the capacity for instantaneous, global communication, search, and transaction processing. But does that mean that all business should be conducted at warp speed? Many managers seem to report that this is what their customers, partners, and senior executives seem to expect, which drives them to work longer hours and continue business processes (e.g. emails and texts) while traveling, being with family, or on vacation. This leads to a lack of time to think, reflect, recharge, or step back, which not only creates more complexity but also doesn’t allow managers to get control over their time.

Working Anytime, Anywhere

The ability of an immediate response complicates the traditional workday. For the first time in history much of the work force has the ability to work anytime, anywhere, due to the technology at our fingertips.

A 2013 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association looked at how people are using work-related communication technology. A summary of the survey on the APA website says, “More than half of employed adults said they check work messages at least once a day over the weekend (53 percent), before or after work during the week (52 percent) and even when they are home sick (54 percent). More than 4 in 10 workers (44 percent) reported doing the same while on vacation.”

Such flexibility does have benefits. In an article for The Guardian, writer Alison Coleman points out this connectivity is especially helpful to new startups.

[W]orking flexibly can help them reduce their business costs without compromising on their efficiency, quality of service, or professional image, and that can give them a real competitive edge during the crucial first couple of years of operation.

Coleman quotes an executive who also touts the impact on employee satisfaction that “smart” work practices promote.

We have experienced first-hand how smarter working schemes can improve a business’ daily operations and help boost overall job satisfaction. We have developed a fully flexible work environment that helped drive up efficiency and productivity. Just six months after the initiative was put into place, employee satisfaction rose from 61% to 85%.

Founder of Cheshire-based Chapman Poole Communications, Agatha Chapman-Poole says that media-based technologies have allowed her to hire the most talented individuals regardless of location. Building an exceptional team is easier to do when the hiring pool is broader.

So, is staying plugged in a good thing?

Everything in Moderation

The nation did not react with shock at recent revelations that the American work week is actually longer than 40 hours and Americans work more than the rest of the world. Technology has changed the face of the average work day, increased efficiency and personal productivity, and revolutionized the way we do our work. But what does this mean for our mental health?

You might be surprised. Most believe our society is too connected and this is negatively impacting our work and health. But in the aforementioned survey sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA), a majority of working Americans said the opposite—56 percent said technology allows them to be more productive and 53 percent appreciated the greater flexibility. A recent report by Pew Research Center supports the survey’s findings.

David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, assistant executive director for organizational excellence at APA, is quoted as saying, “People are often given the advice to unplug if you want to achieve work-life balance and recharge. While there’s no question that people need downtime to recover from work stress and avoid burnout, that doesn’t necessarily require a complete ‘digital detox.’ For many people, the ability to stay connected adds value to their work and personal lives. We’re learning that not everyone wants to power down, and that’s OK.”

The survey also found working adults felt that “communication technology makes it easier for them to get their work done (56 percent) and nearly half indicated that it has a positive impact on their relationships with co-workers (49 percent). Most working adults said they have control over whether or not they do work outside of normal hours (71 percent) and that their jobs fit well with other aspects of their lives (69 percent).”

However, the survey also notes that constantly being plugged in has its drawbacks. About one-third of working Americans said communication technology increases their workload, makes it harder to stop thinking about work, and harder to take a break from work.

What’s a Christian to Do with Technology at Work?

Is it change for the sake of change?

This article cites James Davison Hunter’s book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World as saying “in the last 175 years of American culture, Christians have had a declining influence on ideas and imagination.” In the introduction to his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch reminds us, “The good news about culture is that culture is finally not about us, but about God.”

Dan Beerens says this in Christian Educators Journal:

My belief in God’s sovereignty does not excuse me from living as thoughtfully and responsibly as possible. I must do so because I am part of God’s restoration process in this world, and my actions will have implications for the next world. I have been called by God to be not only his image-bearer, but also a creative force in the world. In order to create in the culture and time in history in which God has placed me, I must be familiar with (and be able to use productively) the tools of the time. I do not have the choice of opting out if I truly believe I am here to affect the world.

Used responsibly and in its proper place, today’s technology can be an immense tool to further the kingdom of God. It is purposeful change, with long reaching possibilities—not change for the sake of change.

I cannot keep up with the constant onslaught of new technologies. But my faith is the very reason I should try.


Technology at Work

Will there be technology in heaven, or is technology simply for our use while we’re here on earth? What technology will we take to heaven? And what is technology, anyway? God placed humanity on the earth and gave us instructions to take care of it. Does that mean God had technology in mind right from the beginning? We are quick to judge technology and find it wanting, but what if technology can help us as we partner with God as co-creators and restorers on the earth? How would we steward technology differently if we thought it might actually have an impact on the kingdom of God? Our theme Technology at Work explores some of these questions and more.